The McDonald’s store on Oxford Road, Manchester, has a surprisingly graphically unsophisticated-looking banner slung over its entrance, not advertising its latest supersized, super-caloried option, but rather featuring the simple logo “I love Manchester”.
A sign, perhaps, of how multinationals like McDonald’s are scrambling to make themselves look more part of their communities, rather than outsiders that bring low-wage, insecure employment in and take cash for national and international suppliers out, leaving little in the place that their profits depend on.
Cities and towns are starting to catch on to how much such stores are taking out, and how little they’re putting back, and some chains are even trying to disguise themselves as independents.
But, as a Manchester TUC rep said underneath that banner this morning: “If you really loved Manchester, you’d pay your workers enough money to live on and ensure they have money to spend in the local community.”
She was speaking at the second McStrike, marking May Day, International Workers’ Day, and the development of the work of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) with McDonald’s workers, against the resistance of the company (even though its workers in many other parts of the world are unionised).
One of those workers had walked out of his shift at midnight, and his colleagues and supporters were there to cheer him on, then back at 7am this morning for the first in a series of pickets around the country, calling for a minimum £10 per hour wage, the right to organise and negotiate conditions collectively, and security rather than zero-hours contracts.
There’s also a lot of concern about the safety of workers, and it wasn’t hard to see why, as we heard from them at this morning’s rally about what a night shift could be like. This store is at the heart of the entertainment district, and a single staffer can find themselves trying to hold back dozens of revellers at the door of a store already crowded by far more than can be immediately served.
Many of the striking workers are young – as are many McDonald’s workers – and so on even less than the government’s incorrectly labelled “living wage”. They can be paid little more than £5 an hour for working in difficult conditions, and without any certainty of how much money they’ll earn from week to week.
They don’t get any discount on rent or groceries because they’re under the age of 25, yet they are paid less for doing exactly the same job as older workers, one of the things the strike is demanding changes.
Interestingly in New Zealand, where workers are unionised, youth rates ended in 2008 and zero-hours contracts in 2016. It made the location of this picket, just down the road from where the first Trades Union Congress meeting was held, in 1868, particularly poignant. One hundred and fifty years on, workers are still having to struggle for the basic right to unionise.
But the biggest event today was further south, in Watford. That wasn’t an accident, for it is the home of the McDonald’s CEO, Steve Easterbrook, who’s paid around £5,500 an hour, about a thousand times what some of his workers are paid.
Even far-from-radical organisations such as the IMF and the World Bank are now expressing concerns about inequality – that’s something that at McDonald’s is super-sized.
Just like we can’t afford for the health of our country their super-sized products, we can’t afford to see Manchester, and communities around the country, have so many workers so poorly treated.
But the company clearly isn’t going to just decide to treat its workers decently (despite the evidence from real Living Wage employers that it pays off on the bottom line). That’s going to have to be fought for.
The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain has won some striking victories in recent years for workers in insecure, low-pay roles. It has demonstrated what is possible.
It’s far from easy – it demands courage and resilience from workers and organisers, which shouldn’t be necessary if we had proper legal protection for workers.
But it can be done – and as the picket this morning chanted “we will win”, that was a message for passersby: all will benefit if workers are paid decently and secure in their lives. Everyone needs a job you can build a life on.