By Ruth Conniff on May 15, 2013

On Wednesday, hundreds of workers at Milwaukee fast-food restaurants and retail stores walked off the job to demand fair wages and the right to organize.

"We are incredibly excited about the turnout today," said Jennifer Epps-Addison, economic justice director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, who estimated that there were about 500 people at a Burger King on 51st and Capitol in Milwaukee, where five workers walked off the job,

Calling for $15 an hour and the right to form a union without fear of reprisal from their bosses, workers at McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Simply Fashion and Taco Bell in Milwaukee joined their fellow workers who have walked off the job in Detroit, New York City, Chicago and St. Louis in recent weeks.

"We're on strike because we're tired of struggling just to survive," Kenneth Mack, a McDonald's employee said in a statement released by a coalition the Milwaukee Workers Organizing Committee, an indepedent union of low-wage workers. "There is no reason why I should go to work every day and not make enough to take care of myself and my daughter."

"Workers in Milwaukee have been inspired, especially by what we saw in Detroit last week," said Epps-Addison. "That helped us decide we wanted to go out on strike. We've been following what's going on with low-wage workers across the country using Twitter and FaceBook, which has been great because we've been able to find out what's happening in real time and adjust our plans."

Milwaukee fast food workers walk out
Photo by Raise Up MKE.

Low-wage jobs, which account for the majority of jobs added during the recent economic recovery nationwide, don't pay enough so that workers can hope to build a reasonable life, the strikers point out.

"We believe $15 an hour is not just a livable wage but a fair wage for the work that they're doing," added Epps-Addison.

The "Raise Up MKE" campaign is a coalition effort by community, labor, and faith-based groups.

Goals include a union drive, a campaign to raise the state's minimum wage, and informing taxpayers about millions of dollars in subsidies to employers who pay poverty wages.

Milwaukee fast food workers walk out
Photo by Raise Up MKE.

"In the 1960s, Milwaukee workers turned dangerous, low-paying factory jobs into good union careers," the group's press release on today's strike points out. "Unfortunately, those jobs are gone and aren't coming back. Just like our parents and grandparents, we must demand that big corporations stop padding their profits by paying poverty wages. We're striking because we still believe in a Milwaukee where anyone who is willing work hard, can earn enough to support their family."

The Milwaukee workers will return to work tomorrow.

"We hope every employer in our city will follow the law and not retailate against them," said Epps-Addison.

Milwaukee fast food workers walk out
Photo by Raise Up MKE.

If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Move Over, Koch Brothers: A Bigger, Darker Rightwing Funder."

Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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