2015 presents daunting challenges for working people and progressives. Because last November’s elections saw the nation’s most conservative legislators capture the U.S. Senate and increase their hold on the House, the next Congress is expected to bring more obstruction and renewed attempts to reverse recent and past achievements.
The Affordable Care Act, environmental safeguards, immigrant, labor, women’s and civil rights most likely will all come under attack. Fights also will be waged in state and local chambers, since in 2014 Republicans posted sweeping gains in gubernatorial and state house races across the country. The GOP now controls both houses of the legislatures in 29 states, the highest number in almost a century. Not even New York survived the conservative wave, where Republicans gained full control of the state Senate.
But, thankfully, we can point to at least one silver lining in the dark clouds. Voters said no to the nation’s growing economic inequality. Measures aimed at raising the minimum wage passed overwhelmingly in the five states where they appeared on the ballot. That four of those states—Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota—are solidly controlled by Republicans did not deter voters. In the fifth state, Illinois, voters overwhelmingly approved a non-binding measure that asked for support to raise the hourly wage to $10 this year.
San Francisco followed Seattle’s lead by voting to raise the minimum to $15 an hour. Oakland did not go as far, but the city did vote to raise its minimum wage to $12.25 by March 1.
Those victories will help put food on thousands of tables and also give impetus to the Fight for $15. The Fight for $15 is a growing movement of unions, other workers and community organizations and faith-based groups who are demanding a $15 minimum wage and the right to unionize. The strength and breadth of the movement was exhibited last month when low-wage workers rallied in 190 cities. Organizers of the movement demand that people who work hard for a living be treated with dignity and make enough to support themselves and their families.
Homecare workers, who provide one of society’s most important services, have joined hands in the campaign with other low-paid workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that in the next decade, as baby boomers age, more homecare jobs will be created than any other occupation. However, as the industry expands, its wages remain abysmally low.
The status of homecare workers, a majority of whom are women, single mothers and people of color, is among our nation’s great shames. So, too, is the treatment of workers in multibillion-dollar corporations such as Wal-Mart. A $15 minimum would help lift hundreds of thousands of these workers out of poverty,
This month, as we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we would do well to recall his efforts on behalf of poor workers. King never lost sight of the unbreakable connection between civil rights and economic justice.
“What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?” he asked in Memphis just weeks before his assassination. He was there fighting for sanitation workers during the start of his Poor People’s Campaign.
Not long before that he told a meeting of 1199ers to take pride in their work regardless of its status. “Somewhere in life, people of justice and good will will come to see the dignity of labor,” he declared.
On the anniversary of our great fallen leader’s birth, our thoughts should turn to our sisters and brothers who are working hard but still are unable to provide for themselves and their families. Helping them means helping ourselves and lifting the floor for all low-wage workers. And that means support for the Fight for $15 movement and an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy few.