Fast food workers betrayed by so-called ‘leaders’

From the July-August 2014 issue of News & Letters

New York—Last year, when thousands of fast food workers walked off their jobs defying their corporate bosses and marched and rallied for a $15 minimum wage and the right to organize a union, many people who have spent their lives fighting for justice in the workplace were excited. The strikers brought a new spirit of joyful determination, an attitude that if they wanted to strike, they would strike. Their youthful energy was seen as a boon to a labor movement that needed both.

Richmond, Va., fast food worker strike on May 15 for higher pay and the right to collective organizing. Photo by Bernard Pollack https://www.flickr.com/photos/labor2008/14198318334/

Richmond, Va., fast food worker strike on May 15 for higher pay and the right to collective organizing. Photo by Bernard Pollack https://www.flickr.com/photos/labor2008/14198318334/

THE AMAZING VANISHING MOVEMENT

However, this year, although the various organizing campaigns claimed to have had strikes in 150 cities around the world, all I can say from the New York City perspective is that the movement of last year has vanished like it never existed. On the April 15 international day of action, there were no fast food joints shut down by workers, no marches from borough to borough, and no rallies at Union Square. Instead, what we got was a token strike at two fast food places in mid-town Manhattan, close to major media outlets. What happened?

The truth is that the movement in New York City last year was designed to put Mayor Bloomberg in a bad light as far as justice demands go. The call for $15 an hour was used as a mobilizing tactic, as was the call for the right to organize unions.

The actual fast food workers, who struck and marched and fought, all thought they were fighting for a living wage and the right to organize a union. That is why they took the risk of walking off the job. 

But the professional labor bureaucrats, their allies in groups like Make the Road Straight and NY Communities for Change (an ACORN offshoot) and the Democratic politicians just wanted to embarrass Bloomberg and any Republican who would try to take his place by “exposing” them as heartless monsters.

It was all about politics. The union bureaucracy wanted to impress the political bureaucracy with the control it had of the workers. This year workers’ supporters were not sent any e-mails about events. Communities for Change vanished from the political radar screen. At a pre-strike rally in August, one observer noted, the workers were told what to say and how to vote by the union bureaucrats. The whole thing was a top-down operation organized by union bureaucrats who do not care about the interests of the workers they claim to represent. This year the same union bureaucrats and politicians decided not to mobilize the fast food workers in New York City.

LIKE A NO-STRIKE PLEDGE

Why? Well, we have a new mayor in office. He is a “progressive.” He has to be “given time” to fix the gross economic inequalities in New York City. Everybody has to be patient. Walkouts, strikes, marches and rallies do not fit into the picture. So this year they had to be scrapped.

What about the workers? One day maybe their pay will go up and maybe they can join a union, the same type of union that betrayed them before. That is small consolation for the sense of betrayal that many in the fast food industry must feel as they return to a lifetime of working in some of the most horrific and arduous workplaces in America.

—Michael Gilbert

2 thoughts on “Fast food workers betrayed by so-called ‘leaders’

  1. “The truth is that the movement in New York City last year was designed to put Mayor Bloomberg in a bad light as far as justice demands go. The call for $15 an hour was used as a mobilizing tactic, as was the call for the right to organize unions.”

    TRUTH?

    that is just nutty! the people suffering under $7.25 an hour ,now $8 are in a living hell. IT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH BLOOMBERG !

    Your “truth” is strange guesses. Who did you talk to? did you talk to or listen to a million NYC working people who get minimum or who get ripped off and get LESS than minimum?

    MAKE THE ROAD = union bureaucrats???? !!!!!!!!!
    How often have you worked with or met with them??

    Newspapers NEED to check facts and not sound like a liberal version of Archie Bunker.

    People ” THOUGHT they were fighting for a living wage” what was there second choice? What are you implying? People getting minimum didn’t really want to get paid better?

  2. The point of the article is not that the workers’ demands were wrong, but that the change from last year to this year constituted a sellout by the union leadership. Union officialdom exists to stifle the independent revolutionary organizing of the working class. Yes, people want a higher wage. As revolutionaries we support that. Saying that people thought they were fighting for a living wage means that the goals of the workers and the goals of the organizers from the union bureaucracy were different.

    I talked with workers during last year’s campaign, and both Make The Road and the other union-aligned organizations tried their best to prevent me from having interviews with rank-and-file workers rather than “spokespeople.” At the rallies in Union Square last year, the official unions ran the show. There was no spontaneity.

    Union leaders designed last year’s campaign to embarrass Bloomberg by having him veto the increase in the minimum wage. Now that de Blasio is in office, the mass mobilization of fast food workers in NYC ended. Communities for Change is closely linked to the official union leadership and their political allies. They work in tandem with Make The Road. In over a decade of experience with Make The Road, I have seen them change from a grassroots community organizing group to a top-down bureaucratic one. When I called several of their offices to find out if there would be a mobilization of fast food workers this year, they never returned my calls.

    I have talked with any number of fast food workers about their working conditions. It is a shame that the union bureaucracy and their allies are so nervous about independent working-class organizing that they run a top-down business union style campaign. No revolutionary should defend those who stand in the way of the self-organization of the working class.

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