Striking McDonald’s workers from six south London branches braved torrential rains yesterday in order to make their voices heard outside Downing Street.
The ‘McStrikers’ were taking action to demand a ‘New Deal for Workers’, including: a £15 per hour living wage; a guarantee of 40 hours per week; the end of lower pay rates for young people; and union recognition - amongst other things.
Earlier in the day, the McDonald’s workers - organised by the Bakers, Food, and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU) - had assembled as a picket outside the Wandsworth Town outlet. From here they travelled to Whitehall to deliver their demands directly to Number 10.
Before doing so, a range of speakers explained why they were striking, and why it is vital for the whole labour movement to get behind this struggle.
Ian Hodson, president of the BFAWU, chaired the rally. He spoke militantly about how BFAWU is attempting to organise workers in precarious industries such as the food and restaurant sector - not only at McDonald’s, but also at JD Weatherspoon and other infamous employers in the UK.
Whilst these workers suffer from exploitation and indignity, the bosses are laughing all the way to the bank, Ian emphasised. McDonald’s is making profits of $11 billion per year, Ian reported.
All of this profit is squeezed out of the labour of the multinational’s 1.7 million worldwide employees. This huge workforce makes McDonald’s the second largest private employer in the world. And yet, despite all of this, the company’s chiefs have the audacity to claim that the McStrikers’ demands are ‘unreasonable’.
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First up to the megaphone was Mellisa, a McDonald’s worker at the Wandsworth store. She stated that her demands were far from ‘unreasonable’. Rather, Mellisa said, she faces an uphill struggle every day in trying to afford the rent, bills, and food for herself and her child.
The insecurity and uncertainty of her working conditions, along with the paltry pay offered by the fast-food giant, mean that she is consistently forced to live in fear about any unexpected costs that might arise.
“I don’t even have enough money on my Oyster card to get into work tomorrow,” she exclaimed. “And what if my kid needs a new pair of shoes - that would take me weeks to save up for.”
Other McStrikers gave similarly harrowing stories about the conditions of precarity and poverty forced on workers in the fast-food industry. And yet they are determined to continue fighting for their demands.
“This is my fourth strike now,” declared Lewis from the Crayford branch. “But I’ll go on a fifth, sixth, and seventh strike too if I have to. I’ll do whatever it takes.”
The crowd also heard from various other speakers, including: Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC; Jo Grady, the recently-elected general secretary of the UCU, which is also set to take strike action this month, against casualisation and exploitation in the higher education sector; and Isaías Marcelino Sapon, a McDonald’s worker from the USA, who is involved in the ‘Fight for $15’ campaign on the other side of the pond.
Strikers and supporters were also treated to a visit from John McDonnell - “the next Chancellor of the Exchequer”, as Ian Hodson introduced him.
McDonnell explained how a Labour government would attempt to address the scourge of precarious work and low pay that workers like Mellisa and Lewis must currently endure in modern-day Tory Britain.
Labour would bring in sectoral wage agreements, McDonnell stated, in order to guarantee decent wages for workers across whole industries. This would include a £15 per hour wage for fast-food workers, McDonnell assured.
This promise would be in addition to other key economic pledges, McDonnell outlined, including: increasing the minimum wage to be a genuine living wage; ending zero-hour contracts; and eliminating the pay rate disparity for under-25s.
Ian Hodson welcomed these assurances on behalf of the McStrikers, adding that it was about time that we finally had a government that is on the side of workers. This is why, Ian stated, it is so important that we fight with all our might over the next four weeks for a Corbyn Labour government.
Following these inspiring speeches, the McDonald’s workers handed in their demands to Number 10. If we mobilise the full force of the labour movement in the weeks ahead, then hopefully these militant young workers will be able to return in a month’s time to be greeted at the same door by Jeremy Corbyn.