British and US fast food workers hungry for justice

by New Worker correspondent

DOZENS of fast food workers from both sides of the Atlantic laid siege to the MacDonald’s restaurant at the top end of Whitehall with banners and placards last Wednesday 13th January. Then they charged down Whitehall in a noisy protest to the House of Commons for a meeting in a committee room inside on low pay and zero hours.

The protest and meeting were organised by Fast Food Rights, a group that bridges the Atlantic and in this country is supported by the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) and the GMB general union.

In the United States tens of thousands of fast food workers have led strikes involving low paid workers demanding $15 an hour and union rights.

The forum meeting in the Houses of Parliament saw US fast food workers sharing a platform with British fast food workers, swapping experiences on a panel discussion.

They were joined on the panel by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, who founded the Fast Food Rights campaign alongside the BFAWU union in 2014.

Other speakers included Tom Woodruff, who founded the Service Employees’ International Union (SEIU), Labour MP for Brent Central Dawn Butler, Kevin Rowan from the TUC and Owen Espley from War on Want.

The campaigners are demanding $15 an hour in the US and £10 and hour in Britain for all fast food workers, and trying to get as many as possible involved in unions.

The US delegation had been involved the day before, 12th January, in organising a press event in Brussels. Unions and allies gathered in Brussels to press their case at the EU that McDonald’s must reform its practices towards workers, consumers and society as whole. BFAWU delegates took part in the Brussels event.

Before the meeting Kamaljeet Jandu, GMB National Officer, said: “Fast food workers are organising and fighting back. In the UK and America fast food workers are forced to live in poverty by multi-national and hugely profitable companies like McDonald’s.

“While McDonald’s has raked in profit at the expense of their workers, they have been exposed as not paying their tax. “McDonald’s is in the dock. GMB is inviting the public to join fast food workers in the fight for higher wages, union rights and respect at work.”

Ian Hodson, National President of BFAWU, said: “Over the years, we have seen business after business seizing the opportunity to cut pay and force workers to rely on state handouts.

“Businesses and companies have the ability to enrich people’s lives and make a valuable contribution to society, yet so many of them have decided to tread the path of exploitation and misery, forcing those who work for them into a cycle of debt that they will never be able to get out of.

“We are slowly beginning to realise that the real problems in the country are not those on benefits, but corporations who don’t pay their taxes; squirrelling away their profits in tax havens and paying as little as they can get away with.

“If that wasn’t bad enough, the Government has targeted those at the lowest end of the pay scale and systematically demonised those in need of support; the sick the disabled and the unemployed, whilst protecting the companies that choose to operate in a grossly immoral fashion.

“We believe that the way to improve society is to make work pay and the minimum wage should be at least £10 an hour. We don’t believe it’s pie in the sky, it’s a living wage.”