More than 1,000 fast-food workers from around the country traveled to Chicago last weekend to attend one of the largest labor conventions in the country. Backed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the event underscored a renewed campaign to secure lasting rights for low-wage service workers.Some civil activists, such as Rev. William Barber from North Carolina, have framed the movement, particularly the push for a $15 minimum wage and collective bargaining, in the larger context of social justice. “You have to stay in the $15 fight until it is a reality," Barber said in a speech to convention attendees. "When you raise people’s wages and it raises the standard of living and you increase purchasing power, you actually not only do the right thing morally, but you do the right thing economically, and the whole country is blessed.”The New York Times reports: Throughout the convention, one overarching strategy was to say the fast-food movement was an economic justice movement comparable to the civil rights movement—a strategy the service employees used to unionize tens of thousands of cleaning workers in its "Justice for Janitors" campaign. Inspired by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the fast-food workers debated and discussed using nonviolent civil disobedience to step up pressure on the fast-food companies. "They’re already slowly killing us with the way they’ve got us living,” said Terrence Wise, a Burger King worker in Kansas City, Mo., who served as M.C. for much of the convention. "Are we going to stand up?" he asked. "I want to see who is willing to do whatever it takes, who is willing to get arrested." After his pleas, the workers voted unanimously to conduct a wave of civil disobedience actions.Whether the campaign will succeed in its ultimate goal of "$15 and a union" is yet to be seen. But the movement is gaining momentum—and if civil disobedience is the next step, more widespread attention is sure to follow.
Stephen Quillenis a Summer 2014 intern at In These Times.