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‘Worker-led’ campaigns are the future of the labour movement, ‘Fight for $15’ TUC fringe event hears 

by Matt Trinder

Industrial reporter

UNION activists have insisted that grassroots campaigns are the key to future industrial victories following the successful fight for a $15 minimum wage in the US.   

The Fight for $15: Lessons for Yorkshire online meeting on Tuesday night, organised by the Yorkshire & the Humber branch of the TUC, honoured the inspirational US-based Fight for $15 movement, which has created a model for worker-led organising. 

The movement began in 2012 when 200 fast food workers in new York walked out to demand a $15 an hour minimum wage and union rights.

It soon spread across the country, prompting states such as California, New Jersey and Florida to commit to a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

Fight for $15 has since inspired movements on six continents such as Black Lives Matter and local campaign groups including Sheffield Needs A Pay Rise (Snap).

Fight for $15 organiser Ben Master said a “1930s moment” was needed, a nod to the explosion of trade union membership in the US as workers demanded better treatment following the economic crash of 1929.

“Unless we have something similar, which is pushed by this militancy from below, there really is no hope for a robust labour movement anywhere in the industrialised world,” he said.

US workers represented by the AFL-CIO union confederation will hold a national day of action tomorrow to push senators to pass the Protect the Right to Organise Act, which could transform industrial relations.  

Snap organiser Rohan Kon, who trained with Fight for $15 activists in the US last year, said the movement was not about a “service-based” union model but concerned “people power,” and training the next generation of activists.

“We need to have conversations with workers about what issues are facing them, and empower them to form unions and fight back,” she said.  

“The work will be slow and hard. But if we are going to transform how this country works, no shortcuts are going to be found in policy papers.”

Snap successes so far include a campaign to pressure Wetherspoons pub-chain owner Tim Martin to provide furlough payments to 43,000 workers, and improved health and safety measures for staff at a Sheffield KFC restaurant.

Fellow Snap activist Aya Ismael Hoez said: “I had never heard of a trade union [a year ago]. Now I’m part of this movement. We’re united.”

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