McStrike: the historic fight for worker’s rights
Monday 4th September 2017 will forever be a historical day as workers in one of the world’s leading fast food restaurants, McDonald’s, went on strike for the first time in the company’s history in the UK (it opened its’ doors here in 1974). Workers at the two restaurants who are on industrial action (Crayford in South East London and Cambridge) have aptly named it the ‘McStrike.’ The worker’s demands are simple; a £10.00 per hour wage, an end to zero hour contracts, and union recognition.
The Guardian ran a story last week of a young 17 year-old McDonald’s worker named Tyrone, earning £4.75 per hour and living on an airbed in his friend’s flat, whilst McDonald’s CEO (also the company’s former UK head) Steve Easterbrook earns somewhere in the region of £11.8 million. On Thursday Momentum released a video outlining some of the stories of workers in the fast food restaurant, including one staff member not being permitted a break after they received burns from the frier (they were told to place ice on the burn which, in turn, made it worse). These are just some of the many stories released this week that show the company’s blatant disregard for worker’s rights including the right to a decent and fair wage, not least a living wage.
At the first Prime Minister’s questions since the Summer recess, Jeremy Corbyn asked Theresa May whether she supported the McStrike- the PM didn’t answer the question. Although this is hardly surprising we must not allow Theresa May to forget about her promises on the steps of Downing Street:
“I know you’re working around the clock, I know you’re doing your best, and I know that sometimes life can be a struggle. The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours”
Yes, that is a direct quotation. Her startling non-answer in the Commons chamber proves (if it needed proving) that this promise is as empty as their hearts.
The Conservatives are proud to say that they introduced the rise in minimum wage, but it is still not enough, especially if you are under 18 (the minimum wage only increased a measly 5 pence from £4.00 to £4.05 for this age group). What’s more, the minimum wage is only one aspect to protecting workers: without Union recognition workers cannot collectively bargain for wages or have a redress of grievance on their working conditions. Lest we forget that it was the Conservative government who introduced the 2016 Trade Union Act that makes it even harder for workers to collectively bargain.
Theresa May’s unwillingness to implement a £10.00 minimum wage, to end exploitative zero hour contracts and to end her party’s attack on the trade union movement is failing working people across the U.K and is in large part the reason this McStrike is taking place. This government has failed to adequately protect workers from exploitation at the hands of multi-national corporations such as McDonald’s.
The McStrike leads to an obvious but important question; why is it that in 2017 people who are working hard are still living in poverty? The answer lies in the economic fallacy of trickle down economics – the notion that if the rich get richer the poor get richer. Quite simply, this does not happen.
Although income inequality in the U.K. has actually fallen since the financial crisis people’s wages have stagnated. Those earning £100,000 per year may not be able to buy as much as they used to, but it is much easier to get by on a stagnant £100,000 (or £11.8 million) than it is on a measly £4.75 per hour. And it is a problem this Conservative government is doing nothing about. In fact, according to the Resolution Foundations annual state of the nation report “income growth is set to slow to extremely low levels and in a way that is highly regressive, with income falls for poorer households.” Rather than implementing policies to help working people, this government’s commitment to lower taxes on the highest earners, the cornerstone of the trickle down delusion, will eventually lead to the gulf between the rich and the poor widening once again.
This is why it is important that we stand in solidarity with the ‘McStrikers’- the lives these workers live are indicative of a Conservative government that has created the conditions that allow for workers to be exploited and to live in poverty. As we often hear from the Tory frontbench ‘Government is about choices’ and the choices this government make exacerbate inequality and poverty. It is perhaps no coincidence that this strike is taking place after the Labour Party’s recent election manifesto: under Corbyn’s leadership there can finally be a government, that from it’s very core, has the interests of working people at heart. It’s time we had a PM to deliver radical change, not an understudy for Ronald McDonald.