TERRENCE WISE extends solidarity from across the Atlantic to today’s McStrikers in a battle that’s shaping
into a global movement
FAST FOOD workers in the US, like me, understand the injustice faced by our friends and colleagues in Britain.
We can empathise, because we know what it feels like to be underpaid and mistreated by Ronald McDonald.
I’ve dedicated over 21 years of my life to the fast food industry. And during these years, I’ve done everything I possibly could to support my family.
But for those years of service and hard work, I’ve had to struggle. And that’s largely due to tight-fisted fast food giants and the inexplicably low wages they pay to us workers.
You can walk into any fast food restaurant and you’ll see smiling faces — but that’s just part and parcel of our job. It’s just part of the uniform now.
The truth is very different. After nearly two decades in fast food, I’m paid just $11 (£8.49) an hour.
I’ve had to go home to no lights, no water. It’s tough working through all of that with a smiling face.
But, through the solidarity shown by my fellow fast food workers across the globe and the amazing work of the Fight for $15 campaign, I have faith that one day, this is all going to change.
Back in 2012, workers here in the US unified with one voice. The kickback started in November of that year, when 200 brave fast food workers in New York City walked off their jobs — calling for a $15 (£11.58) minimum wage and union rights.
Most people wrote us off — they said we had no chance taking on the big guys, that we were wasting our time.
But we stood firm and showed courage like never before. In no time, our actions caught on and spread around the country.
Before the fast food giants knew or could do anything about it, politicians clamoured to support us workers.
Huge states like New York and California passed a $15 minimum wage, and major cities like Washington and Seattle did too.
During the US presidential elections last summer, the Democratic Party even adopted a $15 minimum wage as part of its official campaign.
Now, less than five years after fast food cooks and cashiers first went on strike in the US, more than 10 million people in the US are on a path to $15 an hour. And more than 20 million have won wage increases too.
Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to meet McDonald’s workers here in Britain as they were considering going on strike for the first time today.
I spoke to them about my experience walking off the job, and I learned that even though they work thousands of miles away from where I live, the McDonald’s workers I met in Britain face many of the same issues like low pay and poor working conditions. I realised that our movement for higher pay and union rights in the fast food industry is truly a global movement.
The BFAWU’s Fast Food Rights campaign has been truly admirable so far. It’s their hard work holding McDonald’s to account that has pressed the company into ending the enforcement of abhorrent zero-hours contracts on its employees, a historic victory.
But the campaign can’t — and won’t — stop there. The BFAWU is also calling on McDonald’s to deal with recurring instances of worrying workplace bullying in Britain. And to pay workers a fair, £10 an hour, wage too.
It’s these issues that will be front and centre today. And McDonald’s will have to find an answer.
It’s not just British — and US — workers who are asking the questions, either.
McDonald’s is a company that chomps through workers’ rights wherever it can. Brazil, New Zealand, France and Germany — to name a few — have all suffered from the malpractice of the money-churning golden arches.
It has done whatever it can. From ludicrously low wages, to avoiding tax payments at every opportunity.
But we, as workers, have fought, and are fighting, back. We recognise that this is a global fight.
Take the Unite union in New Zealand for example — which claimed a historic victory by ensuring a guarantee of a $15 minimum wage and legislation outlawing the enforcement and use of zero-hours contracts.
Or Brazil, where the Brazilian National Labour Prosecution Service struck McDonald’s with a $30 million fine for repeatedly violating basic labour laws in 2016. This was, and remains, the largest fine the prosecution service has ever imposed on a single entity.
If these successes show us anything, it’s that anything can be achieved when those in the trade union movement from across the world come together, put our minds together and work together for our own benefit.
Now it’s time for our friends in Britain, through the BFAWU, to fight for what they deserve.
We, in the US, stand with you in solidarity — and today, let us leave McDonald’s with no other choice but to listen. We will be heard, and change will be achieved.