Young Food Workers’ Blogs Part 4
Across the world, the rumblings of rebellion against corrupt global corporations has begun, and it’s being lead primarily by young and angry fast-food workers. The 4th of September 2017 will be remembered as the day British McDonald’s workers joined this rebellion, as members at two stores took strike action for the first time in British history. The UK based strike was a part of a larger international day of action, which saw demonstrations and strikes across nearly every continent in the world. Over thirty McDonald’s workers took part in the strike action from stores in Crayford, South East London, and Cambridge.
The strikers were making four demands; a real living wage of £10 per hour, an end to zero–hour contracts, an end to McDonald’s culture of fear and a union in the workplace. Erik Haiczinger, a migrant worker at the Cambridge store explained why he decided to join the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers union and go on strike:
“I’ve worked full time at McDonald’s for almost a year at £7.50 per hour. I rent one room in a house, and after paying rent for that room, I have hardly enough money left to buy food or other necessities. I had needed new shoes for over ten months before I was finally able to get a pair for myself. We can’t survive like this, as prices continue to rise in the UK and our pay stay slow.
McDonald’s workers in the UK face low pay, especially between the ages of 17 to 24 when they earn between £2 to £3 less than their older colleagues. There are countless stories of abuse and bullying from managers, including sexual and physical assaults. They have no entitlements to basic rights like sick or maternity pay.
McDonald’s is largest employer in the world. In the UK alone, the multibillion dollar company have over 100,000 employees. They are a company who consistently force labour conditions low and pay the bare minimum to workers. Fast food workers across the world are now rejecting these conditions, and recognize that to take on such a massive company, it’s essential that workers team up internationally to fight back. On the picket lines in Britain, strikers were joined by representatives from the American fight for 15, Unite New Zealand and Livs in Sweden. Jonathan Johansson, a Swedish trade unionist from the Livs union, travelled to the UK to play a part in the historic day. Reflecting on the day, Jonathan commented “It seems absurd to me that people in the fifth largest economy in the world are living in poverty, in a position where they cannot even afford the basics like shoes, rent or in some cases food. The very minimum needed to live.”
The UK strike became known as ‘McStrike’, a name which spread quickly through British social media, at one point the hashtag trended at number two on Twitter. It was supported by the British left, including the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. McStrike was called the first Corbynite strike by British media, a title handed out after strikers openly declared their support for Corbyn and fought for the £10 per hour wage, which was a main point in the 2017 Labour manifesto.
But what really made McStrike Corbynite in nature was the hunger the strikers showed for real change, for all workers in the UK.
Union rights and workers’ rights have been steadily attacked and dismantled in the UK since 1979, by both the Conservative and New Labour governments. Use of food banks has increased from 41,000 in 2010 to 1.2 million in 2016. In January 2017, the Red Cross warned that the National Health Service in the UK was facing a humanitarian crisis. As inflation rises, wages in the UK have remained the same for seven years, the number of homeless continues to rise and trade unions show record low membership. It was into this world that chants of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” were born, and hope for workers in the UK was revived under the leadership of an MP who has spent his career fighting for the many, not the few. The hope inspired by Corbyn lit a fire in the bellies of workers who were previously told they were hopeless and impossible to organize.
Do not be mistaken; McStrike UK is not just a fight against a bad employer, it is a war being waged by workers who are angry that they never had the same rights as their parents, rights which were fought for by workers across the globe in the last century. Rights which you in Sweden may still hold on to today, but your grip on those rights is slipping, as your left-wing politics slowly moves to the centre, much like ours did in the UK under Blair. McStrike is our fight back, it is our fight to reclaim the rights and lives that were taken from us by the neoliberal agenda of our politicians. The people of the UK are angry, and we are rising. But we cannot fight alone. Our fight is your fight, as your fight is ours. Defend your rights here, but know it is not enough to just defend. We must always be ready to fight for something better, to leave a legacy in our wake which ensures that all workers who come after us have better lives, better jobs and the opportunity to flourish. Companies like McDonald’s cannot be allowed to continue their ill treatment and abuse of workers. Our governments cannot be allowed to let them continue, and it is our jobs as the workers to stand up together. We can rise, and create a better future, but only together.
Thanks to Shen Batmaz, Erik Haizcinger and Jonathan Johansson for their contributions to this piece.