Tag Archives: The Real News

New York City Fast Food Workers on Strike!

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I serve fast food, and I’m striking for my family
A McDonald’s cashier explains why she walked off the job
by Linda Archer
New York Daily News
Sunday, December 2, 2012

This Black Friday, I wasn’t searching the shelves for deals. I was working the cash register at the McDonald’s on 42nd St. just off Broadway. And seeing all of those shoppers out buying gifts for their loved ones made me sad — because it reminded me that fast-food wages aren’t enough, even on the most deeply discounted day of the year.

I earn $8 an hour — which is more than many of my co-workers, who earn minimum wage — but it’s hardly enough to cover my rent and bills, much less leave anything for Christmas presents.

But more than that, the fix I’m in reveals a growing problem with New York City’s economy: that many of our city’s businesses aren’t paying their workers enough to be customers.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

That’s why on Thursday, I joined with hundreds of fast-food workers to walk off the job and call for wages we can afford to live on. For the first time ever, storefront staff at McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell and other chains are coming together to demand $15 an hour and the right to form a union without interference.

At restaurants in Times Square, lower Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and throughout the city, we stepped out from behind the counter because we believe this city will be a better place when jobs pay enough for working people to meet basic needs. For that to happen, the highly profitable, $200 billion-a-year fast food industry (that’s in the U.S. alone), which employs 4 million Americans, has to change.

Fifteen dollars an hour would make a huge difference in my life. I’m 59 and have been working at McDonald’s for almost three years. When I started, they told me that we’d get a raise every six months. That hasn’t happened.

With more money, I could afford to go back to school. I could find a better apartment for me and my 80-year-old mother. I could pay my bills and buy Christmas presents.

I’m not alone. Some 50,000 New Yorkers are employed by fast-food chains as cashiers, janitors, storage clerks and cooks. The number of these low-wage food service jobs is growing as fast as any sector of our economy.

The state minimum wage is $7.25; according to official government statistics, the median hourly wage for New York food service and prep workers is $8.90 an hour. The stereotype is that most of those earning these paychecks are young people trying to get themselves through school or pay the cell phone bill.

That’s incorrect. We are people like Gregory, a 53-year-old KFC worker earning $8.20 an hour who hasn’t gotten a raise since 1998, and Joshua, 28, a stocker for Wendy’s earning $7.25 per hour and not getting enough hours to pay rent, school loans and support his newborn son.

We know change is possible. We’ve seen low-wage workers win victories before. Janitors and cafeteria workers who’ve come together by forming a union already make double what we do.

But in fast food, we’ve been stuck fending for ourselves. Some of our managers have even threatened to withhold pay unless employees sign statements promising not to ask for a raise. Another McDonald’s worker was suspended for trying to get his co-workers to sign a petition in support of our campaign.

We will not go away. I have high hopes that next Christmas, or a Christmas very soon, large fast-food chains will be paying enough so workers can give our loved ones the gifts they want, which will help give our city’s economy the growth it needs.

Archer works at McDonald’s and lives in the Bronx.

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Egypt: Roots of the Revolution

(Video via The Unrepentant Marxist)

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In the above interview, Mohammed Ezzeldin mentions the murder by police of Khaled Said, a young Alexandrian, in June 2010 (and Egyptian police brutality in general) as one of the catalysts that have sparked the current revolt. For more details of Said’s murder, read The Arabist. Writing in The Faster Times right after Said’s murder, Max Strasser drew the bigger picture:

When Egyptian police burst into an Internet café in the coastal city of Alexandria, grabbed 28-year-old Khaled Said and then beat him to death, it’s most likely that neither the cops, nor Said, nor the bewildered witnesses were thinking about the United States government. But as international human rights organizations and thousands of Egyptians voice their condemnation of Said’s murder, it is worth considering the role that the US plays in the ongoing human rights abuses in Egypt and what the long-term implications of US policy might be.

Some of the details around Khaled Mohammed Said’s murder on June 6 remain murky. The initial reports stated that police came into an Internet café where he was using the computer and asked the patrons for their IDs. According to initial reports in local newspapers, Said refused to show his documents, which apparently offended the police sufficiently to cause them to beat him right there. Said was then taken to a police station where he was further beaten and then dumped, either unconscious or dead, on the sidewalk before he was picked up by an ambulance. When his body was recovered, his face was barely recognizable.

Egypt’s state apparatus has rallied to defend the police and keep the story quiet. In the days following Said’s murder, as anger mounted and the news-including some very graphic photos-spread throughout Egypt via blogs, Twitter and Facebook, state-run newspapers refused to cover the story.

The police department in Alexandria claimed that Said was either a drug addict or drug dealer, who died after swallowing narcotics as he tried to evade arrest. That this explanation contradicts the photos of Said’s bloody and broken face does not seem to be a matter of concern. More recently, some activists are saying that Said was in the Internet café uploading a video of corrupt police officers distributing dividing cash and drugs after a drug raid.

Regardless of whether Said was a drug addict or a daring citizen journalist, the fact remains that he was killed at the hands of police, without, needless to say, the benefit of a lawyer or a trial. This most recent murder fits in with a long pattern of torture, police abuse and state violence-a pattern that alienates Egyptians from their government and encourages instability in the country.

In 2007, police beat and sodomized a bus driver in he apparently resisted arrest. Later that year, police in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura beat a 13-year-old boy to death for stealing teabags. The same week that Said was killed, a 59 year old kiosk owner died in a Cairo police station under mysterious circumstances. These are just a couple of the most high profile incidents in recent years. Torture and arbitrary arrests are routine in Egypt.

This kind of behavior from authorities often falls under the umbrella of Egypt’s Emergency Law, which has been continuously in place since Hosni Mubarak took over the presidency in 1981. The Emergency Law, among other things, gives security forces sweeping powers of arrest and prolonged detention without trial. Egyptian newspapers reported that when the police first stormed the Internet café they cited the Emergency Law as they requested everyone’s documents.

Last month the Egyptian government renewed the Emergency Law for another two years. Some provisions were added stipulating that it would only be employed in cases related to drug trafficking and terrorism, though how the government will define these two things remains unclear. That Said has been repeatedly accused of being a drug dealer as the state attempts to defend its thugs gives us an idea of what it means.

The state violence that rules in Egypt serves one purpose and it is not combating terrorism or stopping the use of drugs. It maintains the power of the (increasingly) unpopular government. Citizens live in a state of fear that prevents them from demanding their basic rights. The government made this point clear earlier this week when, with a characteristic lack of irony, police violently broke up a protest against police brutality.

So what does this have to do with the US government? The United States is Egypt’s biggest backer. For the Washington, Mubarak’s 29-year-long authoritarian rule is a pillar of regional “stability.” Mubarak is the US’s “moderate” ally in the Middle East, whether or not defending the brutal murder of a innocent civilians seems like a moderate thing to do.

Washington relies on Mubarak’s government to broker reconciliation talks between the embattled Palestinian factions, and uses the head of the national intelligence agency to conduct shuttle diplomacy between Israelis and Palestinians. Egypt is also seen as a counterweight against the growing influence of Iran and served as a crucial ally in George W. Bush’s War on Terror, a popular site for the extraordinary rendition of terror suspects. As former CIA agent Robert Baer said of the rendition program, “If you want them to be tortured, you send them to Syria. If you want someone to disappear — never to see them again — you send them to Egypt.”

In exchange for performing these vital services and maintaining a pro-Washington government, Egypt receives approximately $1.5 billion in US aid money every year, making it the second largest recipient after its neighbor to the north Israel. But it’s not just money that Egypt gets in exchange for its cooperation with the US agenda in the Middle East, Mubarak’s government gets cover from the Washington on its human rights abuses.

When Egypt renewed the Emergency Law in May, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement calling the extension “regrettable.” Clinton also said, “The United States understands the challenges that terrorism poses to free societies and we believe that effective counterterrorism measures can be based on legal principles that protect the rights of all citizens.” Since then there have been no further statements on the matter.

On June 14, the State Department issued a similarly feeble statement about Said’s murder, saying, “The United States is concerned” about the issue and “We welcome the Government’s announcement of a full investigation…” This appears to be the Obama Administration’s standard procedure for human rights violations in the Middle East: issue a mild statement that placates the human rights community while keeping serious pressure off of important allies. (See the response to Israel’s deadly raid on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla as a perfect example.)

Subsidizing a government that grabs young men from Internet cafes in broad daylight and viciously beats them to death, is not only an immoral foreign policy, it is also a dangerous one. The US government believes it needs allies in a region where America is deeply unpopular and extremism poses a serious problem, but propping up a repressive regime like Mubarak’s only helps to create the kind of angry, disillusioned youth likely to head down the path of terrorism. When these youth see the US’s complicity, it is easy to imagine where their anger can be directed.

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