50 Years Later Local Workers Still Demanding Better Pay


Rochester Fast Food workers are rallying this evening in support of the 50 year mark of the Memphis Sanitation Strike and the revival of the Poor People’s Campaign this year.

“Rochester workers will vow to continue the sanitation workers’ fight for higher wages and union rights and show their support for cooks and cashiers across the Mid-South who will be striking Monday for $15 and union rights,” says a statement from Metro Justice. The group says the event is also in support of the Poor People’s Campaign, which announced its comeback to continue fighting for better treatment of the poor.

“Five decades after our country declared a war on poverty, it now fights a war against the poor,” reads a statement by the Poor People’s Campaign, according to Mic. Discussing the purpose of bringing back the party, leaders say the need is still here: “The systemic poverty and racism America faces today was not inevitable.It is the result of choices made by politicians and corporations.”

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The Memphis sanitation strike began on Feb. 12, 1968, when hundreds of Black men went on strike to demand better wages, and recognition from their union. According to Metro Justice, the men wanted 2 dollars an hour or “the equivalent of 15.73 after inflation.”

“Strikers marched daily from Clayborn Temple to Memphis City Hall holding signs declaring, ‘I AM A MAN.'” And that’s why the Fight for 15! has launched a new website allowing visitors to create their own social-media friendly I AM A MAN portrait. Importantly, users can change the gender to something that fits them better, modernizing the fight to include the millions of other Americans who are also impacted. Submissions will be turned into actual signs that workers can carry.

Local advocates say Monday’s march is also influenced by politicians across the nation who are dialing back union rights and refusing to budge on minimum wage.

“Workers in predominantly Black cities including St. Louis, Mo., Kansas City, Mo., and Birmingham, Ala., have had minimum wage increases nullified by white state lawmakers in recent years,” the statement continues. “Meanwhile, union jobs in state and local government – which have historically provided a pathway to the middle class for workers of color – have been under attack from corporate-backed politicians like Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has refused to bargain a contract with state employees for nearly two years to break their union.”

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People of color make up a disproportionate amount of the population of fast food and low-wage workers, according to Metro Justice. “More than half of Black workers and nearly 60 percent of Latino workers are paid less than $15,” according to an analysis by the National Employment Law Project.

It was actually an issue Dr. Martin Luther King Jr championed before his assassination. According to the New York Times, “In the speech delivered the night before his death, Dr. King declared: ‘The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers.” While a deal was reached in Memphis after his death — recognizing the workers’ union and guaranteeing better wages — many workers across the country still face unacceptable conditions.”

King believed the low wages and poor conditions were directly linked to institutionalized racism, which is why in addition to reviving the Poor People’s Campaign, nationwide, groups will be partaking in a six weeks-long campaign of social disobedience and action to demand attention to the issue. The campaign starts Mother’s Day and the clear demand is to strengthen unions to “lift people of all races out of poverty.”

Details for Monday’s Rally: 

WHAT:  March and Rally on 50th Anniversary of Historic Memphis Sanitation Strike

WHEN:  Monday, February 12, 2018 at 4:30 pm

WHERE: Edgerton Recreation Center, 41 Backus Street, Rochester, NY 14608

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