Strikes at McDonalds in Crayford and Cambridge – where the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) balloted for strike action and received an overwhelming 95.7 per cent vote in favour – could spread as the reality of exploitation in the food industry is exposed.
As Michael Calderbank writes in Red Pepper:
“A global fightback has taken place by fast food workers getting organised to demand a decent living wage and the right to union recognition. The Fight for $15, backed by the SEIU union in the US, has already won significant pay rises for over 22 million workers. Their campaign marked by a determined and militant form of mass direct action, linking up workers with community groups in a fight for social justice. In New Zealand, too, the UNITE union has successfully forced through the abolition of zero-hours contracts.
Until now, McDonald’s UK has not seen a single instance of strike action against its employment practices. Not coincidentally, pay often remains signficantly below £10 an hour, and the company has yet to make good on its promise to allow all its workers the chance to move off zero-hours contracts onto fixed hours. Significantly, too, the lack of a recognised trade union means that McDonald’s staff often feel bullied and intimidated by management, with no real recourse for their grievances.”
Richie Venton outlines the workers case:
Here’s a video from a public meeting in Govanhill last week.
Mark McHugh from the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, talking about the McDonalds Strike – “I’ll tell you what it’s all about”
As a spokesman from Better than Zero has stated:
“For years McDonald’s have maligned their staff with stagnant poverty pay and an employment model entirely dependent on zero-hours. Today the workers said no more and walked out.”
It would be wrong however to think that this is an issue confined to the fast food industry. Expensive Scottish restaurants rely on Zero Hours contracts, contracts that demand secrecy about pay, long hours and poor conditions.
As the Sunday Herald reported:
“Unions report that low-paid young workers in our cafes, bars and restaurants are routinely intimidated and bull lie, forced to work 10 hour shifts without breaks, sexually harassed and put at risk by lone working at nights.”
As Mark McHugh points out it was McDonalds who invented zero-hours contracts in 1974. It was McDonalds that inspired Douglas Coupland to coin the phrase ‘McJobs’. It was McDonalds that inspired Morgan Spurlock’s iconic (2004) film Supersize Me.
It is McDonald’s that – bizarrely for a company associated with dietary-related ill-health – sponsors our youth football in Scotland.
It is McDonald’s that – even more bizarrely – are sponsoring the new Edinburgh Sick Kids.
Now the political challenge is to get mass public support for Unite’s Fair Hospitality Charter, which calls for regular breaks, paid transport for workers safety late at night and an anti sexual-harassment policy.
Unite launched the Fair Hospitality campaign earlier this year, giving a voice to Scotland’s 256,000 hospitality workers, and is asking MSPs to pledge their support to transform the sector.
The union outlined the plight of workers employed within restaurants, hotels, cafes and bars who are some of the most exploited in the economy, with many employed on less than £7 an hour.
The Fair Hospitality campaign seeks to equip precarious workers with the knowledge to access their employment rights, provide them with the skills to organise colleagues as well as encouraging a collective confidence to challenge some of Scotland’s most exploitative employers; transforming the hospitality sector for those who work within it.
The centrepiece of Unite’s campaign is the Fair Hospitality Charter which is a list of reforms needed to transform the sector for the benefit of employees and customers. The list includes the real living wage, an end to discriminatory youth wage rates and stricter anti-sexual harassment policies for the workplace.
Unite Scotland’s hospitality sector organiser Bryan Simpson said: “Hospitality workers are the lowest paid and most precariously employed workers within the Scottish economy. More than 25 per cent of companies in the sector employ workers on zero hours contracts with a significant number of workers earning below the minimum wage. This combination of poor pay and job insecurity is exploitative and demeaning to our members who do a fantastic job day in day out.
“Unite’s Fair Hospitality campaign seeks to transform the sector for the better by equipping workers with the knowledge they need about their rights at work as well as instilling a collective confidence to challenge bad employers.”
As Aditya Chakraborrty writes (“Poverty, illness, homelessness – no wonder McDonald’s UK workers are going on strike”):
“The professionally earnest in academia or thinktanks often turn inequality into an abstraction – something to do with globalisation or technology. But it is not abstract. Inequality has hard edges and they hurt, such as when poor people are forced to starve so that the wealthy can gorge themselves.”
But this isn’t just a battle against one company it’s a battle against a system of exploitation.
This isn’t just a battle against low-pay it’s a battle against precarious living.
McDonalds workers are on strike today.
Contribute to the strike fund here.
Don’t cross a picket line. Don’t buy McDonald’s.
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