A piece by Communications Fellow Chris Hart-Williams
Hundreds came out to the Historic Shaw University Quad at Shaw University for the the largest one-day mobilization of low-wage workers in the history of North Carolina.
Low wage workers, such as fast food workers joined supporters and students who mobilized during the nationwide one-day strike, a to demand a $15 an hour minimum wage along with union rights for not only fast food workers but, also and not limited to university adjunct faculty, home health care providers, and farm laborers.
Student’s included those speaking out and fighting for fair pay at the rally, Ariel Griffin Shaw University’s Student Body President, welcomed protesters to the campus and said, “the ‘Fight for 15’ encourages you to bring and fight for change in your community.”
Shaw University is birthplace of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC which gave voice to young people who desired social change in the 1960’s during the civil rights movement.
Students from across the state representing campuses from UNCG, UNC-CH, and NC State to App State, UNC-Pembroke, and NCCU traveled to Shaw and participated in demonstrations throughout the day of action.
North Carolina is one of 21 states whose minimum wage is not higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
Ignite NC fellow Ajamu Dillahunt, JR. said, “We are students demanding a living wage, and we can not survive on 7.25, and we will demand a living wage, and we will get a living wage.”
“I’m here to let all of the college students know what they are walking into, said Kwanza Brooks a fast-food worker from Charlotte who spoke at the Rally.
“You all go to school everyday, focusing on your degrees, and thinking you’re going to get in that career, but like me and some others who are out here fighting today we walked that path, completed school, got degrees, and we’re working in fast-food for $7.25. an hour.”
Brooks encouraged young people and college students to start promoting and pumping the movement up, because the future of this movement relies on young people to say, “enough is enough!”
“This is not the future that I sat here and laid for my own kids, and the rest of you Brooks herself is 38-years-old with three kids. “My oldest is 16, getting ready to graduate from highschool, and this is the type of job her parent has to have right now just to make ends meet,” Brooks said. S
Single women make up about 43 percent of the the low-wage workforce, nearly double their share of the overall workforce of 23 percent. One in five families with a someone with a fast-food job receives an income below the poverty line, 43 percent of fast food workers have an income two times the federal poverty level or less, according to census data analyzed by the University of California–Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education.
“It’s not right, I didn’t go to school for five years to stand here and struggle between my light bill and my electric bill or my car insurance, or my water bill, or my rent, or my or some food, or some clothes – you know the bare necessities.”
For young people who haven’t yet entered the workforce but will soon, the fight for economic justice is of grave concern.These injustices cannot continue.
The low-wage workforce has gotten more highly educated in recent decades, 43 percent of low-wage workers have at least some college education, a degree, or even an advanced degree. With this reality, adjunct professors who are also making poverty wages and fighting employment insecurity are joining the fight for $15.
The Fight for $15 has become everyone’s fight.
Labor and civil rights are a moral issues said Rev. Dr. William Barber II president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP who joined in the one-day of action at Shaw. He encourage young people to, to support the Fight for $15, saying that it is also a fight for justice.
“An economic policy that does not establish justice and promote the general welfare of all is unconstitutional and un-American, ” Barber said. “You can’t enjoy the fruit of your labor on a poverty wage,” said Barber. “There is no justice in salaries that do not allow you to live once you have worked.”
The top has had phenomenal growth since 1973, according to Barber, but “the bottom half has been stuck.”
“The average CEO makes 350 times more than the person whose working for them, what we are saying to the CEO is you can have some of your money but you can’t have all your [money] especially when workers are making it for you,” Barber said.“We are all connected together in america we are the richest nation on earth more people than any other time in our history.”
In solidarity, attendees marched around the block adjacent to Shaw’s quad plaza, to the McDonald’s on E. South Street.
NC AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer MaryBe McMillan said in a statement on the day of action, that “workers in the ‘Fight for 15 and a union’ are the vanguard of a resurgent labor movement in the South, a movement that is focused on raising wages for all workers and empowering them to bargain collectively for their share of the wealth and prosperity made possible by their labor.”
Hundreds of fast-food workers first walked off the job in New York City two-and-a-half years ago, since low-wage workers in big cities and small towns across North Carolina have continued to make their voices heard.
The fight to raise wages is more demanded than ever across the country.
The April 15 day of action highlights the fact that many fast-food and other low-wage workers are willing to whatever it takes to win.
Victories include a $15 wage in Seattle and San Francisco, and a $12.25 wage in Oakland, cities such as Raleigh and the dozens represented on April 15 are set to continue to mobilize to achieve a living wage.
Chris Hart-Williams is a senior at North Carolina State University. There he is studying political science. He currently serves as editor-in-chief of N.C. State’s Nubian Message and is a former staff writer of the student paper Technician. Chris received a certificate of appreciation from the state of NC while a communications intern at the Office of State Human Resources in Spring 2014. He also worked as an intern at WRAL News in the Fall of 2014.