In Test for Unions and Politicians, a Nationwide Protest on Pay

In Test for Unions and Politicians, a Nationwide Protest on Pay

Protestors, including Kris Varrette, right, chant for increased wages and union rights at fast food restaurants Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014, in Las Vegas. Police detained several protesters in cities nationwide Thursday as they blocked traffic in the latest attempt to escalate their efforts to get McDonald's, Burger King and other fast-food companies to pay their employees at least $15 an hour. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Protestors, including Kris Varrette, right, chant for increased wages and union rights at fast food restaurants Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

(New York Times) – The protest by tens of thousands of low-wage workers, students and activists in more than 200 American cities on Wednesday is the most striking effort to date in a two-and-a-half-year-old labor-backed movement that is testing the ability of unions to succeed in an economy populated by easily replaceable service sector workers.

Labor has invested tens of millions of dollars in a campaign for a $15-an-hour minimum wage that goes beyond traditional workplace organizing, taking on a cause that has captured broad public support. But the movement is up against a hostile business sector sheltered by a decades-old federal labor law that makes it difficult for workers to directly confront the wealthy corporations that dominate the fast-food and hospitality industries.

For political activists looking to the 2016 presidential campaign and beyond, the wage fight is coming at a potentially pivotal moment, the first concrete, large-scale challenge in decades to an economic system they view as skewed toward the wealthy.

“There is a huge upswelling of anger around jobs in this economy that are low-wage jobs,” said Jonathan Westin, director of New York Communities for Change, a grass-roots organizing group that has played a key role in both the Occupy Wall Street movement and the current fast-food workers’ campaign. “This economy we’re living in now doesn’t work for people.”

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