Low-wage workers rally for higher minimum wage

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LOW-WAGE WORKERS and their supporters rally on the stairs on the east side of St. Louis City Hall to chant for a higher minimum wage. – Labor Tribune photo

By CARL GREEN

Special Correspondent

Low-wage workers demanding an increase in the minimum wage need to keep fighting and not give up hope just because a court struck down the city of St. Louis’s plan to raise wages, speakers said at a series of “Fight! Strike! Vote!” rallies Nov. 12.

The rallies began at 6 a.m. at a McDonald’s on the south side, moved on to a home care provider and then a child care center during the day and culminated in a boisterous late-afternoon rally on the east side of St. Louis City Hall, attended by about 200 people and a line of police officers with bicycles.

Similar events were held in about 500 cities across the nation.

“What is done to the so-called least of us impacts us all,” St. Louis University student Alisha Sonnier, president of the group Tribe X, said in an impassioned address at the City Hall rally.

“We gather to challenge our politicians to be what they claim to be –representatives of the people,” Sonnier added. “Isn’t it absurd that the same politicians, the same judges, the same business owners who told us we can’t afford a livable wage are trying to convince us we can afford a billion-dollar stadium?”

The crowd agreed with her, loudly.

THE COURT RULING

The rallies were held in part to protest a circuit judge’s ruling Oct. 14 striking down the city’s plan to implement an $11 minimum wage by 2018, saying it would conflict with the state law now set at $7.65. The first increase was to go to $8.25 immediately and then rise annually. The city plans to appeal to a higher court.

The rallies combined the Show Me 15 group that is seeking a $15 minimum wage with groups including Tribe X, an outgrowth of the Ferguson protests, plus Missouri Jobs for Justice, SEIU Health Care and SEIU Local 1 and Black Lives Matter.

One theme of the rallies was that the participants will participate in upcoming elections, using the slogan, “Come Get Our Votes!”

An SEIU member, Tommy Lynch, a janitor in the Ritenour School District, read a litany of statistics showing how the St. Louis area is riven with poverty connected to low wages.

“The average downtown janitor is paid a little over $11,232,” he said at one point, with the crowd responding, “That ain’t right!”

He continued: “According to the U.S. census bureau, 13 percent of St. Louis residents in the metro area are below the poverty line. One in five St. Louis metro area kids are living in poverty, and the metro area unemployment rate is 5.7 percent.”

“That ain’t right!” replied the ralliers.

“The $15 wage would set the standard for employers,” Lynch said in conclusion. “It would raise wages for workers across St. Louis, so let’s stand united for a $15 minimum wage so we can provide our families and support our community.”

‘YOU TRY $7.65!’

State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed spoke to the rally, recounting her effort to push a minimum wage increase through the Legislature this year.

“Republicans pushed back in a major way, but I will say to the Republicans, as well as Democrats who oppose a livable wage – you try living on $7.65 an hour!” she said, to cheers.

“This is a human rights issue, and I would like to commend each of you to continue to be diligent and to keep fighting the good fight. Because when we yield, there will be no livable wage.”

Sonnier, of Tribe X, connected the minimum wage issue to racial disparities.

“There is another America, an America fueled by white supremacy and systematic oppression,” she said. “This America results in cities like St. Louis, where your race and economic class determine almost from birth the access to education you have, access to quality foods, access to health care, and life expectancy.

“Where those living in the poorest part of the city like the 3rd Ward, have the shortest life expectancy of all, yet funding for vital health and human services is a mere pittance of the city’s budget.”

STROKE OF A PEN

Sonnier made reference to the circuit court ruling.

“We have not forgotten that a stroke of a judge’s pen erased the work of the people and gave them this fight for a livable wage. Therefore, we will meet you in your boardrooms, in your offices, in your courtrooms and in the election booth – to obtain economic justice!

“Wherever you are, we will be there. We will tear down your systems of corruption and rebuild them in our image, the people’s image.”

She concluded by leading a chant that was gladly taken up by the crowd.

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom,” they shouted over and over again. “It is our duty to win! We must love and support each other! We have nothing to lose but our chains!”

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