The apparent upsurge of workplace discontent by retail and food service workers is seemingly driven by the media: I've seen a few shrewd union staffers describe the whole struggle as a 'PR campaign'.
"Seattle, WA: May 30, 2013, workers from different fast food chains (Burger King, McDonalds, Jack In The Box, etc.) walked off the job. The liberal magazine The Nation reported, "Like those cities’ strikes, Seattle’s is supported by a coalition of labor and community groups; in each case, the Service Employees International Union has been involved in supporting the organizing efforts. The Seattle campaign, Good Jobs Seattle, is backed by groups including Working Washington, the Washington Community Action Network and OneAmerica."
The Washington Community Action Network is a regional Saul Alinsky style community organizing activist organization. Like the National Action Network (civil rights organization led by Rev. Al Sharpton-which was present at some of the fast food protests), OneAmerica is a community organizing organization which combines elements of a traditional 'Beltway think-tank' (parliamentary policy research and lobbying), a civil rights activist group and non-profit/NGO.
Good Jobs Seattle appears to be an independent social media organizing umbrella to support the retail-food service workers campaign in the Seattle area; however, examining the website shows it is a clone of the 'Fast Food Forward' website with a different color scheme. This means it is most likely the work of the Service Employees International Union and the Change to Win federation's "Strategic Organizing Center".
Working Washington, like the 'Good Jobs Seattle' title and website, appears at first to be an umbrella coordination and organizing center for the state of Washington; on its 'About Us' page, Working Washington says it is a "coalition of individuals, neighborhood associations, immigrant groups, civil rights organizations, people of faith, and labor united for good jobs and a fair economy."
and references the slogans of the Occupy Movement (the 1% vs. 99%). However, the catch tag of the website is, "Fighting For A Fair Economy: Working Washington". Fighting For A Fair Economy is a campaign of the Service Employees International Union; like the various umbrella and coalition websites, searching for "Fighting For A Fair Economy" online turns up several results, such as this website which carries SEIU's trademark purple in the background and also references the language of Occupy Wall Street:
"The Fight for a Fair Economy (Ohio) is a collaboration of efforts between SEIU, labor allies, community partners and grassroots supporters to fight back against attacks on working people and their families all across Ohio."
Affiliate unions of the SEIU (such as the United Long Term Care Workers) as well as numerous local unions all make use of the same template in their internet-social media orientation and organizing; the same slogans, the same language, the same message. As an, "In These Times," reporter noted:
"Change to Win itself is small–only about 35 employees–and three-fourths of its $16 million budget goes to the Strategic Organizing Center."
A nationally coordinated, union led campaign is underway and has been in the works for nearly a decade (since the 'New Unity Partnership' of the AFL-CIO). It is media driven: press releases and a combination of national and international news as well as local news (TV, newspapers, magazines and radio) have given the retail and food service workers considerable attention. Combined with a coordinated organizing effort via social media and strategic use of the internet, Change to Win is harvesting the fruits of a decade of preparatory work. With the re-integration of the UFCW into the AFL-CIO this past August, it seems likely that the perceived success of the service unions to change the dialogue on unions and wage labor in America and an impressive, nationally coordinated organizing effort and media campaign will bring the Change to Win unions into a position to control the direction of the union movement in America and dictate to the rump manufacturing, construction and public sector unions of the AFL-CIO.
"[The SOC] is leading some of the best campaigns to give workers rights and dignity. While no longer an affiliate of CTW, we continue our strong relationships with the Teamsters, SEIU and the Farmworkers. We will remain active in the SOC and bring our AFL-CIO partners into collaboration with private-sector unions in an effort to build more power for workers." UFCW Press Release 08/08/2013
As of 2010, the state estimates that approximately 3 million workers are employed in 'fast food'. It is also one of the few growth sectors of the American domestic economy today. It is not surprising that these workers would be a target of the large service sector trade unions. What does it mean that one of the largest and most powerful unions in the country is directing a nationwide campaign with the veneer of a decentralized, localized movement of fed up food service and retail workers?
The organizational geneology of the Seattle fast food protests/walk-outs is similar to that in every other city where such protests, walk-outs and/or strikes have taken place: groups directly affiliated to SEIU and Change to Win are at the top, surrounded by groups affiliated with Jobs with Justice and also a myriad of Alinksyite, faith and civil rights groups. All are connected by social media and a national template for seemingly local outbursts. What does this all mean for the growing number of workers employed in retail food service/fast food; how long can the demand '$15 an hour and a union' hold water before the workers realize the impossibility of concessions in the ever worsening crisis?