Employees in the fast food industry, before anything else, know that they aren't going to make lots of money. Employers in this part of the restaurant world are in business to provide convenience at low prices, not creativity or elegance. The wages they offer are a reflection of this. Yet the Service Employees International Union and an allied New York-based nonprofit coalition, Fast Food Forward, are bent on boosting these workers' wages in dramatic fashion. Last Thursday, August 29, the day after the 50th anniversary rally of the 1963 March on Washington, these activists led walkouts and demonstrations in dozens of cities in hopes of winning a $15 an hour minimum wage and union recognition for fast food employees.
Unions for many years have been a highly reliable segment of the Democratic Party Left. Yet this perhaps no more was this true than in 2011 - and with good reason. The year began with the Republicans holding a nearly 50-seat edge in the House of Representatives following the GOP's smashing wins in the November 2010 midterm elections. Avoiding legislative process became a top priority for organized labor.
As "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrations have gone national, observers are taking note of the prominent role of labor unions in this anti-business crusade. The rote denunciations of "corporate greed" at these events could have been lifted from almost any AFL-CIO convention speech. That doesn't necessarily mean, of course, that union organizers are putting words in protestors' mouths. Yet it does strongly suggest that organized labor and street radicals recognize each other as natural allies.
Stephen Lerner is a hard person to admire. His specialty, after all, is economic sabotage. Yet his utility to the cause of public accountability is undeniable. Lerner, a longtime official with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) until his supposed ouster last November, was caught on March 18 and 19 on audiotape speaking before a closed-session audience at Pace University in Manhattan describing an SEIU plan to destabilize the U.S. economy. The campaign, which he heads, intends to take down the financial sector and trigger a massive redistribution of wealth and power.