Fighting for 15 at the presidential debate

One thousand workers, union members, students, and members of various community groups made their way to Hofstra University in Uniondale, Long Island September 26th to highlight the needs of the 99% at the first Presidential debate. Twenty-five buses left from various neighborhoods in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn, filled with working people mobilized by the #Fightfor15 low-wage workers’ campaign.

As the coalition fighting for a $15 minimum wage and union rights for all U.S. workers continues to expand, so does its vision. Women’s rights groups such as the National Institute for Reproductive Health and NLIRH, which has a special focus on Latina and immigrant women’s rights, have joined together with members of the Transit Workers’ Union, 32BJ, the Laundry Workers’ Center, and racial justice advocates from the Garnerway Foundation and others. Environmental justice groups such as Uprose and WE ACT were present along with New York Communities for Change and the Communist Party USA. The student group Fordham Students United held high their banners to “Let Our Teachers Teach” alongside educators from Movement of Rank & file Educators (MORE), and NYS Allies for Public Education.

Raising the issues

Although police checkpoints and so-called “free speech zones” had been set up to slow down the mobilizations, the #Fightfor15, the largest, most spirited and diverse contingent of protesters outside the debate hall, was undeterred. The Fightfor15 protestors brought with them a broad platform for workers’ rights, racial justice and police accountability, comprehensive immigration reform, reproductive justice, affordable childcare and homecare, affordable housing, quality education, and climate justice.

Protestors went to the debate hall to advance the dignity, leadership, and interests of women and to combat right-wing assaults against women in general and against Hillary Clinton in particular by chauvinistic bullies like Donald Trump. Danielle Castaldi-Micca was there with her colleagues from All Above All calling for a repeal of the Hyde Amendment and to demand federal funding for abortions for low income women who have Medicaid, and for federal employees. “We know that economic justice and reproductive justice are intrinsically linked. If you can’t afford healthcare, you can’t access healthcare, and if you can’t access healthcare you can’t reach your economic potential or get out of poverty. These issues need to be addressed in the next administration.”

Claire Del Sorbo, a sophomore at Fordham University, brought together the concerns of students facing an economy that is squeezing people both as workers and as tenants. “As college students we’ll be entering the work force very, very soon,” she said. “It’s going to be very hard for us, especially with rising rent costs and rising living costs, to create sustainable living for ourselves with a very small minimum wage.”

James Burke of WE ACT spoke of the need for a just transition from fossil fuel energies to a green economy. “As the fossil fuel economy fades away, we want to make sure that the new energy economy is rooted in union jobs, local jobs, and community owned businesses. We want to advance climate justice, not go backwards.”

The #Fightfor15 contingent rallied on the streets outside Hofstra, telling politicians to “come get our vote.” Inside the debate, a clear distinction was made between the two candidates.

Meanwhile, inside the debate

Hillary Clinton opened the debate by repeating the demands that the people’s movements have been bringing to the fore. “We have to build an economy that works for everyone.” “If you help create the profits, you should be able to share in them, not just the executives at the top.”

The former Secretary of State talked about the importance of investing in jobs, infrastructure, clean, renewable energy, and small business. “We also have to make the economy fairer. That starts with raising the national minimum wage and also guarantee, finally, equal pay for women’s work. Let’s have paid family leave, earned sick days. Let’s be sure we have affordable childcare and debt-free college. How are we going to do it? We’re going to do it by having the wealthy pay their fair share and close the corporate loopholes.”

Donald Trump opened by talking about loss of jobs, but blamed it on other countries who he said are “using the U.S. as a piggy bank” to build their economies and who are “stealing our companies and our jobs.” He rested no responsibility on the corporations who are engaging in a global race to the bottom, forcing workers worldwide to compete for the lowest wages.

Trump’s favorite international targets were Mexico and China. Domestically, Trump’s favorite targets were migrant workers who he again called, along with African-American people, “gangs,” “illegal,” and “bad people.” While lamenting that “there’s nobody in our government to fight China,” he also bragged about his endorsements from the Fraternal Order of Police, the NRA, ICE, Border Patrol Agents, and military admirals and generals. “I’ll take the generals any day over the political hacks,” the billionaire said, parading his disdain for people who actually study economic and political policy.

Trump  interrupted and shouted over Clinton, and attacked her for wanting to “approve one of the biggest tax increases in history,” and “increase regulations all over the place.” He bragged that his corporate tax cuts would be “the biggest since Ronald Reagan.” Trump vowed to cut regulations “big league”; later in the debate he said it wasn’t his fault if he ripped off countless workers and small businesses on his way to billionaire status since he was just running a company based on the laws that exist. “If you want to change the laws, change the laws. I take advantage of the laws of the nation because I’m running a company,” said Trump. It is clear that he only wants to change the laws to give corporations even more power to take advantage of others.

As a union organizer said on the streets of Uniondale, “The reason why I’m here representing TWU local 100 is that we think Hillary is the best candidate for presidency. We do not believe or stand for what Donald Trump is saying or what he believes in.”

Jarvis Tyner, who joined in the rally outside the debate hall as a leader of the New York District of the Communist Party USA, reflected on the debate. “It was very important that hundreds of people representing $15 and a union came out and that there was a sense of hooking that issue into the Presidential campaign. Hillary laid it down against Donald Trump. It was very effective that she mentioned that she wanted to raise the federal minimum wage. It shows that even a con man like Trump can be defeated with a discussion of democratic ideals. We can expect Trump to come back with various forms of provocation, but I think he’s in trouble now.”

Photo: Fight for 15


Cameron Orr
Cameron Orr

Cameron Orr is a musician and writer living in Jersey City, New Jersey.