In an unprecedented and inspiring demonstration of workers’ solidarity, fast food workers around the world took coordinated global strike action today.
From New York to Mumbai, from Paris to Tokyo, fast food workers and their supporters picketed their workplaces. They are striking against a fast food industry – dominated by big names like McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut and KFC – that makes huge profits while keeping workers on low wages and in precarious jobs.
This may be the first time in history that workers have taken simultaneous strike action against the same multinational companies in so many different countries. It is a welcome dose of union internationalism, aided by social media. Fast food workers around the world have been spreading messages of their actions, and words of solidarity, using the #FastFoodGlobal hashtag. By late afternoon it was the number one trending topic on twitter – the most talked about thing on social media. This is the first time a trade union campaign has achieved this. It is a huge success for us to celebrate: poverty pay has been put firmly on the agenda.
The action kicked of this morning in New Zealand, where the Unite union has been running a highly successful Supersize My Pay campaign for several years.
There were protests across Asia, in South Korea, India, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Japan, in 150 US cities, and across Europe: in Ireland, Denmark, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland and more. In all, workers in 30 countries participated.
Workers also sent inspiring solidarity messages to each other, such as this one by McDonald’s workers in the US to comrades in Ireland:
Once seen as a short term employment option for young people, perhaps to earn extra money while studying, the global recession has meant more and more workers across the world find themselves trapped in McJobs for many years. While paying poverty wages, jobs in the industry typically have no guaranteed hours, or benefits such as paid sick leave and holiday pay. It is common for fast food workers to have two or three jobs in an attempt to earn enough to live on.
The impetus behind the current fast food strike has largely spread from the low wage workers’ movement in the US, where it is part of the campaign for a $15 per hour minimum wage, and is backed by major unions like the SEIU. The minimum wage campaign is gaining tremendous impetus in the US, where it has put poverty page firmly on the political agenda. Seattle recently became the first major US city to implement the $15 per hour minimum wage.
But fast food workers around the world have been organising and protesting for years; the impetus has grown, and so has the need to take coordinated action. Today’s global strike was coordinated by the IUF, the global union for food workers.
The IUF with Unia in Geneva, Switzerland, where unions are campaigning for the world’s highest minimum wage
As IUF general secretary Ron Oswald said,
“Fast food workers around the world face similar issues – be it poverty pay, inconvenient or insufficient hours, zero hour contracts, stress or employer hostility to union organisation… Is May 15 labour’s big bang at Big Mac? We see it as one step in a protracted, difficult but necessary struggle. Unions are engaged for the long haul.”