Los Angeles just voted to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020. The nation’s second-biggest city joins Seattle, San Francisco and little Emeryville, Calif., in forging the way to a decent minimum.
Similar measures are now being considered in New York City, Kansas City, Mo., and Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital. Facebook is now paying its workers a $15 minimum and joins Apple and Microsoft in demanding that its contractors pay a $15 minimum and offer paid leave days.
These victories are a product of the demonstrations and protests of fast food and other low-wage workers. They risked their jobs to demand decency. They put a human face on workers who labor full time but can’t lift their families out of poverty. They exposed the lie that these were transitory jobs for the young while they went to college or high school. Their demonstrations — organized under the hashtag slogan #FightFor15 — drew national press attention. Their struggles touched the hearts of citizens of conscience. They built the coalition that forced the politicians to respond.
Dr. Martin Luther King taught us that “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” There are three ways to respond to repression, he told us. The first is acquiescence, adjusting quietly to injustice and becoming conditioned to it. “Been down so long it feels like up to me.” Acquiescence, he warned, turns people into part of the problem.
The second way to respond is with physical violence and corrosive hatred. But violence never solves problems; it simply creates more difficult and complicated problems. An eye for an eye, he warned, would leave us all blinded.
The third way is nonviolent resistance. Nonviolence rejects acquiescence and violence. It confronts the oppressor, gives voice to the oppressed, and exposes the injustice. It starts always against the odds, so it requires faith. “Faith,” Dr. King wrote, “is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
The #FightFor15 workers had faith. They chose to resist, not accept their poverty wages. They demonstrated for decency. And they have created a movement that surely will spread across the country.
California is one of eight states that ban the subminimum wage that is inflicted on so-called “tipped workers,” the wait staff and service workers that serve our food, clear our plates or carry our bags. California also voted to start publishing the names of companies that have more than 100 workers on Medicaid and the costs that they force on the states. Informed customers may well prefer to do business with high-road employers rather than those profiting from a low road.
Most of our news coverage follows the frozen partisan politics of Washington. There, Republican leaders in Congress won’t even allow a vote on a modest Democratic proposal for a $12-an-hour minimum wage. The only time Congress seems to act is when the corporate community wants a tax break or a trade deal passed, or when the Pentagon demands more money to waste.
But across the country, people are beginning to stir. Blacks and whites are joining together to demonstrate that #BlackLivesMatter. Latinos are demanding immigration reforms that will bring millions out of the shadow economy. Gays and lesbians are demanding equal rights. Women are demanding equal pay, and men and women are insisting that the decision to have a child has to be one that they and not politicians make. Change will come, but only when people demand it and force their politicians to salute.