Over 200 people have gathered by Parliament to support the first ever strike action in the UK against McDonald’s (which has been labelled the McStrike), including members of the Labour party like Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Emma Dent-Coad. The strike action has also produced praise from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, as he posted on his Facebook his hopes that all fast food workers would organise and join trade unions to improve their working lives.
The strike action has been organised and is represented by the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) after several members from London-based McDonald’s restaurants joined the union after being left unhappy with bullying and misconduct from management. The strikes have been called to tackle this mistreatment from management as well as concerns about low-paid and job insecurity with their zero-hour contracts.
A McDonald’s spokesman stated that the strike is solely related to internal grievance procedures and not over concerns surrounding pay or contracts – yet refused to go into detail on the internal grievances as they didn’t want to single out any specific cases. However, many have stated that this is untrue, as multiple workers taking strike action have singled out their need for better job security and pay that doesn’t leave them within the poverty line.
The strikers have originated from two McDonald’s restaurants within London, in Crayford and Cambridge where members of staff have frequently experienced problems with management as well as their struggles over pay and their contracts. Some staff have provided stories of sexual misconduct and bullying being breezed over by management as well as the refusal to allow staff members to call in sick – while holding the security of the few hours that they have available to them over their heads. Many others have discussed how their low pay means that some are left without a permanent roof over their heads, while others cannot afford to pay for their own meals aside from the meal that the company provides them in their shifts.
The fast-food employees within the restaurants had voted in favour of industrial action following their concerns around the zero-hour contracts that they were offered with their roles in the company, and also requested that a minimum wage of £10 an hour was applied – following Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to raise the national minimum wage to this price during his election campaign. The BFAWU also said that McDonald’s had failed at their attempts to become fairer employers, and also stated that they believed the fast-food chain had yet to introduce any working conditions that could be deemed acceptable, as well as job security or even an affordable living wage.
McDonald’s announced earlier this year that they were allowing 11,500 workers that lived in the UK the option of switching from zero-hours (or flexible) contracts onto fixed ones, as well as increasing pay three times since April 2016 which has increased the hourly rate by 15%. Yet, many within the union do not believe that these movements have been enough, or even doubt the existence of these offers in the first place.
Over the last few years, there has been a global fight back by fast-food workers to get organised and create unions so that they can demand decent living wages and their right to union recognition. And in some countries it has proved successful – workers in Denmark have managed to higher their working wage so that they earn over $20 an hour, as the company was forced to recognise their trade union. There are also fights happening with the US and New Zealand, with The Fight for $15 winning significant pay rises for over 22 million workers in the US, as workers linked with community groups to fight for their justice. In New Zealand, zero hour contracts have been abolished by the UNITE union – all of which have helped begin the strike movement seen within the UK.
And this is only the beginning of the strikes in the UK. Already workers in Scotland and other areas have seen the strike movement started within the two London restaurants and have began to speculate on their ability to fight back against the unfair treatment of fast-food workers in chain restaurants. With plenty of people being left homeless or in poverty from the existence of zero-hour contracts – a fate that is exacerbated by the existence and combination of the minimum wage – it is time to fight back against the difference in wages between the real workers in McDonald’s and those on the top. McDonald’s boss Steve Easterbrook took home a combined wage of £11.82m last year – while a 17-year old on minimum wage working in the blistering heat of a McDonald’s kitchen would be earning £4.75 an hour – a touch over the national minimum wage for someone of that age in the UK which stands at £4.05 for under-18’s currently.