Yesterday there were protests across Britain in solidarity with #FFS410 (Fast Food shutdown, 4th October) , writes Susan Moore. The workers at the centre of the action – McDonalds, TGIFrday, Ubereats, Deliveroo and Wetherspoons have a lot in common. They are precarious work in an industry with very little tradition of union organisation, where workers are often treated as disposable – and there is a connection. Many workers are young and often juggling paid work – now for the overwhelming majority essential given the costs of being a student – with college assignments.
Pay is rubbish and especially when so many are on zero hours contracts. Labour’s pledge of £10 an hour minimum wage is very popular as is the demand for ending youth rates. As one Weatherspoon worker told the London rally in Leicester Square, we don’t pay youth rates at the supermarket or when we need childcare. But the lack of respect with which workers are treated is as much a motivator to demand change as anything else.
Owen Jones sums up the material situation of young people in this Guardian article- noting the rate of unionisation amongst under 25’s which stands at a mere 8% despite the fact for workers 18 to 21, real weekly wages collapsed by 16% in the years after the crash.
He captures the way that those involved in the campaign have gained a new sense of confidence through collective organising. It’s clear that seeing people like yourself taking action and being positive about doing so is a very powerful recruiter. If young people hear anything about unions it’s all too often about older men in boring meetings apparently ‘holding the country to ransom’ when they already earn a fortune…Few have an experience of seeing trade unions actually changing people’s conditions for the better.
One of the positive aspects of #FFS410 was different unions working together. The Bakers union, who organise in McDonalds and Wetherspoons have been central to fast food organising for several years, but as a small union have limited capacity. Unite has been supporting their members at TGI Friday and UNITE Community were central to many of the support actions. Ubereats workers, who organised a flash occupation of Uber’s HQ later in the day, together with Deliveroo workers and some taxi drivers are organised by the IWGB (Independent Workers Union of Great Britain). The IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) were also involved at some of the protests.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell received a huge welcome from the crowd when he addressed the rally in Leicester Square and brought a message from Jeremy Corbyn. Mc Donnell has long been part of these types of actions, and reminded people that for him campaigning is not only about winning elections but fighting for justice across society as a whole He said a memo has been sent to all Labour MPs today informing them that if there is a picket in a constituency it is the MPs responsibility to join it. While I can dream that it would have been even better if he had added– “and if there is not it’s your responsibility to organise one”, this is a massive step forward.
It was great to participate In the combination of chants in Leicester Square – under 25s leading a chorus of Id rather be a picket than a scab but also the emblematic “I believe that we will win”. That slogan, originally created for US sports events was then taken up by trade unionists in the #Fightfor15. There is of course a huge mountain to climb in terms of forcing all employers in the industry to mend their ways but I do believe that we are already winning in the fight to explain why trade unions need to be remade and not discarded in the fight for another world…..