Wednesday, 6 September 2017

McSTRIKE! - build the fight for £10now and a union

September 4th 2017 should go down in the history books as the start of a fight by a new generation of workers against poverty pay, insecure jobs, bullying, intimidation and lack of union rights. 

A very brave group of 40 McDonald's workers in Cambridge and Crayford, south east London, voted by a whopping 96% to strike, in the ballot conducted by their union, the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU). 

They defied management threats and victimisation - including slashed hours and sexual harassment - for daring to be in the union; walked out to form pickets, were joined by big crowds of supporters on rallies, plus 14 solidarity demos across the UK. 

Their core demand was for £10-an-hour and a union. 

They chose to strike on 4 September to coincide with US Labor Day, where fast food workers involved in the sweeping mass movement in the Fight for $15 went on strike, as did McDonald's workers in Belgium and elsewhere.
It was the start of global workers' action against global capitalism's totemic symbol - McD's - global casualisation and cheap labour. 

Starvation Wages 

The conditions these workers suffer, and are striking back against, are symptomatic of not just one of the world's biggest multinational corporations, but of the modern serfdom that 21st century capitalism relies on to turbocharge their profits. 

Tyrone is one of the Cambridge strikers. Aged 17, he's on £4.75 an hour. He describes working with the unbearable kitchen heat, the impatient queues, the aggro - but still forced to skimp meals through poverty pay; still unable to get a home of his own, sleeping on a punctured air bed in his mate's bedroom, wakening several times to pump it up again. 

His dream of winning £10-an-hour through the union and strike action is humbling in its modesty: "I could get a proper bed. I could get out of my mate's house. That's all I want, a place and a bed."

Tom, one of the union reps, is 24, and therefore on £7.55.  But he often skimps meals to save enough to visit his 4-year-old son, making do with the one free meal McD's allows him. This is the same corporation with the company line: "We have committed to investing in our people, to competitive rates of pay."

That's the problem; the government's paltry levels of minimum wage means they are often all too 'competitive' - in particular for younger workers, whom McDonald's and their ilk prey on for profit, because they're legally cheaper to hire, due to the lower legal youth minimum wages. 

Them and Us 

McDonald's methods encapsulate the whole system perfectly, grotesquely. 

Their own investment calculator reckons if you'd been able to buy 1,000 shares last December - when young Tyrone started with them - you'd have made £34,025 profit by now... whereas even if Tyrone had slaved in a hot kitchen full-time since he'd have earned only £7,410. 

Tom can barely afford to travel to see his toddler son, but McDonald's Chief Executive, Steve Easterbrook, has use of the company's private aircraft, and enjoys a package equivalent to £5,684 an hour!! 

They use zero hours contracts to wring maximum profit out of their 80,000 UK workers - and almost zero-rated corporation tax; well, a rate of 1.49%, to be accurate! They only promised to offer secure contracts, with guaranteed hours, in a state of panic after the strike ballot. And they've yet to put anything acceptable in writing. 

"I'll Tell You What It's All About!" 

As BFAWU Scottish Organiser Mark McHugh told the recent SSP public meeting in Govanhill, McDonald's were the first to introduce zero hours contracts to the UK, back in 1974! 

"It's taken this long to take them to task. I'll tell you what this strike is all about. It's about respect and dignity at work; the right to join a union; proper health and safety - not suffering burns and being told to take your break now, instead of getting treatment. It's about the right to join a union. About having the same right to go on holiday as anyone else. To actually get a shift when you turn up, not be sent home because it's quiet. 

We owe it to young people to win decent rights, because these retail park jobs are not stop gap jobs, they're what thousands face long-term. The food industry is booming, so they should be treated as serious jobs." 

From Acorns to Mighty Oaks 

It's to the eternal credit of these strikers, and their union, that they've taken serious, courageous action. For £10 and a union. For abolition of zero hours contracts and secure jobs. For an end to bullying and sexual harassment, both of which are rampant in these sectors: fast food, hospitality, retail. 

These are sectors bedeviled by the poverty pay and job insecurity that go with zero hours contracts like burgers go with chips. 

The strikes were a tiny proportion of the total workforce. But a similarity small section of McDonald's workers went on strike in New York City in November 2012, starting the Fight for $15, which through strikes and mass actions in the communities has now won big wage hikes for 22 million workers in the USA. 

£10 Now! 

The trade union movement needs a leadership that is serious about its own grand words and wishes. A long, torturous 3 years ago - September 2014 - the TUC congress voted unanimously for the BFAWU Motion for "a £10 minimum wage for all workers." 

Since then most union leaderships have done little - or literally nothing - to implement that demand. The BFAWU and some other union branches have campaigned for it - as has the Scottish Socialist Party, on the streets, in our unions, and as a demand we put to councils and the Scottish government to immediately introduce. 

And unlike even Labour's best, Jeremy Corbyn, the SSP wants £10 immediately, not three years hence, in 2020; in fact £10 is rapidly approaching its sell-by-date, given the inflation on daily necessities. 

Defend the Strikers

These McDonald's workers deserve a medal, but above all deserve the protection and solidarity of other workers and other unions. As the BFAWU President, Ian Hodson, told a strike rally,
"If even one striker is victimised for going on strike, we demand that others come to the McDonald's branch and occupy it." 

That's the militant spirit of defiance and class solidarity that pioneered the creation of the trade unions, especially amongst the most exploited sections of workers nearly 150 years ago. 

We owe it to the next generation to build on the courage of the first ever McStrikers in the UK, to fan the spark they lit into a flame that helps burn out the casualisation and super-exploitation faced by millions. 

The SSP pledges to play its part, alongside the BFAWU and others, for £10 now and a union; for a guaranteed minimum 16-hour contract instead of the serfdom and insecurity of zero hours contracts; for full union rights and full employment rights from the first day in a job. 

Ultimately, for a society based on workers' solidarity and sharing out the collective wealth workers produce. As a Guardian columnist put it, "The problem isn't one company, but the system of which it is part." 


Here's the video the SSP did to build solidarity as the McStrikers prepared their brave action:

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