Today is the largest mobilization of fast food workers in history, with workers across the country engaging in a one-day strike. The basic demand is a $15 an hour wage. SEIU has played a major role in spurring this movement, even though it has little to gain immediately since the chances of a union contract that would pay dues is low to nonexistent in the near future. But this is the kind of forward thinking leadership that labor needs to take with non-union workers in industries away from their base (in SEIU’s case, health care and government) that won’t necessarily build the dues structure. The recent populist push for higher wages, coming out of Occupy and seen most concretely in the Sea-Tac $15 minimum wage passed last month, is a good sign that people are uniting around a specific concrete goal as a first step. Rep. Raul Grijalva is pressing Obama to issue an executive order raising the minimum wage for workers covered by government contract, which he can absolutely do but almost certainly won’t. But it is more concrete pressure from the left that combined with people on streets, can and I think will move more Democrats toward making meaningful changes in the national wage laws.
Greenhouse’s piece linked above cites economists claiming a higher wage would lead to a lot less employment, but I am skeptical of this and don’t see any real evidence as to its truth. If mechanization is cheaper, it’s going to be cheaper at $7.50 too and a few bucks an hour to the few workers in a fast food joint isn’t going to make or break that process. It’s certainly possible that an employer could try to staff with less workers, but that’s another problem that workers can organize around. It’s also of course worth noting that employers and their lackeys make these arguments about every improvement in the conditions of workers and have since at least the Civil War.