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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

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Memphis’ place amid the Strike for Black Lives

by Hunter Demster —

Hunter Demster

The Fight for $15 has been a staple in the Memphis scene for over six years. The lead organizer, Antonio Cathey, and the hundreds of Memphis’ finest fast-food workers have changed the landscape of this city over this time and continue to do so.

The goal is to unionize and raise the wages for the entire country. They have shifted the paradigm in regards to poverty and the exploitation of low-wage workers. Something our own Greater Memphis Chamber promoted as selling point for the City of Memphis just a few short years ago.

Nationally, they have made strides in these regards. They are credited with raising wages for over 30 million workers since the campaign began. Two of Memphis’ own, Sepia Coleman and Tiffany Lowe, introduced the raise the wage act on the floor of Congress. The bill passed the House and has since been on the desk of the Republican-dominated Senate, where it is expected to die.

The #StrikeForBlackLives was a coordinated strike with over 20 cities participating from coast to coast. Fast-food workers from across the city walked out to strike with community partners at noon on July 17, 2020. The Memphis strike was located at the McDonalds restaurant on Union Ave.

The A. Phillip Randolph Foundation says, “There is no economic justice without racial justice,” which encompasses the heart of the Strike for black lives. Demonstrators shut down this location for over an hour to show the strength of coming together and, in essence, the power of unionizing. This is a difficult task with Tennessee being a right to work state, but unions are persisting and gaining power none the less. Many of those unions showed up as allies to the event.

Ironically during the event, a paramedic drove by the striking workers and yelled “Get a Job” to the group. Political candidate for District 90, Torrey Harris, followed the ambulance and confronted the driver. He said it was a potential learning moment for the drivers.

FirstCare Ambulance service announced on Wednesday that both employees had been fired for their remarks. In a statement, FirstCare said, “The behavior of these individuals is in direct conflict with our company values and their employment has been terminated.”

It was definitely a learning moment.

Memphis is the second poorest city in the country. The foundations of this city are built on the exploitation of low-wage jobs from temp agencies to warehouse workers to fast-food workers. The establishment fears economic justice for obvious reasons – their pocket books.

Memphis is a city whose population is close to 70 percent Black yet that same population only has 3 percent of the wealth? How can we call ourselves a just society in the face of stats like this?

We have work to do and I’m grateful for the organizers and concerned citizens fighting for justice, equity and a better future. I’m grateful for these low-wage workers making sacrifices that they literally can’t afford to make. I stand with you and see you.

Power will not concede power willingly, so it is time we come together and demand justice on every front.

There is no more time to wait!

(Hunter Demster is a local activists involved on multiple fronts.)


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