On Monday 4 September workers at McDonald′s stores in Cambridge and Crayford made trade union history by becoming the first UK McDonald′s workers to strike.
Welcomed out by a large number of supporters, around 40 workers from the two stores walked out early on Monday morning before picketing their stores.
Workers′ Liberty activists joined the 100 strong picket line in Crayford along with supporters from across the labour movement.
Workers are fighting for a £10 an hour minimum wage for all — ending the use of youth rates and raising pay significantly for all workers; an end to zero-hours contracts; and for union recognition.
McDonald′s workers are also motivated by bullying and harassment in the workplace. Steve, a worker at the Cambridge store, told the Labour Days podcast that there is a culture of sexual harassment in the workplace:
″In Crayford, a young woman gets daily harassment from the same group of kids. She′d brought it to the management′s attention, they just don′t care. One day she′d had enough of it, she spoke up against these kids, spoke back to them. The management dragged her into the office, shouted at her and forced her to sign a resignation letter.″
Shen, a worker from the Crayford store told Solidarity, ″when you have bullying and harassment in the workplace, they use [zero-hours contracts] against you when you stand up for yourself. They cut your shifts, as I have had done to me, and it′s time for it to stop.″
After picket lines workers from Cambridge and Crayford met outside Parliament for a rally with hundreds of supporters. Labour MPs John McDonnell, Laura Pidcock, Emma Dent Coad and John Spellar joined the rally.
Workers at McDonald′s stores are some of the lowest paid workers due to McDonald′s continued use of differing rates of pay for different age groups. The government′s so-called ″National Living Wage″ of £7.20 an hour is only compulsory for workers over 25. Between 21-24 the compulsory minimum wage is £7.05, aged 18-20 it is £5.60. If you are under 18 bosses can get away with you as little as £4.05 an hour.
The McDonald′s workers union, the Bakers′, Food and Allied Workers′ Union, has highlighted the case of Tyrone, 17, a worker at Cambridge McDonald′s who is paid just £4.75 an hour.
Tyrone′s situation, documented by Aditya Chakrabortty in the Guardian and on the Labour Days podcast, of sofa-surfing and living in a broken down car, is not unique. Nor is it unique to workers at McDonald′s. Low pay is a reality for a growing number of workers.
In October 2016 (2017′s report has not yet been published) the Resolution Foundation found that 1.5 million workers (that is one-in-twenty workers) were on the minimum wage, but that 5.7 million (or one-in-five workers) were on ″low pay″ — pay that was below two-thirds of the median pay.
That report based its analysis on wages in mid-2015. At the time the Foundation estimated that the introduction of the National Living Wage would increase pay for around 2.6 million workers. But today′s National Living Wage is still below the Resolution Foundation′s measure of low pay. The Living Wage Foundation calculates a real Living Wage should now be £8.45, and £9.75 in London.
McDonald′s workers are fighting back, and they are not alone. Workers at Picturehouse cinemas have been striking for almost a year for a Living Wage, sick pay, maternity/paternity pay, and union recognition.
The summer has seen a flurry of strikes over pay, in a variety of sectors. In some cases already organised workers, who have faced years of pay restraint, are starting to kick back. Strikes (or threats of strikes) at ROM steel workers in Sheffield, of controllers and other support workers on London buses, at crane company HTC, of refuse workers in Doncaster, at Sellafield Nuclear plant, and at Fawley oil refinery have all been over pay.
But previously unorganised or workers, often on the lowest pay, are also fighting back. Workers at the Bank of England struck in August, as did Serco-employed cleaners, caterers and porters at Bart′s NHS Trust hospitals.
Mixed-fleet workers at British Airways have led a successful strike campaign against poverty pay for their cabin crew, and are now fighting for their pay rise not to be implemented at the cost of the company victimising the union activists that fought for it.
Campaigns and strikes for justice for cleaners on university campuses have led to SOAS and the LSE taking their cleaners and porters back in house, and at the LSE on the same terms and conditions as in-house workers.
At the McDonald′s strike rally one Cambridge worker summed up how they are feeling on their first strike day — ″it is the best thing I have ever done″.
Watch our videos of the strike day on Facebook.
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