Staff from two branches of McDonald’s didn’t show up for work on Monday, and instead joined around 200 other people (in the rain) outside Westminster in London
They’d come from two different McDonald's branches, one in Cambridge and one in Crayford in South London – meeting at their stores in the morning, before some of the strikers headed into central London to join a rally at Westminster.
It’s the first time McDonald’s workers in the UK have ever gone on strike – although there’s been quite a long campaign against low pay in the fast food industry in the US – they’re arguing for better pay (£10 an hour), an end to zero-hours contracts, and for McDonald’s to recognise their union (the BAFWU).
“What do we want? £10 an hour…”
… And union representation, and an end to zero hours contracts.
First, we met Jess and Tristan – they’re both on strike for the first time. They work at McDonald’s in Crayford in South London, and are both at college.
Tristan: "I want £10 an hour and better working conditions. It gets so hot in the kitchens, especially in the summer. They need to put their money in the right place. I go to college, I only work on the weekends. I need the Saturday and Sunday work, so if I only get one of those days I’m missing half my pay. It stops me from going to college, I have to borrow money."
“I think the strike will work. It will make McDonald’s listen
Jess: "I've been working at McDonald's for two years, and I think this strike will work. It will make McDonald’s listen. Mainly I wanted to support other people I work with, some of their stories are a lot stronger than ours."
About half an hour later, there was a big cheer. Walking towards the rally, carrying another banner, was a group of workers from Cambridge. They’d come from their branch to join the rally in London
One of the Cambridge workers was Steve, who told us that he’d got involved with the strike after speaking to one of the union organisers.
“I’ve always been quite angry. But one of the union organisers convinced me we could change it
Steve: “I didn’t know anything about the union. I didn’t know the difference between left and right. I left school after my GCSE’s, didn’t go to college, university was out of the question because it was too expensive. I’ve always been quite angry about it, but I met one of the union organisers and they convinced me that we could change it. I feel like we have already changed things in some respects.
"Today’s been wild. I’ve never experienced anything like it."
John McDonnell (he does the economics policy for the Labour party in the UK) has supported the McDonald's campaign for the past two years came and joined the rally (his office is just across the road) so there was a lot of standing around waiting while he was surrounded by an actual pack of journalists...
There were speeches from organisers from the union, from John McDonnell, from one of the striking workers and performances from a choir (dressed up as Ronald McDonald, obv) and spoken word artists.
In the old days, a strike was all about shutting whole industries down – even today, the disruption caused by train drivers going on strike (for example) is huge, but around 40 workers from two branches in the UK is probably unlikely to get in the way of anyone’s Big Mac.
“People are saying ‘we’ve had enough’. This is just the tip of the iceberg
But the rally, the striking workers (and having a big name like McDonnell turn up) got a lot of attention –#McStrike was trending on Twitter, and the strike was covered in lots of major UK publications (like the BBC, the Guardian and Vice) and that wasn’t just because the journalists were bored/ really really love standing around in the rain.
When we finally managed to speak to John McDonnell, he told us that he hopes that message will get across. Not just to management, but to other workers too.
“We want management to listen, but we also want other workers to listen too. When we’ve spoken to other workers in the sector we’ve found a lack of confidence about going on strike, because they were worried about victimisation when they get back to work.
"It isn’t just McDonald’s. It’s something we’re seeing across the fast food sector. The scale of grievances, people just don’t feel they’re respected. But now people are saying 'we’ve had enough'. This is just the tip of the iceberg."