Fast food giant McDonald’s recently announced it will scrap zero-hours contracts for its workers in the UK. Solidarity spoke to Gareth Lane, an organiser for the Bakers, Food, and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), about this move, and his union’s ongoing efforts to organise fast food workers.
The BFAWU has been organising fast food workers for nearly two years now. Organising fast food workers is not easy to say the least. Economic hardships like extreme poverty and chaos caused by low income and insecure hours makes organising routines and communications among workers quite difficult. Every day is a real slog for our members building a union within these fast food workplaces, often faced with aggressive and bullying management, difficult financial circumstances, poverty living conditions, and long hours.
Despite this, BFAWU members in McDonald’s, KFC, and Burger King never fail to lift my spirits to improve my concentration, and determination to win a union in some of the most difficult circumstances to organise in the UK. Our members have been taking McDonald’s on for some time and winning victories in workplaces; they have been winning some of the less glamorous victories, the ones that the media will never report on, but the victories that are vital to winning a union.
Just over the last couple of weeks, our members have won specialist equipment for disabled workers; they have successfully raised the issue of bullying and harassment and removed bullying managers; they have supported each other when management has refused to support workers when they have been harassed by customers. So it was great news to hear our members have beaten McDonald’s over the issue of zero-hour contracts.
For over two years McDonald’s workers have demonstrated, taken direct action, occupied stores, and spoken to thousands of workers around the country. Now 115,000 McDonald’s employees will have the choice of whether to accept guaranteed hours or not.
This is a seminal victory for our union and our members. This victory means that no longer can McDonald’s managers use the threat of cutting our workplace activists’ hours as a disincentive to being active trade unionists. No longer can the threat of poverty be used to frighten our members into silence.
As an organiser who spends the bulk of my time talking to fast food workers, the significance of this victory is huge. We are now able to point to something big and solid that our union has won. We are able to say to workers, “if we can beat the biggest employer in the world, we can beat your employer too. You can win If you take action.”
Our message is clear: if you work in McDonald’s, KFC, or Burger King, join the BFAWU. Get in touch with us, take part in our organiser training and change your workplace for the better.
There is no use in us dreaming of the kind of economy we had in the 1970s, where everyone worked in well-paid union jobs. We have these jobs now, we should do like our grandparents and great grandparents did, and fight to make these bad jobs good jobs now. If not us then who? If not now then when? Victory to the Bectu members fighting the same battles in cinemas, victory to the BFAWU! Next stop, £10 an hour and union recognition!