7 thoughts on “British McDonald’s workers’ first ever strike

  1. Tuesday 5th September 2017

    posted by Morning Star in Editorial

    McDONALD’S workers who were on strike yesterday deserve wholehearted support and solidarity from the entire labour movement. The issues raised — predominantly low pay and casual employment — are key for all of organised labour.

    For several years, through the Fast Food Rights campaign, the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU) has been championing the rights of workers in the fast food industry.

    Those workers commonly have no choice but to accept zero-hours contracts at the national minimum wage (NMW) rate — £7.50/hour for age 25 and up, £7.05 for age 21-24, £5.60 for 18-20 and £4.05 for under 18.

    Even with guaranteed hours, the NMW is nowhere near a real living wage, especially for a young person, as many fast food employees are.

    But a zero-hours contract also means that workers cannot know from one week to the next how much they are likely to earn. This produces an atmosphere in which they are afraid to raise concerns, or to stand up to bullying managers, for fear of having their shifts cut back.

    While yesterday’s strike was not about pay, but about working conditions and McDonald’s refusal to deal with grievances, the company can certainly afford the £10 an hour which the BFAWU is fighting for.

    In 2016 McDonald’s reported pre-tax UK profits of £271m — but after paying “franchise rights fees” of £128 million to Luxemburg-based McD Franchising Europe, which employs only 14 people, and which reported turnover of $1 billion and profits of $541m from European royalty payments.

    The European Commission has been investigating McDonald’s, regarding whether Luxemburg’s tax arrangements amounted to illegal state aid, claiming that the company had “virtually not paid any corporate tax in Luxembourg nor in the US on its profits since 2009.”

    McDonald’s has denied this, saying it paid $2.5bn of tax in Europe in 2011-2015, adding that most restaurants are run by franchisees, who pay taxes locally. But in December it announced plans to scrap its Luxembourg structure in favour of a unified European structure in Britain — probably because of the lower British rate of corporation tax.

    The local franchising arrangements mean that actually only 31 per cent of McDonald’s 1,470 restaurants in Britain are owned by the company.

    The franchisees are responsible for pay and conditions, paying the set-up costs and an annual fee to McDonald’s of between £150,000 and £400,000 a year. As an example, Caspian Networks operates 12 McDonald’s restaurants and employs 950 people. Simple arithmetic suggests that most must be on zero-hours contracts.

    And McDonald’s are not alone: Subway, Domino’s, KFC, Burger King, Costa Coffee and Starbucks are all following the same model, raking in profits for the use of the name.

    This fragmentation in the industry, and the atmosphere of fear, make trade union organisation very difficult, so the BFAWU is to be congratulated for its recruitment work at Cambridge and Crayford, the 95.7 per cent vote for strike action and yesterday’s magnificent turnout.

    Already, after the ballot result was announced, McDonald’s had announced that all its staff in Britain would be offered the option of guaranteed hours by the end of the year. But the issue of zero-hours contracts is not confined to the fast food industry. The latest data shows that the number of such contracts in Britain has doubled to 1.8m in the last 5 years. They are rife in agency working, and particularly in further and higher education. It is good that the Labour Party’s manifesto pledged to ban all such contracts. But the movement can’t afford to wait for a Labour government.

    Next week’s Trades Union Congress must give solid support to the GMB motion on insecure working practices as the basis for widespread campaigning — and for organising following the BFAWU’s example.

    http://morningstaronline.co.uk/

  2. Tuesday 5th September 2017

    posted by Morning Star in Features

    Ian Hodson tells the Star reporter Steve Sweeney that the McStrikes are just the beginning of a larger fight

    IT IS just before 6am and other than a slow stream of cars driving past, the only light comes from the famous golden arches at the McDonald’s Newmarket Road site.

    The only people inside are managers wiping down empty tables in anticipation of breakfast customers at the usually busy fast-food chain. But they were to be disappointed.

    A former pub that was a pre-match haunt for supporters of the nearby football club, it became the city’s second McDonald’s restaurant in 1999.

    But rather than the sound of Cambridge United fans making their way to the match, the street was soon filled with the sound of a new generation of striking workers.

    Members of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) were making history in a city usually associated with mortar boards rather than industrial militancy.

    They were the first group of workers to take strike action against the fastfood giants in a fight against poverty pay, zero-hours contracts and for the right to join a union.

    BFAWU national president Ian Hodson spoke to me about the strikes which are seen as a new opening in the struggle against precarious employment.

    “Today is probably the most historic day for working-class people in this country probably since the Tolpuddle martyrs,” he tells me from the picket line.

    It is certainly one of the most important disputes in recent labour history.

    With the rise of the so-called gig economy and the exploitation of workers through the use of zero-hours contracts and bogus self-employment, McDonald’s is seen by many as a standard bearer of poor working practices.

    Hodson explained that it was McDonald’s that first introduced the zero-hours contract into Britain in 1974.

    And Margaret Thatcher opened its Finchley headquarters in 1983 at a time when she was planning her offensive against the trade unions, in particular her battle with Arthur Scargill’s National Union of Mineworkers.

    He said that the precarious nature of employment seen today and the casualisation of work could only be achieved by neutralising the trade union movement which was the aim of the Tories in the 1980s as they advanced neoliberalism — branded by many as the “McDonaldisation” of society.

    Hodson drew a comparison with today’s striking McDonald’s workers and those who fought for better terms and conditions as part of the “new unionism” in Britain’s docks and gas works in the 1880s.

    It was the industrial militancy of those workers that led to the formation of the precursors of the GMB and Unite unions and along with the matchwomen’s strike saw workers organise successfully against exploitative bosses.

    While the workplaces may have changed, the issues remain the same. Poverty pay, insecure work, poor working conditions and bullying and intimidation of the workforce.

    Hodson said that it seemed for a number of years that workers were too afraid to organise and as a result pay has reached such a level that nurses are using foodbanks.

    He acknowledges that workers may face a backlash from McDonald’s bosses, including disciplinary action and even the sack.

    However in a sign the union is prepared to back its members, he says workers and their supporters should be prepared to occupy McDonald’s stores should they victimise those taking strike action.

    However he said: “Today the McDonald’s workers have demonstrated that they are not afraid to organise and not afraid to take action against an employer that is basically taking advantage of its opportunities in this country by using zero-hours contracts and by using low pay to maximise its profit at the expense of the people it employs.”

    He tells me that McDonald’s makes yearly profits in excess of $22 billion, yet choose to pay its workers the lowest amount that it is legally able to get away with.

    And he scoffed at the notion that 86 per cent of McDonald’s workers want to stay on zero-hours contracts that companies like the fast-food giants claim.

    “The reality is that on the day we told them that our members had voted 96 per cent in favour of strike action they issued a notice through their intranet to tell people that they would be rolling out these guaranteed-hours contracts and that people would be visiting them to explain.”

    Hodson says this flies in the face of their claims but acknowledges that the union has work to do as he says bosses will try to convince workers that the new contracts won’t benefit them.

    “If the company sells [the contracts] in a way that says to workers if you go on one of these contracts your flexibility would go, or tell them you’re currently doing 40 hours but we’ll only give you a 16-hours contract and that may mean you’re only going to get 16 hours of work, I would imagine people would think that it’s not a good deal,” he says

    “But that isn’t what a guaranteed-hours contract means at all.

    A guaranteed-hours contract means that the company can’t give you less than those hours. We need to get the message to every worker in McDonald’s that when they come and tell you it will reduce your hours and you cannot be flexible that is untrue.”

    And he said one of the most important things for McDonald’s workers is that the new contracts bring employment rights that workers are currently denied.

    The strikes in Cambridge and Crayford are part of a global industrial struggle against McDonald’s, Hodson points out.

    As Labour Day celebrations take place in the US, McDonald’s workers are taking strike action in the “fight for fifteen” campaign for $15-an-hour led by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

    And in Belgium and across Europe, unions are taking industrial action with similar demands to the workers in Britain and the US.

    As the globalisation of industry spreads, so does the globalisation of struggle as the workers offer support and solidarity to each other’s campaigns.

    There was a saying that no two countries that had a McDonald’s have ever gone to war with each other. Although this statement was factually inaccurate, the action today that stretches from Cambridge to California shows that there is international unity in the war against exploitation.

    As Hodson says: “This is a very, very historic day because today McDonald’s workers displayed they have the determination to change their lives for themselves and for everybody else who works in the fast-food industry in this country.”

    Ian Hodson is the national president of the BFAWU. Steve Sweeney is a Morning Star reporter.

    http://morningstaronline.co.uk/a-3950-Today-is-a-historic-day-for-working-class-people#.Wa6EucZpwdU

  3. UK McDonald’s workers strike for first time

    Workers at two branches of fast food giant McDonald’s in Britain walked out on strike on Monday to demand a £10 an hour minimum wage and an end to zero hour contracts. The one-day strike was organised by the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU).

    The strike was the first such action against McDonald’s UK operations. The two affected restaurants were in Cambridge and Crayford in London, with around 40 workers involved.

    McDonald’s has 115,000 staff at 1,249 restaurants and, as with workers employed at other fast food conglomerates, has been able to employ its mainly young workforce staff on inferior, minimum wage contracts for years. That this situation exists in the first place is an indictment of the trade unions.

    Early morning picket lines were set up at both restaurants before the workers left to attend a rally outside Parliament beginning at midday. The protest was addressed by Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and BFAWU leader Ronnie Draper.

    http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/09/08/work-s08.html

  4. Monday 11th September 2017

    posted by Morning Star in Features

    The brave actions of low-paid McStrikers have captured the imagination up and down the country, writes Ronnie Draper

    SEPTEMBER 4 2017 will be a day that will resonate throughout the trade union and labour world for years to come, the first strike of McDonald’s employees in Britain.

    If you listen to some sections of the media, this strike was carried out by an insignificant number of workers across two stores, one in Cambridge and the other in Crayford, but the implications spread much further.

    On the day, members of the BFAWU, supported by other unions and members of the public, set up our first picket lines at 6am at both sites, with approximately 60 demonstrators at Cambridge and in excess of 100 at Crayford.

    I had the pleasure of standing shoulder to shoulder with our members at Crayford while our president attended the Cambridge store.

    The pickets then travelled to London where a large rally was held at Palace Yard, Westminster, which gave a platform for our young activists to tell their stories to politicians and the world press.

    The rally was hosted by comedian Mark Thomas and supported by shadow chancellor John McDonnell, new Labour MP Laura Pidcock and a number of trade unionists from Britain, the US, New Zealand and Sweden, who all brought messages of support and inspiration.

    This action captured the imagination right across the country, with around 20 demonstrations taking place against the company nationwide raising awareness that this courageous action was taking place against the second-largest employer in the world, a company that counts its profits in billions rather than millions.

    It is a company that can afford to pay its CEO more than $15 million (£12m) per year or, to put it in context, around $8,000 (£6,000) per hour; and when compared with the poverty pay inflicted on many workers across the globe it shows where the company’s priorities lie — profits before people.

    Some of the tales of horror you hear would make your toes curl, like the young man from Crayford who is forced to live on another worker’s floor because he cannot afford to put a roof over his head.

    Or the young woman who had her hours cut from 40 down to 16 without consultation or negotiation, which, by the way, coincided with the company finding out she was a union member.

    Or the young man who was told by his manager: “I pay you, so I can kick you out.”

    The culture of bullying and harassment has gone unabated, with managers taking workers away from the view of customers or CCTV cameras to roar in their faces and inflict abuse that no person should have to endure.

    We are at present dealing with much more serious allegations of abuse across a number of sites and are committed to dealing with them expediently, using all resources open to us.

    The fact is that one of the major reasons for the strikes was the company’s unwillingness to deal with complaints on site, although since the BFAWU has become involved we believe one manager has been suspended and another dismissed.

    Some day McDonald’s will realise that merely sacking bullies is not the answer; it needs to prevent it happening in the first place.

    And as many of us already know, that is best achieved where trade unions are recognised, where robust policies of prevention exist and where strong shop stewards and health and safety representatives operate.

    World backing was given to our campaign at the International Union of Foodworkers 27th congress in Geneva, where unions from every corner of the globe supported the BFAWU emergency motion to strike against McDonald’s, with many countries taking simultaneous strike action on September 4.

    Nobody is pretending that this is going to be an easy campaign to win, but if sheer willpower and determination are relevant factors, then we have a positive start.

    And as our president said when confronted by a sneering manager at a McDonald’s site, who gloated that they had seen off bigger unions than the BFAWU: “But we don’t know when we are beaten” — a lesson McDonald’s will learn quickly.

    Our sincere thanks to the many trade unionists that made September 4 a historic and potentially gamechanging day for our movement — above all a message of hope to those brave young people who fought against a global giant without fear and with heads held high. Fight together, win together, solidarity and respect to you all.

    Ronnie Draper is general secretary of the BFAWU.

    http://morningstaronline.co.uk/a-ca5d-The-McDonalds-workers-strike-has-made-labour-movement-history#.WbbCf8ZpwdU

  5. Monday 11th September 2017

    posted by Morning Star in Features

    FRANCES O’GRADY discusses the hardships workers face today and how the labour movement should engage the young

    AS THE 149th TUC congress meets, the Star caught up with with general secretary Frances O’Grady to talk about the most pressing trade union issues of the year.

    O’Grady tells me that there is a widespread sense of hope and determination, which is perhaps in part inspired by last Monday’s historic strike action by McDonald’s workers.

    Last Thursday, the TUC leader met with a couple of the workers after they had picketed in Cambridge and Kent. She confesses to feeling “blown away by the sheer courage” of the mainly young workforce “standing up for their rights” and demanding trade union recognition. Moreover, she adds, they are taking on one of the most powerful transnational corporations in the world.

    “I said to them: ‘You’ve encouraged me. Don’t underestimate the importance of what you’re doing for all of us.’

    “The important thing is they will inspire others. Because it does take guts. But we shouldn’t underestimate the guts that people have, either. They are determined to get the justice that they deserve.”

    The McStrike — organised by the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, whom she says deserves full credit — represents important lessons for the trade union movement, and a challenge, as she sees it.

    These workers are some of Britain’s most vulnerable and “it’s not just one story” — she cites the plight of Sports Direct and Asos workers also.

    She describes it as a “massive opportunity for trade unionists.

    “But we’ve got to be fit and ready, to make sure that these are not one-off stories, but part of a wave of unionisation, particularly among young workers.

    “How do we make that our cause, as a whole movement, united together?” she asks, posing the conundrum of how to win the next generation of young workers.

    Also within the last week, nurses protested against the public-sector pay cap outside Parliament. O’Grady says meeting their demands is the number one thing the government should do to help Britain’s workers right now, “not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because people are owed.”

    Recently published research by the TUC has shown that low-paid workers are skipping meals and resorting to pawning belongings, she says, and if the oven packs up, they haven’t got any savings to cover themselves.

    A much-needed rise in wages would be “the quickest way you could compensate the towns and cities which haven’t recovered from the financial crash, and to put money into people’s pockets that they can spend locally.

    “There are too many towns I visit where the high street is boarded up.

    “We know that those towns are much more dependent on public sector jobs than other parts of Britain and if you really wanted to give them a chance — and [the government] should have heard their cries of help during the EU referendum and election campaigns — here is one quick and easy way to do the right thing. And it would also help those local economies.”

    A £10 per hour minimum wage, more collective bargaining rights, and modern wages councils are also part of the solution, she says.

    Industries that are “in the queue” for fairer pay include the care sector, retail, food and agriculture, security, cleaning, among others.

    Over the last few months, Theresa May has made a great deal of noise about putting workers onto company boards, which has come to naught.

    The TUC would want to see workers elected by fellow workers in any such scheme, rather than being “hand-picked by the boss.”

    It would point the way to better skills and training for workers and bring to the fore issues such as investment and long-term success of companies, the environment and, importantly, the well-being of communities.

    “Workers bring a different perspective into decision-making,” O’Grady says.

    The complete abscence of workers’ views was clear in the debacle of the Matthew Taylor report — a government initiative which, had it been in better hands, would have led to desperately needed, much improved working terms and conditions for those in precarious employment.

    What was truly needed in the report was input from the very workers themselves, “which others don’t have,” O’Grady says.

    These are workers who feel they have very little power and are also low earners — if they do question bosses they are “likely to find themselves on the worst shifts or given no shifts at all.”

    The report’s use of the term “dependent contractor” is also a get out for bad bosses.

    O’Grady warns that the term risks opening up “a whole new loophole in national wages or piece rates” when unions have spent decades negotiating them out.

    She gives the example of a hotel worker being assigned a certain number of rooms they have to clean within an impossible timeframe — much like the challenges faced by delivery workers told to meet targets.

    Hit particularly hard are women workers, who have suffered most under the Tories, and — since the 2008 financial crash — have been worst affected by austerity and the casualisation of work.

    “Women are on the front line,” O’Grady says, “and they’re often coping with work alongside caring responsibilities.”

    As a new report by academics at the University of Salford and Sheffield Hallam University has recently shown, this incredible pressure is severely affecting women’s mental health.

    Whereas men are more likely to be in full-time work, women are more likely to be stuck in part-time roles. Jobs seen as traditionally done by woman are far less available in number.

    The issue of pay rises crops up and O’Grady states that the reality is it’s not about women feeling unable to ask, it’s that there’s a huge likelihood women will not only be told no but also “punished for having the temerity to make that request,” which the TUC’s research holds up to be true.

    “The powers that be don’t get it,” she says. “They’ve never dreaded a brown envelope coming through the door with next month’s bill, or something breaking down, and you don’t know how you’re going to afford to fix it.

    “That gives you sleepless nights, and it might mean going without.”

    The link between earning low wages and having mental health problems needs to be looked at by the government, she urges.

    Next year, TUC celebrates its 150th anniversary. O’Grady believes that the best way to show its founders respect is by planning for the next 150 years — and turning to issues such as globalisation, increases in digitalisation and casual work.

    Next year will also see the TUC undertake a major project focusing on unorganised, young workers seeking to find out what kind of trade unionism they want and what would make a difference to their lives.

    Frances O’Grady is the general secretary of the TUC. Felicity Collier is a Morning Star reporter.

    http://morningstaronline.co.uk/a-a338-The-McStrikers-should-inspire-young-workers-to-join-trade-unions#.WbbIIcZpwdU

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