McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook and I will only ever have one thing in common: we’re both Watford lads… or at least, he was once. I’ll never go to university like he did because I can’t afford to get into that kind of debt. He earns £5,500 per hour. I earn £6.50. I doubt I’ll ever own a private jet. My dream is that, one day, I’ll be able to save up to get on a regular plane and visit Australia. But right now, all I want is a job I can juggle with college and a living wage so I can help support my mum.
Today, I’m on the picket lines at the McDonald’s in Watford where I work, after 95 percent of balloted workers voted to go on strike at five McDonald’s stores across the UK. It’s my first protest.
I was nervous, but it feels really good to be standing up for our rights; to be doing something, for once. We all feel so powerless as individuals, working for these international corporations where the rules might as well be being written on a different planet and you know you’re completely expendable. But so many people have come out to support us, with McStrikers marching over from branches in Crayford, Cambridge, even Manchester. I feel valued by the union. It’s something I’m prepared to fight for because I know we’ll all fight for each other.
It was only a couple of weeks after I started working at McDonalds that they started piling on the pressure. I have a speech impediment and I’m hard of hearing. I can do the work just fine but I need to be allowed to do one job at a time. It causes a lot of anxiety to be hurried and stressed about a million things at once.
They used to leave me on the front desk to deal with customers for ages, even though we’re supposed to rotate jobs. I didn’t mind doing my share of that, but they just didn’t get why it wasn’t OK to leave me there for hours, without a thought for why I might struggle with that.
Then, they started trying to bully me into taking on more shifts. It’s hard enough studying and working; I was already tired most of the time. But suddenly they wanted me to work three or four days a week on top of my classes. Eventually, I realised I had to be brave and stand up to them.
But I’d just turned 18 and now they could make me do the night shifts. I told them there was no way I could do a night shift before college the next day. They didn’t want to hear it.
It’s funny, because they’re always going on about how zero hours contracts are better for students or people with kids because they provide ‘flexibility’. They never mention the fact you can’t take out a loan if you need one: you need guaranteed income to borrow anything and, on zero hours, nothing is guaranteed.
Another thing they don’t mention is that the flexibility belongs to your boss, not to you. If you don’t bend to what they want, they can drop you just like that, like it’s nothing. There’s plenty of other people with no job at all, desperate enough to take your place.
I was first put in touch with our local rep by a colleague on a particularly bad day. He helped me understand what my rights were. When he mentioned the campaign, I was interested. He explained what it was about and asked me if I’d like to be involved. ‘Why not?’ I thought.
A stable job, with a living wage and the right to join a union: we deserve all those things. And I knew right away that no one was going to just give them to us.
I live with my parents and my mum doesn’t work because she takes care of my dad, who has Parkinson’s disease. If I was earning £10 per hour it would change our lives.He earns £5,500 per hour. I earn £6.50. I doubt I’ll ever own a private jet
I’d be able to help her out more, that’s the main thing. My parents have supported me in everything I do, even the McStrike. They’re happy that I’m standing up for myself, as long as it doesn’t affect my studies. My mum’s going to come and visit us on the picket lines. Dad’s usually more comfortable staying at home but he’s going to try and come to show his support, too.
We’re not just fighting for ourselves, it’s for everybody. No one who’s working hard should be worried sick about money every day. More than that, we all deserve the chance to save up and make choices in a world where so many doors are locked by income. To me, the right to join a union means the right to get our voices heard. It’s like a support group; somewhere you can get together with other people who are facing the same challenges as you, and you figure out how to support each other and sort it out.
That’s what the Bakers’ Union (BFAWU) has been for me. I know McDonald’s say we don’t need a union because they have their procedures and that managers will listen to us and want to help but more often than not, that’s a lie.
Someone asked me recently how I feel about CEO Steve Easterbrook earning $15 million last year. ‘Poor,’ was my first thought. My second thought was that I’m pretty sure I work harder than he does. My third was that I wonder if anyone in the world works hard enough to deserve $15 million and a private jet.
I think it’s high time for him to fly it home to Watford and hear what we have to say. But ultimately, we’re not looking to Steve to change things for us – we’re looking to each other.
It’s my friends at work, the support of my union, the wave of support we’ve had from the public that gives me hope. After the first strike in September, McDonald’s offered us its largest pay rise for a decade. It’s not a living wage, it’s not yet what we need and deserve – but it’s a start. We don’t need to wonder any more whether we can change things: it’s already happening.
#233: Democracy on the Wing ● Thelma Walker on regional autonomy ● An interview with Clive Lewis ● The World Transformed ● Gender, sexuality and witchcraft ● The globalisation of ‘Asian horror’ ● A tribute to Dawn Foster ● Latest book reviews ● And much more!
And you choose how much to pay for your subscription...
Almost 30 years on, Sarbjit Johal recalls supporting the strike, which consisted of mostly Punjabi women workers
Laura Pidcock, former MP for North West Durham, reviews the new book by Huw Beynon and Ray Hudson in the shadow of Brexit and deindustrialisation
As the election of a new General Secretary for Britain's biggest trade union gets underway, Red Pepper speaks to left candidates Steve Turner and Sharon Graham
Faced with an authoritarian government and decaying left-wing establishment, grassroots movements must turn to direct action, writes Rohan Rice
The trade unionists of the skies have been saving jobs as their industry taxis on the runway, writes Sean Meleady
Nic Murray argues the need for collective solidarity and organising amongst welfare claimants as Covid-19’s economic fallout threatens to render thousands jobless
Want to try Red Pepper before you take out a subscription? Sign up to our newsletter and read Issue 231 for free.