Wednesday night, October 15th, more than 40 college students gathered at the campus kickoff of ‘15 Now Temple University’, a new formation of undergraduate and graduate students who have joined the fight for a $15 minimum wage in Philadelphia and across the country. The teach-in featured several student speakers, many of whom are struggling to attend classes and pay for college, while working low wage jobs.
Jill Richards, who helped organize the meeting, said “This group is doing real work for real change, and we can’t survive on the current minimum wage. Once I heard Temple was starting its own chapter, I knew I had to do something about it.”
Richards and several other organizers spent several weeks planning the meeting, inviting friends and coworkers, canvassing the community, and handing out flyers to students on campus. The high turnout mirrored the level of interest in boosting wages that citywide organizers have found in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods.
During her testimony, Temple student, worker and 15 Now organizer Nadia Adam explained, “I work retail full-time at $10.50 an hour, and I am a neuroscience major part time, which is not the easiest major to have. My child is in daycare all day, but these are the choices I have to make if I hope to make it out of poverty anytime soon. Making $15 an hour would let me escape some debt later on and have some spending money for my child.”
The students also led breakout group discussions on “$15 an hour vs. $10.10,” “$15 an hour and intersectionality,” and “the history of student movements.”
At Temple and universities across the country, students are increasingly positioned to join broader working class movements fighting for better living conditions. Student Jaq Basilis said, “The history of Temple is as a working class institution. It used to be a place where people could come get an affordable education and a decent job. Now our school is becoming privatized and exponentially more expensive. Only certain types of people can afford to go here, or we leave in tens of thousands of dollars of debt.”
Students left the meeting pledging to join 15 Now Philly, help canvass surrounding North Philly neighborhoods, and lobby city officials to take on the fight for a $15 an hour minimum wage.
Basilis added “I don’t want to feel like I’m in a different community on campus and in my neighborhood at 17th and Girard. We are part of the same struggle.”
Minimum Wage – Time to turn up the heat!
The past few years have seen an increase in activity among low-wage workers. Many are demanding “$15 and a union.” As income inequality has increased, the number of workers forced to eke out a living at the minimum wage has grown.
The food preparation and restaurant industries are by far the largest pool of minimum wage workers, with more than 1.5 million employees. Other industries—such as sales, clerical, and warehousing—also employ hundreds of thousands of minimum wage workers. Many more workers subsist on wages above the minimum but well below well below $15 per hour.
Millions of workers would immediately see an increase in standard of living through an increased minimum wage. $15 is a minimum goal for working people to begin to achieve an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families. Anything less still leaves too many people below the poverty line.
The recent strikes by fast food workers for decent jobs and a living wage show the potential for struggle across the spectrum of low-wage industries. The retail giant Walmart has also been the target of worker organizing. Even the President acknowledges that the minimum wage, as it currently stands, is inadequate. Obama and the Democrats say they want to raise the minimum to an insulting $10.10 per hour. With this promise, they seek, in part, to neutralize the movement for $15.
Of course, the bosses claim that raising the minimum wage will destroy job creation. This is contradicted by the facts. In cities where the minimum has been increased unemployment has decreased.
While individual unions, like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), have done a commendable job, the whole labor movement should make the $15 minimum a centerpiece of a united organizing campaign. There is a rising tide of working-class militancy in the U.S. Minimum wage campaigns are sprouting up across the country, and $15 an hour has been enacted in Seattle. Now is the time to strike while the iron is hot! Unions have the resources and organization to build and lead these movements to win concrete gains for the working class.
We are students of Temple University and residents of the Philadelphia community. We stand in solidarity with your struggle for social justice at Colgate University. We, too, have dealt with racism, classism, heterosexism, transphobia, misogyny, ableism and other forms of oppression on our campus and in the larger community. We continue to deal with it on a daily basis, not only in the form of individual words and acts of hate, but also in the form of systemic exclusion of certain groups and the privileging of others at our university and other institutions.
We have petitioned and organized rallies, protests, and sit-ins, around these causes and in response to specific transgressions against us and our allies perpetrated by the University, the Police, and other forces. We will continue to fight for social justice at our university and in society at large. We believe that we, the students as well as staff, professors, and other workers deserve democratic control over the function of the institutions that would not exist without our labor. What you are doing at Colgate by staging a days long sit-in at the admissions office is a critical step in this direction. We applaud you.
Temple University Chapter of 15 Now
15 Now Philly Statement on 9/4 Fast Food Worker Strikes
issued September 4
15 Now members in Philly are proud to stand in solidarity with Fight for 15 fast food workers who are bravely going on strike today for $15 and a union. These workers are on the frontlines of the most important worker movement in recent memory. But higher wages for fast food workers are only the beginning. 15 Now Philly members are organizing ALL workers in Philadelphia to demand at least a $15 an hour wage floor. McDonalds isnt the only bad employer in Philly. Look at Comcast, Aramark, the University of Pennsylvania, Stephen Starr restaurants, Rite Aid. These bosses CAN pay $15 an hour, and Philadelphians deserve $15 an hour. Over 30% of us live in poverty, and continuing to allow this is an unecessary stain on our city.
People have told us that raising the minimum wage in Philadelphia is impossible, because of the preemption from Harrisburg. But we want to be absolutely clear that the 1% has written these laws to keep our city in poverty. The truth is: The only thing that’s impossible is winning any victory for workers by following the wealthy’s rules.
Did auto workers in the 1930s follow the law when they waged nationwide sit-down strikes that brought millions of workers into unions over a series of months? NO. Those strikes were not legally protected like today’s, but they were just and necessary. Workers had no neat legal process to form a union by petitioning the NLRB. So they struck at their workplace and they forced the bosses to the table by interrupting production and hitting the 1% right in their bottom line.
It’s clear today that fast food workers and healthcare workers are willing to do what it takes to win $15 an hour here. But are are our elected officials willing to do what it takes to fight for 15? We in 15 Now are tired of playing nice, of living in poverty while our elected officials throw up their hands and say there is nothing they can do. We don’t accept that logic. When wealthy corporations tell City Council to break the rules for them, our elected officials say yes every time. Now Philadelphia’s workers are asking that City Council afford us the same luxury as CEOs.
We call on city council and Mayor Nutter to take immediate action to raise the minimum wage in Philly to $15 an hour NOW.