Opinion: Fast food worker strikes raise questions on labor

Opinion: Fast food worker strikes raise questions on labor

Cory Spiers

Labor Day weekend is generally more apt to arouse thoughts of cookouts and time off than of the labor struggles that gave us all reason to celebrate. But the recent fast food worker strike can help us focus on that cause now.

Fast food workers from all over the country went on strike hoping for $15 per hour wages Aug. 29. The event included strikes in cities close to home, such as Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte, News 14 Carolina reports.

While $15 an hour may be high, these strikes give us a great opportunity to consider the deep problems in our current economic system.

Critics of the protests have been making two popular claims: that higher minimum wages would kill jobs and increase prices, and that, rather than striking, workers should work harder to better themselves to become successful.

The first claim has little to no justification. Several studies over the past few years have debunked the idea that higher minimum wages would necessarily lead to higher unemployment or otherwise harm small businesses.

A March 2011 study from the Council for Economic Policy Research found that the effects of higher minimum wages were “more likely to be positive” on employment. Other studies from UC Berkeley and the Economic Policy Institute largely confirm these results.

More incendiary than the minimum wage claims is the insinuation that the poor are poor because of their inherent laziness or natural inferiority.

To believe that, you must ignore the enormous growth of income inequality coupled with the lack of social mobility in this country.

The Huffington Post reported on a study that showed the United States among the most unequal wealth distributions in the world. The report also shows that the top 1 percent have seen a doubling of wealth over the past 30 years.

If that were not bad enough, a 2012 article in The New York Times noted that, “Americans enjoy less economic mobility than their peers in Canada and much of Western Europe.” The article cites a review of studies involving nine countries in which the United States is ranked in the bottom three.

This should concern us all. Many college students work minimum wage jobs, and we will all be going out into the world that these studies describe.

We each have an individual stake in this, but also a collective one: the larger question of what kind of world we want to live in.

I would like to live in a world where those on the economic margins have a chance for a decent living, where the level of inexcusable inequality is not so great and where systemic barriers to success are removed and lessened.

This is not about unfair handouts, but rather about seeing that those who do work are able to survive and rise in society based on their efforts.

It is merely a start, but the frustration of these fast food workers can help us focus on these large, important issues.

Griffin, a sophomore journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.