New Labor Forum: Black Lives Matter/Fight for Fifteen | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

New Labor Forum: Black Lives Matter/Fight for Fifteen

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Left to right: Kendall Fells, Frances Fox Piven, Jelani Cobb, Alicia Garza. By Lindsay Beyerstein. 

Black Lives Matter and the Fight for Fifteen are two of the most dynamic social movements in the United States today. These were the subject of Monday’s New Labor Forum, sponsored by the Murphy Institute and the Sidney Hillman Foundation. 

Scholar and activist Frances Fox Piven introduced the panel, which was moderated by Hillman Judge Jelani Cobb.

Kendall Fells of Fast Food Forward/SEIU described the genesis of the Fight for Fifteen movement. Fast food workers were desperate, he said, because they had no consistency in their scheduling and no respect at work. One woman was fired for drinking water out of the wrong-sized cup, another for eating a single chicken nugget. At first, a $15 minimum wage for the fast food sector seemed like an unattainable goal, Fells said. Today, a $15 wage is a reality for many fast food workers in New York, California, and other states. 

Alicia Garza is a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement and the executive director of National Domestic Workers Alliance. She described how veterans of the Fight For 15 in Ferguson applied their newfound leadership skills to the struggle for civil rights and police accountability in Ferguson. 

The panelists agreed that poor communities are both underpaid and overpoliced, and their residents are more likely to be Black and Latino. These are the threads that tie Black Lives Matter and the Fight for Fifteen together. Fells pointed out that the same workers who were striking for respect at their fast food jobs were also getting harrassed by the police on their way to work.