A living wage for fast food: BFAWU leaders speak out

Inspired by mass organisation in the US, UK fast food workers are beginning to mobilise for a better pay deal

Inspired by mass organisation in the US, UK fast food workers are beginning to mobilise for a better pay deal

Low pay and job insecurity are the key issues facing workers in the fast food sector.

For decades, companies like McDonalds and KFC have been asserting their market dominance in a sector full of manipulative advertising and unhealthy but tasty food.

Documentaries like Supersize Me by Morgan Spurlock helped lift the lid on the McDonald’s empire’s Big Macs and fries.

However a more sinister underbelly exists at the fast food giants, where despite making billions of dollars in profits each year from the labours of their hard up staff, US fast food workers are getting a raw deal.

Now they want their fair share and today are taking to the streets in a mass show of strike action and civil disobedience.

The #fastworkersrights campaign which centres on a $15 living wage has helped inspire activism here in Britain.

With social media, union issues are at least being put on the online map bypassing in many cases the mainstream media.

So much so, food workers union the BFAWU is now calling for a £10 an hour living wage in Britain.

President Ian Hodson said:

“In the UK we have a huge problem with low pay and like the US we now find taxes being used to support poverty wages through in work benefits it’s immoral and wrong that a company refuses to pay a wage it’s workers can live on and it’s wrong that workers are being forced to take strike action to get a living wage.”

But it is not just workers and bosses who must come to an agreement but the political elite should step in says Hodson.

“For too long politicians have ignored what these hugely profitable corporations have been doing for fear of impacting on their political donations but if the politicians want to listen and the company’s won’t play fair then strikes and civil disobedience becomes a necessity and we send our support and solidarity to all those taking part in today’s action in the US”.

With Britain in the grip of a Tory government and a fast approaching general election, unions are divided over what to do next.

This years’ TUC in Liverpool will see unions big and small debate the key issues facing the union movement.

BFAWU general secretary Ronnie Draper leads a small but dynamic union affiliated to the Labour Party but avidly socialist in principle.

The union has been successful in winning key deals for members despite claims of poverty from rich employers in the food industry.

And members in Wigan achieved national notoriety for their civil disobedience and direct action tactics at Hovis last year.

Rather than seeing it as a militant action, Draper sees such tactics as part of the armoury that a trade union has.

And as such, if the time is ever right, the labour movement should consider a coordinated general strike across Britain.

He said:

“The principle of a general strike is a good principle. I much prefer a negotiated settlement that gives people the standard of living that is there human right to have. But everything we have won, pensions, decent pay, we have had to fight for.”

Fully aware he needs a Labour government to not only win the next election out right but to have a programme that would satisfy the needs of working people, he says Ed Miliband should be listening to workers not big business.

“They are giving us lite-touch austerity as the only option”.

“What we have to do is be brave as a movement. We’re not looking for them to be radically left wing. We want policies that will ultimately appeal to voters.”

For Draper these include a living wage, stopping zero-hours contracts unless agreed individually by the staff member and an end to a dependence on foodbanks.

It’s hardly a radical manifesto. But they are policies that would have an immediate effect on millions of people suffering under austerity.

Proud of his Labour Party roots, Draper says his commitment to the socialist cause and the party’s drift to the right have only strengthened his resolve.

He added:

“What I am asking for is something we can do. Without investment in working people, there can be no successful businesses.”

John Millington blogs at The Industrial Reporter.

4 Responses to “A living wage for fast food: BFAWU leaders speak out”

  1. Kryten2k35

    £10 an hour would be a great start. But, we should implement a basic wage as well/instead.

  2. Leon Wolfeson

    The entire *point* of the living wage is it replaces the need for such measures.

  3. Kryten2k35

    A basic wage paid to every citizen, enough to live on, regardless of employment status is a far, far better solution than the living wage, or minimum wage.

  4. Leon Wolfeson

    Oh certainly. (I came round to that view earlier this year after a discussion of how it changes the risk model for startups)

    The entire *point* is it replaces the need for 95%+ of other welfare payments. Oh, you still need a bit more for i.e. disabled people with additional costs to live, but…

    (It’s also so, so much cheaper to administer…almost as much of those massive bureaucratic costs go out the window)

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