In the US, McDonald’s workers launch unprecedented #MeToo strike

McDonalds' workers protest sexual harassment at work on September 18.

McDonald’s workers in 10 cities across the United States walked off the job on September 18 to demand an end to sexual harassment in the workplace.

In Chicago, workers and their supporters marched to the McDonald’s headquarters, carrying a banner that read “#MeToo McDonald’s” Many wore tape with “MeToo” written on it covering their mouths.

They chanted, “We’re here, we’re loud. Sexual harassment is not allowed” and “Respect us! Accept us! Don’t try to touch us!”

“Today, fast-food workers just like me are breaking the silence, we’re taking the historic step and we’re going on strike to tell McDonald’s no more sexual harassment,” McDonald’s worker Adriana Alvarez told the crowd.

Workers also joined actions at McDonald’s locations in Durham, North Carolina; Kansas City; Los Angeles; Miami; Milwaukee; New Orleans; Orlando, Florida; San Francisco and St Louis.

This is the first coordinated public action in what has been mostly an online campaign and legal battle. In 2016, the Fight for 15 published reports of widespread sexual harassment in the fast-food industry.

In May, 10 complaints from workers in eight different cities were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against McDonald’s regarding reports of on-the-job sexual harassment.

Last month, women’s committees formed by employees at dozens of McDonald’s restaurants announced that they had approved a walkout. Lead organisers include several women who filed the EEOC complaints in May. Hundreds of workers took part in the committee meetings.

As the Fight for 15 campaign exposed, women at fast-food restaurants experience sexual harassment 60% more than women in other workplaces. Four out of 10 fast-food workers face sexual harassment on the job. Workers involved in the campaign reported their exposure to groping, verbal and physical abuse, and even rape.

Many of the workers’ complaints to local management and franchise owners were ignored. When perpetrators received no reprimands or discipline, workers sought to change their situation by requesting different hours or store location changes.

Some workers even faced victim-blaming and retaliation for reporting the harassment and abuse. As in most cases, many claims of sexual harassment go unreported out of workers’ fear of losing their jobs.

McDonald’s, like other multibillion-dollar fast-food corporations, attempts to cover up its anti-worker policies with propaganda about how it cares about its workers, or it attempts to distance the corporation from practices of the franchises’ ownership and management. It has produced a condescending video about “McResources” available through a help line.

But when McDonald’s announced it was celebrating International Women’s Day this year to highlight its “commitment” to women’s lives, it faced a backlash from people who pointed out its need to provide fair working conditions and wages.

According to the Center for American Progress, the EEOC received more than 90,000 workplace complaints in 2016, with about one-third of those complaints related to harassment charges. Half of the harassment complaints involved sex-based harassment, with the largest number of claims in the food services industry.

The protests against sexual harassment at McDonald’s were boosted by the explosion of the #MeToo movement. They were also anchored by the ongoing struggle against income inequality started by the Fight for 15 in 2012, when 200 fast-food workers walked off the job to demand $15 an hour and union rights in New York City.

The EEOC complaints filed against McDonald’s earlier this year were supported by the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, a $21 million charity launched in January to support low-income workers who want to report sexual harassment.

It is not just McDonald’s workers fighting back in this way. In Chicago, hotel workers went on strike on September 7 for higher wages, health care benefits and protections from racism and sexual harassment.

Many of these workers also took the struggle to City Hall to win the “Hands Off, Pants On” ordinance to protect workers from sexual assault and harassment by requiring hotels to provide panic buttons to all housekeepers.

In California, 100 janitors started a 100-mile march on September 10 to stop rape on the night shift. By marching from San Francisco to Sacramento, these workers hope to build support for Assembly Bill 2079, better known as the Janitor Survivor Empowerment Act. This requires employer-financed peer-to-peer training on how to prevent sexual violence, including self-defence classes.

By connecting the power of #MeToo to the Fight for 15, struggles like the McDonald’s strike this week are leading the way to take up the contradictions and inequality based in both exploitation and oppression.

[Abridged from US Socialist Worker.]

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