Organising fast food workers

James Ivens

Officials from bakers’ union BFAWU recently held a ‘fast food forum’ with campaigners from groups including Youth Fight for Jobs.

Labour left MP John McDonnell also spoke from the platform. Targets decided at the meeting, which took place in parliament, included Costa, McDonald’s and Burger King.

The move comes after successful strike action against zero-hour contracts at bread maker Hovis and organising work at snack retailer Greggs.

The meeting discussed tactics and agreed a day of action at Oxford Street shops to launch a union recruitment campaign.

Youth Fight for Jobs supports this and has called a further day of action on zero-hour contracts.

A young worker at Costa Coffee related his workplace experiences. Break rooms at the café chain carry posters with uplifting messages. “Smile or be fired.” A union would quickly wipe that smile off the boss’s face.

The fast food workforce is drawn from two main sources. Many are students so the campaign aims to approach student unions.

Most others are migrant workers. Chris Ford from general union IWGB explained that his union had disproved the idea these workers are ‘unorganisable’ with several recent industrial victories.

Sick of your boss?

Helen Pattison, speaking for Youth Fight for Jobs, reported on the Sick of Your Boss underemployment campaign.

Activists have had good results from entering high street shops and distributing material to staff while working.

Various speakers mentioned the Fast Food Forward campaign in the US. In particular the historic election victory of Kshama Sawant (member of Socialist Alternative – co-thinkers of the Socialist Party in the US) in Seattle was praised.

A Socialist Party member explained that political representation like this can be a huge boost for campaigns.

Ordinary workers in Britain should stand like Kshama did, and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition exists to allow them to do this.

The closing focus of discussion was the need to provide long-term support for struggle, not just publicity stunts.

Youth Fight for Jobs is planning to organise further meetings around the country with BFAWU branches and activists.

  • Wednesday 22 January: next fast food forum planning meeting
  • Saturday 15 February: day of action at Oxford Street shops
  • Saturday 29 March: Youth Fight for Jobs day of action against zero-hour contracts