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HOME  > Past issues  > 2018 February 7 - 13  > Memphis sanitation workers’ historic strike relayed to fight for $15
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2018 February 7 - 13 [LABOR]

Memphis sanitation workers’ historic strike relayed to fight for $15

February 9, 2018
Akahata ‘current’ column

It was 50 years ago this month in the southern U.S. state of Tennessee when in February 1968 sanitation workers went on strike in Memphis, triggered by an accident in which two African-American sanitation workers were crushed to death on the job by a garbage truck.

Those who participated in the strike protested against racial discrimination and demanded a living wage and the right to organize. Their slogan was “I am a man”. Despite violent crackdowns by the National Guard and police, the sanitation workers carried on the strike for two months. In the end, they won a wage hike and union recognition.

On February 12, the 50th anniversary of the start of the Memphis strike, workers will stage a strike in the city. This time, fast-food employees will seek to have the minimum hourly wage increased to 15 dollars.

Many Americans are forced to work two or more jobs just to survive. This is largely because the federal minimum wage is set at only 7.25 dollars per hour. In stark contrast, CEOs of large corporations earn 1,000 times more than rank-and-file workers. Under the Trump administration’s policies favoring large businesses and the rich, the economic disparity between the haves and have-nots will increase.

Having started in 2012 in New York, the $15 minimum hourly wage campaign spread across the U.S. The campaign succeeded in bringing about a higher minimum wage in some states and municipalities. It has become so influential that the mainstream media can no longer ignore it.

In this month’s action, people will gather together under the iconic banner of “I Am a Man”. A worker who plans to join the strike said, “I want to follow in the footsteps of the brave workers who have stood up and fought for human dignity.”

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