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Chicago: Angry Testimony at Minimum Wage Hearing

The first of five hearings called by the working group appointed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was held at a community college in Englewood, the economically devastated heart of Chicago’s South Side, on Monday night, June 9th. It proved to be an explosive meeting, taking on not only poverty wages but the entire landscape of the South Side, brutalized by decades of Democratic Party rule.

A panel of a dozen or so beautifully and expensively dressed Aldermen and women sat frozen in their places, unable to respond in any way as dozens of speakers demanded an immediate move to $15 an hour and bitterly denounced the elected officials for their corrupting affluence and political cowardice and  ineffectiveness.

Not one speaker seemed to think there was the least chance of the panel having the guts to stand up to “Mayor 1%”.  Only two speakers – both of them representatives of small businesses – opposed the $15 minimum.

“…some of you [Aldermen] are so cowardly you won’t even come out in your neighborhood to try to stop the violence, but yet you sit up there and talk. Walmart can sit up here and talks about ‘oh yeah, we appreciate our customers and our workers’ and yet they won’t give them that raise.

So why’re you all sitting here? What’s the use of this panel?  This is just like the school panel they had – you’re gonna do the same thing – take it down: ‘oh yeah we went out and we talked to the people and we did what the master Rahm wanted us to do and what Michael Madigan did’ and that’s all you want to do!  You can sit up here and shake your head, but it’s a shame the way your parents had to die and get bitten by dogs for you to get that hundred thousand dollars and that suit that you wear and you just sit up there and just say ‘well, I don’t care about the next man as long as I got mine’. But yet your parents as well as mine helped you where you’re at and this is how you treat your people. It’s a shame. But you know what, when it comes to election time I’m going to make sure that each one of you aldermen doesn’t get back in.  We’re going to let the people know what you really think of us”.

An ex-convict who now works to help young men to get an education attacked the obvious wealth of the aldermen on the stage, raging at the hypocrisy of Black politicians who join the ranks of the rich once they get elected: “you look like me, and yet you do not look like me. You don’t live in our neighborhoods. But we know where you live and we are coming after you, we are coming to get you”.

Several members of Socialist Alternative spoke about the success of 15 Now in Seattle and the groundbreaking election of Kshama Sawant who championed the $15 minimum wage.  The crowd applauded when the speaker identified the devastation of neighborhoods like Englewood with capitalism and with the Democratic Party, and called for no delay for big business in implementing a $15 minimum wage and for the building of a movement to fight for it.

Four more hearings are scheduled, but what happened at Monday’s hearing has not been reported by any major news channel, although numerous TV cameras were present.  

The burning desire for economic and racial justice expressed by these workers needs to be taken outside of the hearings and into the streets and ballot boxes in an organized way.   Activists in Chicago are beginning to set up a 15 Now Chicago chapter and seek to join Fight for 15 and its allies in building this movement.