For the first time ever, McDonald’s workers in Britain are striking. The first day of this historic strike, on the 4th of September will see some of the worst treated, lowest paid and precarious workers taking on the notoriously anti-union McDonald’s at its restaurants in Cambridge and in Crayford, south-east London.
The workers, members of bakers’ union BFAWU who organise fast food workers, are campaigning against low pay and the continued use of zero-hour contracts, despite multiple assurances from McDonald’s that all employees would be moved to minimum-hours contracts.
Despite claiming earlier in the year that it would offer its employees the chance to transition to guaranteed-hours contracts, McDonald’s continues to employ 80,000 people on zero-hours contracts, making it one of the largest users of such contracts in the UK.
In response to their union organisation, workers at Cambridge and Crayford have recently faced drastic cuts in their hours. Ian Hodson, BFAWU President, told the Socialist, “This has been viewed by some as punishment for joining a union, and has seen employees struggle to meet their rent payments, while some have even lost their homes.”
Precarious workers in fast food, retail and hospitality have drawn inspiration from the Fight for $15 movement in the US, which demands a minimum wage of $15 per hour – nearly double the current federal minimum wage for untipped workers. The ongoing campaign’s efforts have already won wage increases for 22 million workers, 10 million of whom have received or been promised a wage of at least $15 per hour.
The inspirational battle in the US, the successful wildcat strikes of Deliveroo workers last year which fought off an even more precarious contract, and the popular support for Corbyn’s pledge of a £10 minimum wage (albeit by 2020) has proven to that these demands can be won.
Workers in the hotel industry, where the median hourly rate sits below the national minimum wage; in the retail industry, where pay is so low that the government has to chip in £11 billion a year to top it up; and fast food, where nine out of ten workers are on zero-hours contracts – these workers can win.
We must fight to organise the unorganised workplaces, expanding the trade unions that can help us all win a better life at work. However, this has to be coupled with fighting and political strategies to win victories – campaigns such as Fast Food Rights and the Scottish TUC’s #Betterthanzero campaign have proven that by politicising the struggles, ‘notoriously hard to organise’ workers face, a strong foundation can be built for effective struggles that can win massive improvements to people’s lives. The simple demands for a £10 minimum wage and the end of zero-hours contracts would bring more than a million precarious workers out of poverty and misery.
By Neil Moore – Chair, Irish Youth Committee, Unite the Union