Fast food workers strike, protest across 30 countries

Monday, May 19, 2014
Fast food workers struck in Milwaukee, walking out with those in 130 other US cities. They were joined by protests in dozens of other countries. Photo: Overpass Light Brigade.

The call for “$15 and a union” went up again across the United States on May 15, with a new — and bigger — group of allies.

As striking fast food workers hit picket lines across the US to demand a US$15 minimum wage and the right to organise, fast food workers and supporters rallied in 30 other counties. Italian fast food workers also went on strike on May 16.

Fast food workers went on strike in 130 US cities — some for the first time. Some stores were unable to open until managers could be called in to work the abandoned tills and fryers.

In the US, fast food strikes seemed to come from nowhere since the first one was launched in November 2012. But they are part of a coordinated effort by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which has funded organisers and community groups to contact workers.

The effort has pushed minimum wage rises in seven states and two cities. Fast food strikes in Seattle marked the start of a winning campaign for hospitality and airport-related workers in the nearby town of SeaTac, and the effort to win a citywide $15 wage in Seattle proper. In New York City, a paid sick leave bill went into effect in April.

But the campaign is also targeting specific employers. Three class-action lawsuits filed in March alleged widespread wage theft at McDonald’s and exposed working conditions at the iconic chain.

A survey of fast food workers in New York City, found 84% have experienced at least one form of wage theft, and 66% experienced more than one.

Fast food workers in Auckland, New Zealand, rallied on May 15 in support of the US strikers. A fast-food organising drive by the Unite union has involved strikes at McDonald’s and Starbucks. Unite won big gains for fast-food workers and helped raise New Zealand’s minimum wage in 2009.

Photos have also appeared online showing solidarity actions in Japan, Switzerland, and El Salvador. Campaign organisers said similar solidarity actions took place in 80 countries.

New Zealand workers used strikes to force McDonald's to the bargaining table. But the fight is not over. In an action called “McStrike”, workers at McDonald’s in New Zealand struck once a week for four months last year. Their demand was familiar: $15 an hour.

[Abridged from Labor Notes.]

From GLW issue 1009