International Women’s Strike Chicago: Global Wage Justice
March 7, 2017
I was honored to be invited to speak at the March 7th Resist Trump Tuesday rally as a leader with Seminarians for Justice and The People’s Lobby, fighting for the global minimum wage movement and for the rights and dignity of women and workers everywhere. Following are some photos of the event, a video of our multilingual call for global solidarity, and a video and manuscript of my speech.
Good afternoon! My name is Day Hefner and I am a leader with Seminarians for Justice and The People’s Lobby. I was born and raised in the farming village of Coleridge, NE, population 476. I come from a working class family of farmers and small business owners, almost all of whom voted for Trump in the 2016 election. They voted for Trump because they feel left out of the national conversation and because they are sick and tired of watching our town die. Family farms can’t compete with corporate farming operations, so they sell their land and leave town. Stagnant wages mean that people are no longer able to support the small businesses that once made our small town thrive. And the corporate interests that reach their greedy fingers even into the rural heartland don’t give a damn about the well being of my people.
When I lived in the Dominican Republic for four years, I saw the same story playing out. I saw extreme poverty, people who barely had electricity or running water. This was especially true among people in my communities who worked long hours in the zonas francas – special trade zones designed to maximize corporate profit by exploiting poorly paid labor. In Nebraska and here in Chicago, I have spent years working with immigrant populations from Mexico and Central America who were driven north by the same kind of brutal poverty that the global race to the bottom has created in many Latin American countries. Meanwhile, back in my hometown, my own father’s wages are also controlled by a multinational corporation – Apple Computers – which pays him barely more than minimum wage, even though he is a trained technician who owns his own business. The corporate forces that create working poverty and joblessness in my hometown in Nebraska are the very same forces inflicting even more extreme poverty and suffering in the Dominican Republic and all across Latin America.
Workers like my dad, and like the workers here at Target, deserve a fair wage for their labor. Multinational corporations like Apple and Target need to be held accountable for the way they exploit their workers all over the world. And because this problem is a global problem, it requires global solutions. Economic reforms that stop at the borders of any one country will not be enough.
That’s why we are here at Target today. Target is the 11th largest retail chain in the world and it has been repeatedly cited for sweatshop labor practices. With $74 billion in sales and revenue last year, it paid CEO Brian Cornell nearly $17 million, while paying workers in Bangladesh as little as 14 cents an hour. Target is also among the top 5 U.S. corporations that pay American employees the least. And after the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse that killed over 1,100 people—most of them young women aged 18-20—Target refused to join the legally binding Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. It instead joined Wal-Mart’s voluntary “Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.” A ‘voluntary alliance’ not to murder your workers with unsafe practices is not good enough!! For its employees in the U.S. and around the world, Target’s true slogan is “Expect Less, Pay More” and all too often, women and workers pay that price with their lives.
We have delivered a letter to Target CEO Brian Cornell, demanding that Target use its status as a major international retailer to help lead the way in protecting the rights and dignity of workers by supporting a global minimum wage. As long as multinational corporations are allowed to push wages down everywhere they operate, none of us will ever have the stability to hold on to good wages or to organize for better conditions. And as long as people everywhere aren’t paid enough to participate in the economy, we will all keep losing in the global race to the bottom. Workers in Nebraska and Chicago and across the US will keep losing. People in countries like the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Bangladesh, and China will keep losing.
The only viable response to this global crisis is a program of global justice that ends the race to the bottom with a global minimum wage. We need to put pressure on our elected officials and on multinational corporations to to work with us and use their power to make this a reality. We must reject the toxic nationalism and doomed protectionism of Trump. Instead, we can use globalization as a force for good, by brokering progressive trade deals that set binding wage standards and hold corporations accountable for how their goods are produced. This is a crucial step towards protecting the rights and dignity of women and workers everywhere. Thank you.