Out for my usual luncheon stroll around town in today’s picture perfect weather, I was attracted to a noisy gathering, surrounded by flashing blue police lights, at the intersection of State and Congress Streets, in the heart of Boston’s downtown business district. About a hundred very noisy protesters with bull-horns and cryptic signs were chanting that they wanted $15 an hour plus a union.
It was impossible to tell what industry they worked in, however. They were organized enough to get into place all of their people, placards, bull-horns, banners, and a line of ten protesters prepared to be arrested by sitting across the traffic lanes; apparently, however, no one of the protesters thought to make it clear to the curious business lunch crowd who they were.
So I crossed the police line, drawing modest interest, and just asked.
They are the fast food workers. All different fast food companies. They want equality in wages (with whom they did not seem to know). They want it NOW. If they do not get it NOW, they will, seemingly per their chants, stay IN YOUR FACE until they get it. They are much like the Terminator, it seems to me: they say that they will never be defeated and that they will not stop.
Now $15 an hour these days seems like not a lot of money, and I do not in fact begrudge them this modest stipend; the press is full of stories of marginal workers who are below the poverty level although they do hold down jobs– at least these folks are trying. My first law job worked out to about $3 an hour, I recall — but that was long ago, when men were men, a dollar was a dollar, and a Red Sox bleacher seat was a quarter.
It is a bit of an anomaly, perhaps, that the impact of a raise like this is likely to disproportionately affect the poorer populations, as the cost of fast food may well rise and as the target client base of fast food is not exactly the James Beard crowd. But who knows how much this raise would really cut into profits, and how much the franchisees are earning; maybe the math just works out more or less.
A few details of note: protesters of all ages and colors; the Boston police were very controlled and gentle, easing the arrested sit-ins off the street with a few words and escorting them uncuffed to the paddy wagons (very reassuring and I think ACLU-friendly); the protest (for those of you unfamiliar with Boston history and lore) was just in front of the Old State House, built in 1713, site of the 1770 Boston Massacre in which the Redcoats shot and killed five protesters (it was about taxes in those days), and site of the headquarters of the British occupation of Boston during the Revolution. My family goes there many July 4ths to hear the Declaration of Independence read from the balcony — pretty good piece of polemic writing, that Declaration.
Come to think of it, today’s labor protesters could have taken a lesson in clarity of message from that Declaration.