New Zealand: McDonald's hit by first ever strike in Wellington

May 28, 2013

The first McDonald's strike ever in Wellington took place on May 22. At 8am, five of the seven workers on shift came off the job and joined the picket line that had been set up outside Bunny St McDonald's.

It was a noisy, lively affair, with Fightback member and Wellington Unite union organiser Heleyni Pratley leading the way with chants, songs and the occasional speech to the people passing by. Pratley explained why the strike was being held and why the public needed to respect the picket line.

Few people tried to break the picket line set up outside the main door and fewer still managed to force their way in.

See also: New Zealand: Unite takes on McDonald's in high stakes fight for low-paid workers

At the last moment, management had rostered on more non-union staff in a bid to keep the store running. Yet with few people in the store, the level of staffing was irrelevant.

With numerous cars tooting their support, McDonald's management tried to give out free vouchers to entice members of the public to break the picket and come into the store. But after a public service announcement over the megaphone explaining what the vouchers represented, many people were seen to chuck them in the gutters, still wet from the sporadic rain.

A member of the striking staff spoke briefly on the megaphone about their experiences on the floor and of being paid minimum wage.

The picket was a lively affair, with a mix of socialists, activists and trade unionists from FIRST Union, the Postal Workers Union of Aotearoa, the NZ Nurses Organisation and the New Zealand Tertiary Education Union.

After half an hour, the members went back into the store with Pratley accompanying them to make sure that management (including the franchise owner, who stood at the back of the store looking darkly at the picket line) did not threaten or attempt to discipline the workers for striking.

While it was a short demonstration, it is an escalation of the struggle for better conditions for Unite members in McDonald's and in the fast food industry. A number of KFC members have already made it clear that a weak McDonald's collective contract undermines their own ability to fight for better wages and conditions.

About 85% of unionised McDonald's workers nationwide have voted for strike action.

A Unite union “war council” has been formed in Wellington to coordinate demonstrations and strikes amongst members and supporters.

[Reprinted from the website of socialist group FightBack. Joel Cosgrove is a FightBack activist.]

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