Jose Carillo and Donald Trump
83-year old McDonald's worker Jose Carillo on his 12th strike gets arrested. #FightFor15

Jose Carillo got arrested in New York City on November 29, peacefully. Why he got arrested says a lot about why Donald Trump won a majority of U.S. electoral votes, and voter pluralities in key Rust Belt swing states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Carillo was one of the dozens of Fight for 15 demonstrators peacefully arrested in midtown Manhattan when they sat down in the street in front of a McDonald’s to demand $15 hourly wages and the right to unionize without employer interference and repression.

We don’t know him personally, but, like many others who were arrested, Carillo in all likelihood makes the minimum wage or just above it. In New York City, that’s $10.50 hourly for fast food workers, above the federal minimum of $7.25, which hasn’t risen in almost a decade.

But Carillo isn’t a teenager working extra hours after school, or even a middle-aged worker between jobs while searching for better-paying employment. He’s 83 years old.

Read that again. Jose Carillo is 83 years old and working at McDonald’s.

Stop and think about why and you’ll get a clue about why Trump won the White House, even if Carillo and other Latinos, along with a majority of all voters, didn’t back Trump.

Pardon us for being old-fashioned, but an 83-year-old man should be relaxing at home in a well-deserved, well-funded retirement, playing with his grandkids – not working in a fast food restaurant earning money so that he, his children and his grandchildren could survive.

Yet there are too many Jose Carillos nationwide, and their names are not just Carillo.

They’re Kowalski and Jones and Smith and Montoya and Schultz…and…and…and.

They’re the people whom the supposed recovery from the Great Recession, a crash brought to you and perpetrated by Republican policies, plutocrats and politicians – such as George W. Bush—have left behind. Even after the “recovery” Barack Obama boasts about.

The result? The National Employment Law Project reports that 42.4 percent of U.S. workers earn $15 an hour, which is the goal of the Fight for 15 campaign, or less.

They include 2.3 million cashiers ($8.75 an hour), 1.68 million cooks ($9.59), 1.9 million servers ($8.05) and 784,000 food preparation workers ($9.15), all occupations available in a fast food restaurant. And, according to Slate, 5.3 million factory workers, too.

And unlike Trump and Carillo, they all don’t live and work in the Big Apple. More like Sheboygan and Toledo and Homestead and Flint and Detroit.

Homestead, Pa., used to be the home of U.S. Steel, unionized with high-paying jobs. Those steel mills are gone now, and their workers now toil in the small shops, fast-food places and discount stores that have succeeded on those sites, in strip malls. For minimum wage.

Those embittered workers, we would guess, voted for Trump. Joblessness may be low, but the quality of their jobs is even lower. The recovery, regardless of the numbers that Hillary Rodham Clinton and, yes, unions, trumpeted on the campaign trail, never reached them.

It still won’t reach them, if Trump’s GOP has anything to say about it.

So the task going forward, for unions, for Fight for 15 and yes, for all of us, is to raise the pay and pensions of the Carillos, the Kowalskis, the Smiths and the Schultzes. By any peaceful means necessary. That means Fight for 15, fight for even more, and unionize.

And if it means taking to the streets, do it. If it means lobbying now and preparing to take the country back electorally in 2018 and 2020, do it, too. Do it for Jose Carillo. An 83-year-old man should be enjoying his rocking chair, not toiling at a minimum wage job.



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.