Labor Debates: Assessing the Fight for Fifteen Movement from Chicago

Source: Robert Bruno, Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 42 no. 4, December 2017
(subscription required)

In this issue of Labor Studies Journal (LSJ), we introduce a new occasional section to readers, Labor Debates. …. In our times, no union action has been more provocative than the Fight for $15 (FFF) movement. And as expected, followers of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)–supported national campaign have insightful and diverse thoughts about the endeavor. Many of those thoughts are commonly held, but there are meaningful differences. Is FFF the model of rank-and-file social activism and union renewal or a largely well-intentioned, but flawed strategy? The energy embedded in the divergent ideas expressed in the oppositional judgments is worthy of open debate. We are therefore proud to inaugurate our Debate series with a collection of essays written about FFF by leading voices within the labor studies community. ….

Articles include:
Assessing the Fight for Fifteen Movement from Chicago
Steven Ashby

My goal in this paper is to dissect what makes the Fight for Fifteen movement special and praiseworthy; give some examples from the Fight for Fifteen movement in Chicago based on interviews and four years of conversations at Fight for Fifteen actions; add some perspective as a labor historian; and reply to left critics of the campaign. I will discuss the scope and duration of the campaign; its viability; the tactics of one-day strikes and civil disobedience; the degree of worker involvement and the idea of a militant minority in historical context; the role of community participation in Fight for Fifteen actions; and messaging and a media campaign…..

Fight for $15: Good Wins, but Where did the Focus on Organizing Go?
Jonathan Rosenblum

….The FFE had two main thrusts: First, through major worker mobilizations and actions, change the national public debate about what was wrong with the economy, expose corporate greed, and fight for better working conditions. And second, launch large-scale private-sector organizing campaigns to “move the union density dial” and rebuild durable union power. ….The question for Fight for $15—yet unanswered—is how to harness the energy of the walkouts to stoke a sustained movement of hundreds of thousands if not millions of workers who collectively can inflict real economic pain on the corporate masters…..

Fight for $15: The Limits of Symbolic Power—Juravich Comments on Ashby
Tom Juravich

Steven Ashby is right to mark the achievements of the Fight for $15. As he reminds us, this national campaign brought wage increases to nearly twenty million American workers during a time when union density fell to below 7 percent. Equally important is the way in which the Fight for $15 forever redefined low-wage work in the United States. Much like the occupy movement altered the discourse on inequality, I would argue that Fight for $15 forever changed how Americans think about low-wage work…..

Ashby Response to Rosenblum and Juravich: Fight for Fifteen
Steven Ashby