Britain's May Day McStrike for better wages: Why McDonald's workers took action

McDonald’s workers in Britain called for a “McStrike” on May Day to demand three simple things: a £10 an hour minimum wage, the end of zero-hours contracts and the right to unionise, TeleSUR English said.

Workers from at least five different branches in Manchester, Watford, Crayford and Cambridge walked out on May 1, the International Workers’ Day, to demand their labour rights, with the support of the country’s fast food and trade unions.

In September last year, the Crayford and Cambridge branches made history when they organised the first McDonald’s strike since the fast food chain opened its first store in Britain in 1974, raising the same demands as on May Day.

The workers demanded a definite end to the zero-hours contracts, a term used in Britain to define on-call contracts, with no fixed schedules or wages for workers.

The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union are supporting McDonald’s workers in their struggle, demanding the option for fixed-hour contracts, fair wages for youth workers and union recognition.

McDonald’s has different payment rates for staff depending on their age, paying significantly less to younger workers. The September protests achieved the biggest pay raise in McDonald’s history, but they were still tied to the age system.

Even after the January raises, workers between 16 and 17 year old make a minimum of £5.75 and a maximum of £7 an hour. Staff that are 25 and over make between £8 and £10.

The raise was conditioned by position, region and age, and it was only mandatory for the company-owned restaurants, which represent about a quarter of the total branches in Britain.

Below, Joshua Khan, 18, explains why he joined the McStrike and shares his experiences of working at his local branch in Watford. Khan's piece first appeared at Red Pepper.

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McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook and I will only ever have one thing in common: we’re both Watford lads… or at least, he was once. I’ll never go to university like he did because I can’t afford to get into that kind of debt. He earns £5,500 per hour. I earn £6.50. I doubt I’ll ever own a private jet. My dream is that, one day, I’ll be able to save up to get on a regular plane and visit Australia. But right now, all I want is a job I can juggle with college and a living wage so I can help support my mum.

Today, I’m on the picket lines at the McDonald’s in Watford where I work, after 95 percent of balloted workers voted to go on strike at five McDonald’s stores across the UK. It’s my first protest.

I was nervous, but it feels really good to be standing up for our rights; to be doing something, for once. We all feel so powerless as individuals, working for these international corporations where the rules might as well be being written on a different planet and you know you’re completely expendable. But so many people have come out to support us, with McStrikers marching over from branches in Crayford, Cambridge, even Manchester. I feel valued by the union. It’s something I’m prepared to fight for because I know we’ll all fight for each other.

Piling on the pressure

It was only a couple of weeks after I started working at McDonalds that they started piling on the pressure. I have a speech impediment and I’m hard of hearing. I can do the work just fine but I need to be allowed to do one job at a time. It causes a lot of anxiety to be hurried and stressed about a million things at once.

They used to leave me on the front desk to deal with customers for ages, even though we’re supposed to rotate jobs. I didn’t mind doing my share of that, but they just didn’t get why it wasn’t OK to leave me there for hours, without a thought for why I might struggle with that.

Then, they started trying to bully me into taking on more shifts. It’s hard enough studying and working; I was already tired most of the time. But suddenly they wanted me to work three or four days a week on top of my classes. Eventually, I realised I had to be brave and stand up to them.

But I’d just turned 18 and now they could make me do the night shifts. I told them there was no way I could do a night shift before college the next day. They didn’t want to hear it.

It’s funny, because they’re always going on about how zero hours contracts are better for students or people with kids because they provide ‘flexibility’. They never mention the fact you can’t take out a loan if you need one: you need guaranteed income to borrow anything and, on zero hours, nothing is guaranteed.

Another thing they don’t mention is that the flexibility belongs to your boss, not to you. If you don’t bend to what they want, they can drop you just like that, like it’s nothing. There’s plenty of other people with no job at all, desperate enough to take your place.

Fighting for everyone

I was first put in touch with our local rep by a colleague on a particularly bad day. He helped me understand what my rights were. When he mentioned the campaign, I was interested. He explained what it was about and asked me if I’d like to be involved. ‘Why not?’ I thought.

A stable job, with a living wage and the right to join a union: we deserve all those things. And I knew right away that no one was going to just give them to us.

I live with my parents and my mum doesn’t work because she takes care of my dad, who has Parkinson’s disease. If I was earning £10 per hour it would change our lives.

He earns £5,500 per hour. I earn £6.50. I doubt I’ll ever own a private jet

I’d be able to help her out more, that’s the main thing. My parents have supported me in everything I do, even the McStrike. They’re happy that I’m standing up for myself, as long as it doesn’t affect my studies. My mum’s going to come and visit us on the picket lines. Dad’s usually more comfortable staying at home but he’s going to try and come to show his support, too.

We’re not just fighting for ourselves, it’s for everybody. No one who’s working hard should be worried sick about money every day. More than that, we all deserve the chance to save up and make choices in a world where so many doors are locked by income. To me, the right to join a union means the right to get our voices heard. It’s like a support group; somewhere you can get together with other people who are facing the same challenges as you, and you figure out how to support each other and sort it out.

That’s what the Bakers’ Union (BFAWU) has been for me. I know McDonald’s say we don’t need a union because they have their procedures and that managers will listen to us and want to help but more often than not, that’s a lie.

Someone asked me recently how I feel about CEO Steve Easterbrook earning $15 million last year. ‘Poor,’ was my first thought. My second thought was that I’m pretty sure I work harder than he does. My third was that I wonder if anyone in the world works hard enough to deserve $15 million and a private jet.

I think it’s high time for him to fly it home to Watford and hear what we have to say. But ultimately, we’re not looking to Steve to change things for us – we’re looking to each other.

It’s my friends at work, the support of my union, the wave of support we’ve had from the public that gives me hope. After the first strike in September, McDonald’s offered us its largest pay rise for a decade. It’s not a living wage, it’s not yet what we need and deserve – but it’s a start. We don’t need to wonder any more whether we can change things: it’s already happening.

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