Fighting for £15: A McStrike Day Report

Workers at six McDonald’s restaurants in South London walked out yesterday to demand £15 an hour for workers of all ages, as well as guaranteed hours and official recognition of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU).  

This latest ‘McStrike’– the largest yet in the UK, according to organisers – was part of a global day of action for fast-food employees called by the International Union of Food Workers (IUF), with strikes and demonstrations taking place in at least 6 countries across the world.

As with last year’s walkout, there was no formal picketing of franchises. Instead, the BFAWU-led action took the form of two highly mediatised events: a ‘community picket’ of the Wandsworth Town branch, followed by a demonstration outside Downing Street.

At the picket in Wandsworth, a crowd of 40-50 supporters gathered to hear speeches from striking workers, union officials and Labour Party figures, including Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer.

Recalling his time as a barrister, Starmer drew comparison between the present day struggle of McDonald’s workers and the infamous McLibel trial of 1997, in which he successfully represented activists accused of defaming the fast food giant. The lesson to draw from that campaign, Starmer said, was that, in spite of their economic and political might, corporations like McDonald’s can be beaten: “you just have to persevere – keep going & solidarity!” he told the cheering crowd.

Striking worker Melissa Evans at the community picket in Wandsworth

Melissa Evans, a worker at the McDonald’s in Wandsworth Town, spoke of the climate of fear created by management which left workers like her dreading each shift: “There is no way I want my son to walk into a workplace like that and feel the way I feel every morning…I get dressed crying, and then have to come into this place and have to earn my money.”

Evans currently earns £9.45 an hour as a McDonald’s Customer Service Leader – significantly less than the Living Wage Foundation’s ‘real living wage’ of £10.55 an hour (in London) – an amount which regularly leaves her unable to afford basic necessities such as food or transport. Speaking to the crowd outside her workplace, Evans said: “We need change. We’ve had enough of living in poverty and having to choose between food and paying bills…Right now, I don’t have a penny to my name. I don’t know how I’m going to make it to work tomorrow but I’ll still go and make McDonald’s money.”

The campaign goes well beyond a demand for the London Living Wage, with the McStrikers calling for a comprehensive “New Deal for McDonald’s Workers” including:

  1. A minimum wage of £15 an hour for all ages.
  2. An end to zero-hours contracts.
  3. Notice of hours of work at least four weeks in advance.
  4. Recognition of the BFAWU and union access rights.
  5. Legally protected freedom of speech at work.  
  6. To be treated with respect and dignity, and not face bullying and sexual harassment.

Whether or not yesterday’s strike gets the workers much closer to these goals remains to be seen. The campaign’s heavy focus on media coverage and political alliances has led some in the labour movement to question its tactics, and today’s action is unlikely assuage those doubts. For all the talk of “shutting shit down”, all 6 stores remained open and fully functional. Indeed, on the basis of some of the day’s speeches, one might have formed the impression that the campaign’s success hinges less on workers’ power in the workplace than it does on a Labour victory at the polls on December 12th. However, whatever happens in Westminster, it’s clear that workers like Melissa Evans won’t stop fighting until McDonald’s gives them what they want: £15 and a union.


 

Photo credit: War on Want