Next week, on 4th September, workers at two McDonald’s restaurants in the UK will go on strike, in an action intended to co-ordinate with the struggles of fast-food workers internationally.
The date chosen for the strike action falls on the Labor Day holiday in the USA. Solidarity events will also take place around Britain in support of the strike.
Staff at two branches - in Cambridge and Crayford, in south-east London - voted to call a strike in August, each by decisive margins.
The conditions facing these workers will be all too familiar to many workers in Britain: those of extremely low wages and permanent uncertainty about working hours.
Although McDonald’s have already been forced to publish a claim that they will now guarantee hours to all workers, the company cannot be trusted to deliver on their promise - and so the workers are fighting for a full victory, the conditions of which are: wages of at least £10 an hour; more secure working hours; and union recognition.
A combative stance from the union is further justified by some workers’ claims that their treatment has been intended as punishment for their unionising efforts. Given the company’s total dependence on a workforce – totalling 85,000 staff in the UK, and 1 million globally – which is unorganised and lacking in basic rights, this is not hard to believe.
The experiences of workers in Cambridge and Crayford echo those of McDonald’s workers across the world, a fact which is shaping the internationalist dimension to these workers’ campaign.
In the USA, industrial struggles by fast-food workers have captured headlines and produced viral videos in recent years. Even Hillary Clinton was forced to express support for their fight for a $15 minimum wage.
Fast-food workers in the UK, meanwhile, have benefited from the advice of organisers from New Zealand’s Unite union, which has won victories on the same demands recently. They will also be hosting a delegation from Belgium on the day of the strike.
The Bakers’, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), which is heading the UK strike, has also proclaimed their hope that it will be matched by co-ordinated actions across the world.
The strike follows a campaign conducted over several years by the left-wing BFAWU, called the Fast-Food Rights Campaign. This has involved regularly protesting outside McDonald’s restaurants, as well as organising fast-food workers by calling for an end to zero-hours contracts, a minimum £10 hourly wage, and union rights.
A victory in this strike will represent a major victory for this campaign, and would likely embolden many more precarious, low-paid workers to unionise and take action.
Despite the continued decline of union membership in the UK and a historically low level of strikes, struggles such as this can be counted alongside those of Deliveroo workers and cleaning staff at SOAS as examples of an embryonic industrial militancy emerging even amongst the most exploited, atomised, and traditionally unorganised sections of the working class.
As British capitalism continues to stumble from one crisis to another, a fighting stance will be taken up by more and more workers - not just at the ballot box, but in the workplace also.
Far from daring strike actions such as this being blasts from a grim and distant past, as the right-wing media are fond of claiming, class struggle in the workplace is the music of the future.
Bosses rattled as McDonald's workers organise and fight back
By Vic Dale, Isle of Wight
McDonald's, one of the world’s largest fast-food chains, is in trouble once again, this time in Britain over its refusal to allow its employees to join or form a trade union. This is a gross violation of basic human rights. But because the firm is so large, governments worldwide have allowed the corporation to get away with it. This Tory government is no exception.
Workers in two of its restaurants have voted to strike, making this the first industrial action against the fast-food giant in Britain, and hopefully paving the way for further such action in the future.
Staff at McDonald's restaurants in Cambridge and in Crayford, south-east London, have voted in favour of a strike against poor working conditions and the use of zero-hour contracts.
The Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) have agreed to back the strike. In a statement, the union have stated that:
“Workers have found themselves living on low wages with no guarantee of hours. This has been viewed by some as punishment for joining a union, and has seen employees struggle to meet their rent payments, whilst some have even lost their homes.”
With a national minimum wage set at just £7.50 an hour - or only £7.05 for under 25s - McDonald’s workers are paid a pittance for working long, hot hours (when they can get them), and at a truly frenetic pace during peak times.
Ian Hodson, the BFAWU national president, said:
“We at the BFAWU fully support the historic decision by these brave McDonald’s workers to stand up and fight back against McDonald’s, a company that has let them down one too many times. McDonald’s has had countless opportunities to resolve grievances by offering workers a fair wage and acceptable working conditions. This is a call for change.”
The strike clearly has McDonald’s bosses rattled, probably due to painful memories of their defeat at the hands of their workers in Detroit Michigan, USA. Workers there fought the company and won a landmark victory, when they struck for the right to organise, the right to strike, and for a pay rise bringing them up to $15 per hour, which broke the US average state minimum wage of $10 per hour.
McDonald’s in Britain has responded to the current dispute by saying that they will offer fixed and variable contracts and raise pay by 17% in May 2018. What a magnanimous deal! 17% of next to nothing is an insult. Under 25s could expect to receive about £8.25 - well short of a reasonable rate for the job. Even £10 per hour is not exactly opulence.
The dispute has come at an opportune time for the labour movement and youth to offer support and solidarity. Universities will be hosting freshers fairs, where new students - a largish part of McDonald’s clientele - can be informed of how their favourite food outlet treats its workers.
Similarly, the TUC Congress and Labour Party’s national conference can alert delegates to the strike, so they can take messages back to their workplaces and constituencies, respectively. The entire weight of the labour movement could wage an extremely effective publicity and solidarity campaign and knock a huge hole in McDonald’s profits.
Companies like McDonald’s will need to take very great care in the way they treat their workers in future. The working class is beginning to show that it will not lie down to be continually kicked by the bosses and the Establishment that defends this rotten system.
The fact that traditionally downtrodden workers are now getting up and preparing to fight back is a warning. McDonald’s and others - take heed!