Workers at five McDonalds restaurants (in Crayford, Cambridge, Manchester, and two in Watford) will strike on Tuesday 1 May. Richard, a Bakers’ Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU) activist from Watford, spoke to Solidarity.
I first got involved through one of our organisers, Gareth. I’ve been a member of the union since before the September strike but we didn’t have the numbers in Watford at that point to ballot, but I attended the strike committee meeting in Crayford. I helped build up the campaign with workers from the other stores.
I joined the BFAWU online when I started working at McDonald’s. I had previously been a member of Unite Community and I had heard about the Bakers’ union being the union for someone working in McDonald’s. When I was in Unite Community I was involved with solidarity activity with PCS members on strike, and with Labour in the last election.
After the first strike McDonald’s announced a pay rise for lots of workers. But our core demands are still the same. £10 an hour, and an end to the youth rates; scrap zero hour contracts, and a choice of fixed hour contracts; union recognition; and an end to bullying in the workplace.
Since the strike last September we’ve built up strength, we now have five stores striking. After the last strike we got people coming up to us in restaurants talking about it, it was really important for getting people into the campaign. We recruited a lot of people from the publicity of the last strikes.
We’ve been out speaking to people outside of the restaurants and recruiting people to the union. We’ve been talking to them about the importance of our bold demands and linking up their experiences with the struggle nationally. It’s been brilliant having some of the people who were on strike last time being organisers for the union and going into stores organising. We will be growing the membership up until the day of the strike.
What’s really interesting is how many people now know about the McStrike. People talk about it in the workplace. Watford is the hometown of the CEO, and this has raised the profile of the campaign. He even visited Watford last December. I think the campaign is having an impact on the wider industry. There are now workers organising in TGI Friday’s (Unite), Burger King and KFC (BFAWU).
It’s true the strike has had an impact in the wider labour movement. It helps that we’ve had the support of people like McDonnell and Corbyn, and Laura Pidcock MP (a former McDonald’s worker). That has had a big impact, particularly in popularising it. Two years ago talking about a strike in McDonald’s would have been impossible, but this shows it can be done.
We have frequent meetings with the union organisers, and train us and give us practical help. We are maximising every single one of our members, and empowering them with skills to fight back. We are getting workers to put in grievances about issues such as schedules being up late. When we win those cases workers are able to see what we are able to achieve and are joining the union.
The first strike was mostly about publicity rather than hitting McDonald’s profits, and it’s some of the same this time. The impact on profits is a secondary issue, but if we hit them where it hurts with their public image we can win. McDonald’s usually have workers who have been prepared for the strike, sometimes by getting in workers from other restaurants. Their strategy is damage limitation.
The best experience during the dispute has been the sheer amount of support from the wider labour movement — meeting McDonnell and Corbyn was a highlight. When we held the rally in Westminster, it really enthused a lot of people, and lots of people joined the union at that meeting.
The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is that the best thing to do is to always ask questions of workers, find their main concerns and talk about how to the union can address those issues.
Join the May Day demonstrations
Manchester McStrike picket and demonstration
Midnight picket for one hour from midnight on Monday 30 April until 1am Tuesday 1 May
Morning picket 7-8am Tuesday 1 May
McDonald′s 36/38 Oxford Road, Manchester, M1 5EJ
More info: bit.ly/2Hq1NwY
Crayford, Cambridge and Watford pickets and demonstration
Pickets at 8-9am in Crayford (Tower Retail Park, DA1 4LD) and Cambridge (Newmarket Road, CB5 8WL).
Rally and demonstration at noon at Watford McDonald′s, 128 High Street, Watford, WD17 1EA
More info: bit.ly/2qUwSgY
May Day Precarious Workers’ Bloc
Meet at 1.30pm Tuesday 1 May outside Charing Cross station to join the main May Day rally. More info: bit.ly/2qVI6C8