(report by Roderick Cobley)
Activists met on Wednesday 8 January at the House of Commons to take the first step in a new campaign for workplace rights in the fast food industry. Fast Food Rights has been launched by leftwing Labour MP John McDonnell, alongside the BFAWU bakers union and Unite the Resistance.
The meeting heard from John McDonnell and and Ronnie Draper, BFAWU’s general secretary. Both talked about poor wages, poor conditions and frequent use of zero hour contracts in the industry. McDonnell said fast food jobs were often transitory, and the workers often migrants or young people. Draper noted how the current generation is the first for a long time to be expecting to be materially worse off than their parents.
A key debating point during the discussion involved the respective roles of fast food workers themselves and of organisations from outside the workplace. John McDonnell emphasised the importance of building a broad coalition to fight for fast food rights. Ronnie Draper highlighted the importance of media campaigning.
Others, in contrast, argued for campaigning to be centred on the workplace. One speaker, representing workers at a major London venue, argued for a modest campaign initially focused on one employer only, based in that employer’s workplaces and on the workers themselves.
The sole fast food worker present noted that many such workers would not be able to participate in protests and events outside their workplace due to shift patterns. So campaigning would have to be workplace based if it were to involve them.
Another speaker, an RMT member, argued in favour of a broad campaign publicised with direct action and “stunts”, but focused on a small number of simple demands, such as union recognition or a minimum hourly wage (such as the $15 hourly wage campaigns in the US).
The meeting was chaired by Michael Bradley from Unite the Resistance. He proposed a Fast Food Rights day of action on Saturday 15 February while leaving it open what form this would take. A number of ideas were discussed and a consensus developed.
Fast Food Right activists agreed to meet again this Wednesday 22 January. The meeting was positive and open with wide-ranging discussion. It was based around discussion from the floor, allowed multiple views to be expressed and the issues to be properly talked through. It is hoped that more fast food workers can become involved directly in the campaign as it develops.