Hospitality worker and activist Nilüfer Erdem reports:
Rank and file activists from the fight for $15 an hour campaign in the US came to London on 13 January to join a discussion with John Mcdonnell in parliament alongside workers in the UK.
Before the meeting in parliament, a loud and theatrical protest took place outside McDonalds where 70 activists protested against poverty wages and degrading treatment singing songs to the melody of David Bowie’s Space Oddity:
This is fast food rights to McDonalds, we’ve really had enough / And you treat your staff in the most peculiar way . We’ve grown very sick of it today
On the way to the House of Commons we marched through the streets stopping traffic. Passersby looked deeply confused as they left their offices wearing expensive raincoats and suits, while many cars honked in solidarity.
Photo: Nilüfer Erdem
A truly exciting and playful atmosphere was created in darkened gloomy Whitehall. Members of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers union dressed up like Ronald McDonald and carried banners that celebrated the strike as a winning tactic. Memorials to historical war mongers, nationalists and colonists like the military general Sir Douglas Haig were overshadowed by the brightly coloured group of militants decorated with props and flags.
Our friends and leaders of this noisy group are the real heroes we should be inspired by- precarious, black and brown workers who struck against McDonalds in America.
I had the pleasure of meeting Ashley (pictured), a legendary McDonalds worker from Memphis, Tennessee, who was involved in a dispute around wage theft. It was her first job after graduating from high school. She was only 18 years old!
Our conversation began with her pointing at my Clapton Ultras scarf which had written “anti-fascista”
“I love your scarf can I have it?”
To which I conceded – “errr, yeah okay”
“I know what I can give you! I have thousands of sunglasses”
We made the exchange and proceeded with the mini interview.
I asked her what brings her to London
“I’ve been to Brazil, London, Brussels, Boston, I’m going to Paris- all over the world.. now I can say that!
She looked cheekily across at her comrades and let out an embarrassed laugh about her celebrity treatment.
“We’ve been going across the world unionising with other workers, low wage workers, because we feel like we’re all in this struggle together. We’re all family also! I look at you as my sister, that’s my sister, that’s my brother. We’re all fighting the same fight against these billion dollar corporations. They’re sucking us dry and we’re sick of it, we gonna stand up and we ain’t gonna stop until we get what we want!”
She was then dragged into Parliament wearing my scarf.
It’s great to meet other young hospitality workers involved in the struggle.
Thanks to the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union who have been central in helping to organise this.