From the Trenches: A $15 Victory in a Week of Defeat

“From the Trenches” is a battle cry. In a globalized world that criminalizes the rebellious in spirit, it’s easy to forget that change-minded activists and organizers are tallying up tiny victories against sociocultural and economic oppression on the regular. The column will serve as a weekly reminder that we not only can win, but we do, often. So hasta la victoria siempre and all that.


Real talk: It was rough coming up with something a victory to focus on this week. Shit’s been rough, and even the smallest of victories have been tainted by tragedy.

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Renewed #SayHerNames rallies to protest the treatment of black women by police are cropping up around the country after the Sandra Bland’s death in police custody. (Her death was ruled a suicide less than an hour ago by a Texas prosecutor, despite shady circumstances. Chicagolanders wishing to attend Ms. Bland’s funeral services can find more information from the Tribune.)

In the Eurozone, thousands of Greeks took to the streets to denounce the coming bailout package that will force the country to continue its free-fall down the rabbit hole of recession and austerity.

The Turkish government has finally decided to get serious about securing its Syrian border—one that has allegedly been like Swiss cheese to jihadists from around the world hankering to join the Islamic State and to rid Turkey of its Kurdish population while they’re at it—after an IS-linked, ethnically Kurdish Turkish student carried out a suicide bombing in the Turkish town of Suruç, killing more than 30 young activists at a local cultural center. They were headed over the Syrian border, to the Kurdish stronghold of Kobane, to help rebuild the town that had been under siege by IS at the end of 2014.

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Suffice it to say I’m finding it hard to stay posi.

But in New York, fast-food workers who have spent the last three years “fighting for $15” have plenty of reason to celebrate:

A panel appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recommended on Wednesday that the minimum wage be raised for employees of fast-food chain restaurants throughout the state to $15 an hour over the next few years. Wages would be raised faster in New York City than in the rest of the state to account for the higher cost of living there.

The $15 wage would represent a raise of more than 70 percent for workers earning the state’s current minimum wage of $8.75 an hour. Advocates for low-wage workers said they believed the mandate would quickly spur raises for employees in other industries across the state, and a jubilant Mr. Cuomo predicted that other states would follow his lead.

At a time like this, a small victory in New York is a welcome reminder that some movements are not doomed for failure (which, after all, is the purpose of this column). Still, the Fight for $15 is not a radical labor movement. They will not win higher wages for workers across the country anytime soon. The Fight for $15, a reformist movement at its heart, will not chip away at capitalism.

But maybe fast-food workers will start winning victories in cities across the country, making low-income families’ lives less shitty, one minimum-wage increase at a time. Maybe people in the US will start to respect the people dunking their fries and flipping their burgers. Maybe the movement will spread to other low-wage industries. Maybe not.

At this point, we’ll take what we can get.

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