Jeremy Corbyn has told his MPs that Labour was right to turn down cash from McDonald’s because of the fast food giant’s poor record on trade unions and workers' rights.
A string of angry backbenchers lined up at the weekly Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting to criticise the decision to refuse £30,000 from the US company for a stall at their conference in Liverpool this autumn.
But a defiant Mr Corbyn confirmed HuffPost UK's report that the decision was motivated not by his own vegetarianism - but by McDonald's refusal to recognise the Bakers' Food And Allied Workers Union (BFAW) and other unions.
A sub-committee of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) has agreed to block the McDonald’s proposal, although that decision may now go to the full NEC and could still be overturned.
Labour MPs Wes Streeting, Toby Perkins and Bill Esterson, as well as Labour peer Lord Young, all raised the issue of the McDonald's ban.
Some of them said the decision made the party look out of touch with mainstream voters, but all were worried about the loss of income to the party.
Mr Perkins, a shadow defence minister, pointed out that the party had made a member of staff in the East Midlands region redundant and that now was not the time to be turning money down from legitimate businesses.
But Mr Corbyn stood firm against the criticism and backed the decision, although it has yet to be reconfirmed by the full NEC.
A Labour spokesman said after the PLP meeting: "Jeremy said it’s right to consider the fact that companies are turning down trade union recognition, he was quite clear on that, he was quite strong on that.
"The bakers’ union made a case for recognition and McDonald’s turned them away."
He added: "Jeremy in answering it tonight said it is important to recognise that workers are entitled to representation and where unions are campaigning and arguing for recognition, they shouldn’t be turned away.
"It’s a decision made by the NEC business board will go to the NEC."
Asked if Mr Corbyn has ever been in a McDonald's, the spokesman joked: "I'm not sure what's on the menu for him. I've never seen him in [one]"
PLP chairman John Cryer, who has in the past objected to the party taking cash from McDonald's, insisted that it was upto the NEC's 'Business Board' to make such decisions.
A spokesman added: "Some of the opinions expressed [by MPs] were purely about commercial decisions."
The American firm will be going ahead with its “interactive experience” display in support of British farm produce at the Tory and SNP conferences.
The Sun on Sunday revealed the decision this weekend, pointing to criticism from Labour MPs of “Veggie ‘snob’ Jeremy Corbyn and his loony leftie Labour cronies”.
However, HuffPostUK learned that the NEC Business Board blocked McDonalds’ cash because of the firm’s record on recognising trade unions and its reputation for zero-hours contracts for staff.
NEC Business Board member Jim Kennedy, of Unite, and several other members were swayed by feedback on the issue from the Bakers’ Food And Allied Workers Union (BFAW), one source revealed.
"That's the real reason," another senior Labour source told HuffPost.
Bakers’ union general secretary Ronnie Draper today piled into the fast food giant, retweeting a campaign for union recognition and better rights.
The bakers’ union, which won a seat on the ruling NEC last year after Mr Corbyn’s landslide victory in the leadership election, has clashed repeatedly with McDonald’s.
BFAW has been at the forefront of the ‘Fast Food Rights’ and ‘Better Than Zero’ campaigns and has claimed that McDonald’s managers have stopped its activists from leafleting workers and trying to recruit union members.
There has been a major ‘Fight For $15’ campaign against low wages and union recognition in the US, with fast food workers mobilised as never before to get a $15 an hour minimum wage and other rights.
Last week Mr Corbyn singled out the fast food industry as a reason for staying in the EU to allow a Europe-wide approach to the problem of low pay and zero hours contracts.
The Labour leader also tweeted his support for the bakers’ union campaign.
But several Labour MPs say the move risks making the party look out of touch with ordinary voters, millions of whom eat at the famous golden arches restaurants.
Labour MP Wes Streeting, who once had a part-time job at McDonald’s, told the Sun: “I’m exasperated that we should throw away £30,000 worth of sponsorship like this.
“It smacks of a snobby attitude towards fast-food restaurants and people who work or eat at them. McDonald’s may not be the trendy falafel bar that some people in politics like to hang out at but it’s enjoyed by families across the country.”
Former Labour minister Ian Austin also tweeted that his 'first job' was at McDonald's and fellow MP Stella Creasy both tweeted her bemusement too.
Labour peer and former union chief Baroness Prosser joined in the criticism today.
“We are not in a position to be turning down money. It’s a mixture of the snobby attitude and somebody thinks it’s the healthier option,” she told the BBC’s Daily Politics.
“Clearly if you’ve got a principled decision then you can. But what is the principled decision against McDonalds?”
She added that the firm was in the Top 10 of Britain’s best employers for things like apprenticeships.
Members of the NEC have tweeted that they want to raise the issue when it next meets before party conference.
HuffPost UK has been told that some members of Labour’s full NEC are now lobbying to review the decision. “Usually, NEC sub-committees are allowed to get on and make routine decisions but NEC members are feeling they’ve been bounced. We will have to discuss it properly,” one NEC member said.
But Ken Livingstone, who sits on the NEC, gave the decision his full backing.
Campaigners from Fast Food Rights and Better Than Zero dressed as clowns and demonstrated outside a McDonald’s restaurant in Glasgow last week over its use of zero-hours contracts.
But in recent days McDonald’s UK chief Paul Pomroy said the company was changing its zero hours policy to give staff the option of moving onto contracts guaranteeing a minimum of either four hours a week, 16 hours or 30 hours.
He said staff told him they were struggling to get loans, mortgages and mobile phone contracts because they are not guaranteed employment each week.
A Labour spokeswoman said: "We do not comment on commercial decisions."
A McDonald's spokesman said: "We are disappointed with the decision that has been taken.
"As with many other organisations, all employees of McDonald’s UK including our franchised restaurants are entitled to join the membership of a union.
"However, we do not organise for them to meet with a particular union. In terms of contracts, we have recently announced a trial which is giving our people the choice of contracts and hours they are on, with 80% of people choosing to remain on the flexible contracts already in existence.
"In addition to this and with changes to the National Living Wage, our restaurant workers have experienced a pay rise, on average, in excess of 10% in the last six months."
Tony Blair once posed behind a McDonald’s counter and praised the firm for its sponsorship of the 2012 Olympics in London.
Current Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) chairman John Cryer criticised the party in 2001 for allowing McDonald’s to sponsor a conference event at which Mr Blair was due to appear.
The issue may be raised with Mr Corbyn at tonight's meeting of the PLP.
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