Lisa Goldman

Journalist, editor and policy analyst

MobLab is partnering with ChangeMakers, an exciting new global podcast, to bring new and inspiring stories of innovative social change to the ears of people around the world.

ChangeMakers launched this week with the story of American workers mobilising a grassroots movement to guarantee every worker a minimum living wage of $15 per hour. Listen in as ChangeMakers host Amanda Tattersall learns what happens when low wage workers take their struggle for dignity into their own hands.

We have this idea that as long as we’ve got a job and we’re not living in the streets, that we’re doing good. And that’s how sometimes we get exploited.

Robert Wilson Jr.

For years, Robert Wilson Jr. of Chicago earned $8.25 an hour, flipping burgers at a fast food outlet. He worked full time and pooled his income with two other family members, but still his earnings allowed him only an impoverished, hand-mouth-existence. It was not a living wage.

“We have this idea that as long as we’ve got a job and we’re not living in the streets, that we’re doing good. And that’s how sometimes we get exploited,” he Amanda Tattersall, host of the ChangeMakerspodcast.

The Fight for 15

This is the story of low-wage workers driving their own campaign. Across the United States, Fight for 15 is helping Wilson and others lead a national fight for a living wage. These are people who work at chain stores like Target, and for fast food purveyors like McDonald’s.

Fight for 15 is the outcome of an innovative shift in tactics on the part of the SEIU, the Service Employees International Union. Rather than having the union leaders organize the tactics for workers, they sat with workers and decided together what their demands would be and what tactics they would implement in pursuit of their goals. In other words, they put the workers at the front of the campaign.

In backing the worker-led campaign, the SEIU took a deep look at fundamental questions, such as: How do you organize a low-wage community? What tactics can be used to overcome obstacles like laws that prevent workers from unionising?

Robert Wilson Jr. is one of thousands of workers who joined the campaign. He decided not only that $8.25 was not enough, but that his aspirations lay beyond a token raise of a dollar or two per hour. An hourly wage of $15, he explains, is something worth fighting for. Unsaid but implied is that a living wage means a life of dignity.

“So many people think that where they’re at financially is their own fault,” Wilson explains. “But when you’re in the same room with a lot of people in the same situation, you realize the poverty is not your own fault. It’s the systemic underpayment of workers.”

Within a year of its first action, a city-wide strike of low wage workers in New York City that made national headlines, Fight for $15 won a commitment to a $15 minimum wage for all workers in New York state, California, the city of Seattle and more than a dozen other cities and counties.

Now it is taking on America’s biggest low wage employer: McDonald’s.

In the first ChangeMakers podcast, Tattersall narrates the history of the Fight for 15 movement. She explains what makes it unique and shares innovative actions that unlocked tangible, people-led transformations in both organising and worker wages.

Click below to hear the first episode of ChangeMakers: Making the Impossible Possible

Subscribe for more episodes from the first season and beyond:

Top photo: Strike for 15 fast food strike at McDonald’s in Chicago on 31 July 2013. Photo by Flickr user Steve Rhodes. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0