Hundreds of low-wage workers from the retail and restaurant industries took to the Chicago streets early this morning demanding higher, livable wages from their corporate employers, such as McDonald’s, Sears and Victoria’s Secret.

In Illinois, minimum wage is $8.25 an hour, and living in a large city like Chicago, where the cost of living is higher compared to the rest of the state, employees need to work two turns of the clock just to turn on a light switch.  And with corporations paying the bare minimum, workers struggle just to keep on the heat.  To bring this issue to light, these blue-collar workers are hosting a walkout today with the Fight for 15 campaign, a campaign that rallies and pushes for a wage increase to $15 an hour.  

For the labor these workers put in on a daily basis, that’s not asking too much.  It’s a call for fairness as these workers spend 8, 10, sometimes 12 hours a day on their feet, throwing their backs, getting yelled at by rude customers or getting injured, in which case they patch up their wounds and continue on with their work.  All for what?  Eight bucks an hour and the knowledge that they are expendable?  

These industries usually have a very high turnover rate, as well.  Perhaps if their employees were compensated better, employee turnover wouldn’t be so high and, since corporations spend millions annually on training, they could save a little bit of money too.  Raising worker salaries could be a long-term win/win.

Salon magazine quoted a McDonald’s spokesperson saying “we value and respect all the employees.”  If that’s so, why keep wages so low in high-cost cities?  Is it indeed because McDonald’s and other businesses see their backbone employees as mere, expendable warm bodies?  

New York City fast food workers that went on a similar strike last November let it be known that they were not breathing mannequins with a number, but were, in fact, human after all.  Naturally, one would be reluctant to strike against their job.  It’s their job.  It’s how they eat, pay bills, etc.  That didn’t happen in New York City for not a single firing took place as a result of the strike.  Striking workers saw this job retention as a victory.  

If workers keep this going and do not relent, companies will pay attention to the overworked and underpaid employees and they will no longer be seen merely as roving around retail and food businesses “in those swarming disregarded masses.”

Joshua de Leon is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.