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Getting Organised In The Fast Food Industry
THE FAST food industry is one of Britain's biggest employers of young people. We print below an article on working for the McDonalds hamburger chain in London.
Along with this is an article from Justice, which is the socialist's sister paper in the USA. A Pizza Hut worker speaks to Justice about the campaign he and his co-workers are waging to unionise his workplace.
The socialist and International Socialist Resistance would like to hear from other workers, particularly in the fast food industry. Have you worked for one of the big concerns or one of the smaller firms? Have you tried to unionise workers there? What kind of difficulties did you experience from the employers?
Let us know if you found the interview with a US union activist useful. Are there differences in organising workers in Britain as opposed to the US?
Contact us at PO Box 24697, London E11 1YD, ring us on 020 8988 8777 or email us at email@example.com
Far from "loving it"
A FRIEND once said to me how ironic it was. You walk into McDonalds to order your cheeseburger, and as the underpaid student turns round to get it for you, they have "McDonalds, We're loving it" written on the back of their T-shirt.
You can't help but think that they're not 'loving it' in the slightest.
Another thing that's slightly ironic about McDonalds at the moment are the TV advertisements, informing the public just how clean their restaurants are. Ironic because if you've worked in McDonalds, you know what really happens.
At 15 I wanted some spare cash for a bit of make-up and clothes and found McDonald's was the only place who'd employ such young workers (with permission from my school of course!).
The bit I find funny in that advert is when the clear-faced, smiling teenager says:
"When we hear that beeping sound every 20 minutes, it means we have to stop what we're doing and wash our hands".
Yet the only thing we did every 20 minutes was turn that annoying beeping sound off!
We were also supposed to wash the floors every 30 minutes, which we didn't do. I'd wipe tables with cloths that smelt rancid; "so long as it looks clean", was the attitude we got from our managers.
The people in the kitchen did not wear hairnets and their aprons were always dirty; the list could go on.
The point is that myself, along with 90% of the workforce were 15-year-olds just out for a bit of extra cash and most of us were just too scared to ask the managers: "Don't you think we should wash these cloths?".
We just got on with it
We just got on with it, we were taught not to speak out to managers. Anyway, what did I know, I was just an underpaid school student!
Maybe it was just the restaurant I worked in, or maybe it was just the managers that I worked with. But the worry is that - if every McDonalds is like the one I worked in, where we were extremely busy, understaffed and underpaid - a lot of McDonalds are probably not following the procedures they're supposed to.
That means that they're not as clean as they'd like to think they are. I'm also sure that the rest of them are not 'loving it'!
International Socialist Resistance campaigns against low pay and for trade union rights for all young workers.
Initiated by the Socialist Party, ISR is a democratic, broad organisation fighting for a socialist alternative to capitalism.
International Socialist Resistance
ISR has groups in many different countries.
Contact ISR: PO Box 858, London, E11 1YG.
020 8558 7947.
USA: Fighting For A Fair Slice Of The Pizza Hut Pie
YEAR AFTER year, jobs in the fast food industry remain some of the worst around. Working conditions are poor, pay is typically minimum wage, and there is little job security. Despite these horrible conditions, the industry in the USA remains completely non-union.
The image of the average fast food worker is a teenager working to earn some extra money. But in reality, with millions of well-paying jobs being eliminated in the US, a fast food job has become the only source of income for millions of workers.
ROB (whose name has been changed due to fear of management retaliation), a Pizza Hut delivery driver and Socialist Alternative member, spoke with GREG BEITER from Justice about the campaign he and his co-workers are currently leading to unionise Pizza Hut.
Why are you organising a union?
Drivers and inside workers both make minimum wage, and drivers receive no raises. On top of this, all investment in delivery operations rests solely on the driver at Pizza Hut. Taking into account the costs of insurance, maintenance, and gas, drivers actually make less than the minimum wage.
Delivery driving is also one of the most dangerous occupations. Drivers regularly get into car accidents. We've had drivers robbed at knifepoint, shot at, and even one attacked by a bear!
How can a union improve your wages and working conditions?
First, we are fighting for a living wage. Secondly, we want shop stewards to represent and protect the rights of workers on the job. Also, a seniority system would prevent management from arbitrarily cutting workers' hours, and raises and promotions would be based on experience instead of management favouritism.
A union contract would also give us benefits such as healthcare, paid vacations, and sick days.
How have Pizza Hut workers responded to the idea of a union?
Excellent. About nine out of ten workers think it's a good idea. One in three wants to get directly involved with organising or distributing material about the union. The vast majority of other workers support the idea, although many are initially somewhat sceptical of what it could achieve for them.
However, support for the union has typically increased after Pizza Hut's attempts to crack down on the workers. For example, in my store, management caught wind of union materials being distributed. They called a mandatory anti-union meeting to intimidate workers.
But this only increased workers' anger towards management and their support for unions. Almost all the workers who hadn't expressed interest before this meeting came to me afterwards asking how they could get involved.
What steps are you taking to form the union?
Before we go public with the campaign and put pressure on management to negotiate a contract, we want to build up the maximum solidarity and power among the workers.
We are constructing an organising committee of the most active, committed union supporters with at least one representative from each store in the area. The organising committee members collect names etc. from all interested workers and distribute educational materials about the union at their store.
Why are you organising this campaign underground?
We want to avoid for as long as possible management intimidating or firing workers who support the union. Even though it is illegal to discipline or fire workers for union organising, a common practice is for companies to fire the main organisers of a union drive, killing the campaign before it has the chance to develop.
The only recourse we have against management attacks is our own collective power. But it takes time to build solidarity among a solid majority of the workers.
Currently, all workers are not yet aware of the power they have through collective action. We're in the process of raising their consciousness about this.
Socialist Alternative has played a key role in providing advice on effective strategies and tactics. They have been dead on in anticipating management's responses.
They've been lending their support from the beginning and have actually given me more time and resources than the union local involved in the organising drive.
In The Socialist 17 April 2004:
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