Fast food workers in New York have followed the example set by Walmart workers and struck against low-pay and for dignity at work.
After last week’s “Black Friday” strikes, which saw workers at 1,000 Walmart stores across America take action, workers at McDonalds, Burger King, and other fast food outlets in New York struck and demonstrated, demanding union rights and a doubling of the minimum wage to $15 per hour. The average fast food worker in New York currently makes $11,000 per year, compared to $25,000 per day raked in by most fast food CEOs.
Like Walmart, fast food chains are notoriously anti-union and many trade unions have historically seen the sector as too difficult to organise in. But new models of organising, through union-linked workers’ centres and community-based labour movement campaign groups, have given workers a framework within which to begin to assert their rights. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of the USA’s biggest unions, is backing the New York Communities for Change and the Fast Food Forward campaign, through which workers have begun establishing a Fast Food Workers Committee.
The fast food workers’ struggle may soon spread to other cities, with the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago (WOCC) launching the “Fight for Fifteen” campaign to demand a $15 per hour wage for fast food and retail workers. WOCC members demonstrated on 23 November.
The combination of creative industrial direct action combined with organisation across both the workplace and the community was a key factor in the success of the 2006/2007 “Supersize My Pay” campaign in New Zealand, which saw the abolition of the discriminatory youth rates of the minimum wage across much of the fast food sector. With the revolt of low-paid, “hard-to-organise” workers slowly growing in Britain, activists will be looking to America, and re-learning lessons from New Zealand, for inspiration.