THIS MONTH'S McDonald’s strike lifted the lid and shone a bright light on the dark practices of the world’s largest restaurant chain.
If that were all the strikers achieved, they would deserve the gratitude of hundreds of thousands of fast food workers. But they achieved much more. And that’s why they’re an inspiration.
Forty workers across two branches, in Cambridge and in Crayford in south-east London, took part in this action, the first ever strike at McDonald’s UK.
They joined a growing international campaign that has already seen action (and some victories) in the USA, New Zealand and France. As a mark of their internationalism, strikers from bakers’ union BFAWU chose 4 September (Labor Day in the USA) for their action. Activists from the USA and New Zealand flew in to provide practical help and solidarity on the day.
As the workers’ own leaflet put it, “Many people think that McDonald’s workers can’t go on strike, can’t join a union, and can’t organise together for better pay, better conditions and more respect at work. But McDonald’s workers can.” (See fastfoodrights.wordpress.com for further details.)
McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook earns £11.82m a year, or £5,684 an hour, while full-time workers at the company are on £7.55 an hour: 0.13 per cent of the CEO’s wage! This highlights the urgency behind Labour’s policy to narrow grotesque pay inequality, so that no one earns less than 5 per cent of the highest paid employee in any one company.
But if the pay is crap, then working conditions are even worse.
Zero-hours contracts mean that workers can get used to being offered 35 or 40 hours a week, and then suddenly be cut back to seven or eight hours, with no explanation or comeback. Rent, food bills, kids’ clothes all go unpaid for. Managers use this power to punish workers who refuse to work unsocial shifts at short notice or who become union activists.
Bullying is rife, with recorded instances of physical harm, and managers and customers screaming verbal abuse. Workers are routinely told to come in when sick or face being frozen out of work.
McDonald’s is also a dangerous working environment. The spitting fat from burger griddles causes burns on workers’ arms. And then there are the health hazards, some mental, some physical, caused by long hours, poverty pay and demeaning conditions.
The BFAWU strikers have kick-started the fight against zero-hours and poverty pay. Their demands for £10 an hour, guaranteed hours and union recognition can be applied to the rest of McDonald’s restaurants and across the fast food sector. The stage is set for a massive unionisation drive along Britain’s high streets and an escalation of the dispute.
McDonald’s management have tried to laugh off the strike as minuscule and irrelevant. But they are on the back foot. Their brand is once again turning toxic. And as in New Zealand, France and some parts of the USA, they can be beaten.