“I am a Man”, the iconic sign of the Civil Rights Era, has been resurrected in the struggle to help fast food workers to earn a living wage. In protests that continue around the country (although not covered by the corporate media), fast food workers are organizing to gain the ability to earn a living wage. This is an important struggle for all Americans. The fast food industry is now second only to the health industry in the number of people it employs. These workers essentially earn minimum wage, which is to say Third World Wages, but that is a somewhat deceptive statistic in itself. If the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation since it’s inception, the minimum wage would now be over $10 an hour. Even that would be barely enough to keep a full time worker above the poverty level.
Most Americans might believe that fast food jobs are held by teenagers still in high school, and are “transition jobs” by helping them to move on to better jobs. Both beliefs are incorrect. Most people who now hold those jobs are adults and a significant number of them have families to support. Many of them formerly held gainful employment, but lost their job and could only find employment in that sector. The argument that fast food jobs are transition jobs is right in the sense that they are a transition from a good job to poverty, crowding out first time job seekers out of desperation to support their families. “I am a Man” is a message that the dignity of their labor and the right of people to organize for a better life for their families should be respected.
I hope that fast food workers do organize, and it may be the best chance of reviving a union movement. This could stop the slide toward the next generations of American from becoming the first generation to grow up in a third world economy.