This year’s Week of Action was good for workers, and tough for non-union companies throughout the Twin Cities. Union members, activists, leaders and allies within SEIU and in coalition with CTUL, MN Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC), Take Action MN, ISAIAH and other partners took part in a Week of Action which kicked off Black Friday through Friday, December 5th. The week revolved around the demand that workers are sick of working hard and struggling to get by, bravely carrying the slogan “Fighting to live, not just survive!”
The week kicked off in the wee morning hours of Friday, November 28th at the Home Depot in northeast Minneapolis. Black Friday strikes are something of a tradition for us, as CTUL continues their struggle for Justice for Retail Janitors against low-wage, non-union contractors. Despite frigid temperatures, Retail Janitors on strike marched with hundreds of others, all calling for better wages and union rights. Thousands across the country boycotted Black Friday, and Walmart workers went on strike nationwide to take a stand in the fight for economic freedom and equal human rights, and many joined the picket lines. Reports show Black Friday profits were down 11% from last year, and a major contractor signed an agreement allowing Retail Janitors to join Local 26! That is what people power looks like.
Along with the Week of Action, about 4o activists and leaders came together everyday for Leadership School where we taught each other how to act as a marshal, effective social media practices, we asked ‘what is a campaign and how do we build one that meets our needs?’ and held direct action trainings. The week also included political educational sessions where we learned about the economy; the myths we have been fed, the impact of those narratives and the history that has led us to where we are today.
The Leadership School attended a screening of the film “Food Chains”, about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, farm workers in Immokalee, Florida. The event ended with a discussion that included some of the workers featured in the documentary.
Wednesday, the Leadership School had the chance to plan and execute actions from start to finish, putting to good use the skills we’d acquired during the week. The team chose to hold actions on worksites where workers had recently been fired for their organizing activity, and we took our energy to Walmart in Apple Valley, Burger King on Nicollet in south Minneapolis and the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport.
Nationwide fast food strikes took place on Thursday in 190 US cities and Minneapolis was one of them. Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and several city council members showed support at these rallies. Strikers from Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King and more stood side-by-side with so much support from their community, protesters took it to the streets in the realest way. The movement shut down I-35w as we marched to Minneapolis City Hall to demand economic and racial justice. We marched in solidarity with protests around the world calling out the system that devalues black lives and holds us all back from peace and prosperity.
We closed the week with a rousing protest at MSP Airport on Friday. Several hundred showed up to support workers at non-union AirServ, a company owned by ABM in their fight for $15 wage and a union. Many there also supported Kip Hedges, a 26 year Delta employee and dedicated labor activist who was fired for speaking his mind on low pay. Marchers tired of the companies treating their workers like trash, took to the streets for half an hour, diverting traffic and sending a clear message to the companies that their workers will not stay silent. Congressman Keith Ellison joined the crowd and spoke out in favor of the workers demands.
Minneapolis set a remarkable example of what solidarity of low wage workers across industries and communities can look like. We had security guards standing with homecare workers, with retail and commercial janitors, fast food workers, airport workers and more. What will our fight in 2016 look like? We imagine a whole lot bigger!