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Restaurant Workers don’t Need Private Fundraisers, they need support to organize and build worker-led movements

September 5, 2017

On Tuesday, September 12, Lilly Tomlin and Jane Fonda will be in Grand Rapids for a private fundraiser for the One Fair Wage campaign.

The One Fair Wage campaign is a project of the Restaurant Organizing Committee, which is based out of New York City. 

The Restaurant Organizing Committee (ROC) is a movement that is made up of people who work in the restaurant sector – wait staff, people who bus tables and cooks. This 25,000 member movement is fighting for better working conditions, benefits and better wages all across the US.

I met several organizers with the ROC at the US Social Forum held in Detroit years ago and was immediately impressed with their understanding of the issues and their commitment to fighting with other restaurant workers who are some of the most exploited in the US.

The private fundraiser that features Tomlin and Fonda states the following:

Did you know that Michiganders who rely on tips only make $3.38/hour? We invite you to join us, along with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, to raise the minimum wage and ensure that all all Michiganders have One Fair Wage.

This awful disparity in pay is in part because the larger trade unions did not fight to include restaurant workers and migrant farm labor into the national minimum wage battles of the 1930s and 40s. The Restaurant Organizing Committee is trying to change this dynamic and is part of a larger movement in the country to fight for a $15 an hour minimum wage for all workers.

However, a fundamental problem with the private event that is being hosted in Grand Rapids is that it is not being organized by those who work in the restaurant industry. In fact, not only is this private event not organized by restaurant workers, the cost of the private event is such that it excludes the very workers it seeks to support.

The minimum ticket fee to be able to come and hang out with the stars of the show, Grace and Frankie, is $250 per person. For those who contribute $500 – $1000 per ticket will be able to be part of a much smaller event with Fonda and Tomlin and even get their picture taken with the long-time TV and Hollywood stars. 

Such events are terribly problematic. First, these kinds of private fundraisers offer people with disposable wealth the opportunity to contribute money that is often a way for those with economic privilege to feel like they are contributing to “the cause.”

Second, movements like the Restaurant Organizing Committee and the $15 an hour minimum wage campaigns are effective precisely because they are led by those who are most negatively impacted. Restaurant workers can relate to other people who work in that industry and build the kind of relationships necessary to build unions and movements that can make a real difference in people’s lives.

Lastly, private events like these completely miss the point about the value of building grassroots movements. If the people who attend this event were really interested in supporting the Restaurant Organizing Committee, they would use their wealth to pay restaurant workers to be able to organize their fellow workers. Aside from paying workers to organize, they could be giving money to cover the cost of child care or other daily expenses that restaurant workers are often unable to pay because they cannot afford basic necessities with a $3.38 an hour minimum wage.

Working class people don’t need sympathy, charity or handouts, they need allies that will support their organizing efforts on the terms of working class people.

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