On the 50th anniversary of the historic 1968 Memphis sanitation worker strike, employees in the fast food, hospital and janitorial industries joined protestors around the country to fight for higher wages and union rights. The rally was a renewal of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign led by Martin Luther King Jr. and a partnering with the “Fight for $15” rally.. Protests were held in Memphis, Cleveland, Chicago, Houston, Milwaukee, Des Moines and more.
Detroit City Council President Pro-Tem Mary Sheffield, joined the protestors who started at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park and then marched to the McDonald’s located on W. Grand Blvd. in Detroit. “No working person should have to work two jobs just to make ends meet,” said Sheffield as she marched along with the protestors.
The “Fight for $15” began in 2012 when 200 fast-food workers walked off the job to demand $15 hour and union rights in New York City. According to the website, it’s a global movement in more than 300 cities on six continents. “We are fast-food workers, home health aides, child care teachers, airport workers, adjunct professors, retail employees – and underpaid workers everywhere.”
The Memphis sanitation strike began February. 12, 1968, after two sanitation workers were crushed to death by faulty equipment. Hundreds of Black men went on strike for recognition of their union, a local of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and demanded a raise to $2 an hour – the equivalent of $15.73 today after inflation. Strikers marched daily from Clayborn Temple to Memphis City Hall holding signs declaring, “I AM A MAN.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., joined the protesters in Memphis on March 18, speaking to an audience of thousands at Mason Temple, He was assassinated a few weeks later, on April 4, 1968.
“There are 64 million working people in this country are making less than $15 an hour, and we’re fed up,” said Detroit Public Schools janitor Darrel Bonner. “We’re fighting for the family-sustaining wages and union rights we need to make Detroit better for all working people.”
“The strikes and protests are a result of minimum wage cuts and attacks on unions across the country, which disproportionately harm workers of color,” Jennifer Owens , spokesperson for “Fight for 15.’ “Workers in predominantly Black cities including St. Louis, Mo., Kansas City, Mo., and Birmingham, Ala., have had minimum wage increases nullified by state lawmakers in recent years. Meanwhile, union jobs in state and local government – which have historically provided a pathway to the middle class for workers of color – have been under attack from corporate-backed politicians.”
Owens also said that people of color remain over-represented in low-paying industries like fast-food. More than half of Black workers and nearly 60 percent of Latino workers are paid less than $15, according to an analysis by the National Employment Law Project.
Samira Hyter, a fast-food worker at Popeye’s said, “We’re continuing Dr. King’s dream of the Poor People’s campaign and at the same time lifting up our fight. We’re living in poverty and devastation because we make less than $15/hour. The sanitation workers who went on strike 50 years ago would be proud that we’re standing up for our rights for higher pay and union power just like they did.”