- McJobs and Workers -

Principles, pariahs and pickets...

Posted by: Gideon Hallett ( n/a, UK ) on July 15, 1998 at 10:51:33:

In Reply to: Nice try, but no cigar. posted by The Trolley Dollies on July 15, 1998 at 09:47:18:

: It's all very well having high and mighty principles, but there's a few things here people are overlooking.

There's a very good reason for having high and mighty principles.

If you have no ideals, you have no direction. If you have a direction, you may as well make it a good one. Of course, it's unreal to expect that any one person can save the world, but if enough people think that way, the world may be saved. For humanity, at least.

So yes, I'm an idealist. Never claimed otherwise. When it comes down to it, the "realists" follow the directions the idealists point in and I'm always going to be a goat rather than a sheep.

As someone famously put it; "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything".

: 1. Jamal, Bryan etc have nothing to lose and are therefore not risking much by taking this fight.

On the contrary. They have lost their jobs and they have been slandered by their ex-employer, because they tried to defend an elderly co-worker from unwarranted abuse by someone higher up in the chain of command. They might not have much more to lose, but they have definitely lost something.

: 2. Most workers in McD's are very short term - by their own choice. Unions will never take hold because there is too much apathy, and too high a turnover.

This does not give the employer carte blanche to abuse employees. It does not matter if the crew person only works there for a day; as an employee, they have inalienable rights to decent treatment. In this respect, the Social Chapter of the EU is a Good Thing.

: 3. Most crew are satisfied with their jobs. If they aren't, they leave. At that level, one job is pretty much like another. There are very few jobs that don't have their downsides.

True, but in this case the attitude of the employer makes things worse without cause. And as the largest fast food company, McDonald's sets precedents for staff treatment throughout the fast food industry.

If I may quote Justice Bell, in his verdict on McDonald's employment practices:

"The Second Plaintiff does pay its workers low wages, thereby helping
to depress wages for workers in the catering trade in Britain. To this extent the defamatory charge in the leaflet is partly justified.


It has been common for full-time workers at the Second Plaintiff's U.K.
restaurants to work more than the so-called maximum 39 hours a week, but it has been unusual for crew to work more than 45 hours a week. As often as not, weeks over 39 hours have been worked willingly because crew have wanted to earn more money.


The significance of such weekly hours relates to pay (absence of an increased overtime rate in U.K. McDonald's and the need to work those hours to collect something like a decent wage) rather than to bad working conditions.


Proper breaks are subject to the demands of custom in the Second Plaintiff's restaurants. This means that they are often taken early or late in a shift, or cut short. Adequate drink breaks are not always easy to come by. The result is that crew can work hard for long periods without adequate breaks. I would expect the position to be the same in the U.S. because the pressures are the same.

There was evidence of young people working unlawful hours, but this did not in itself help me to decide whether conditions were generally bad."

: 4. Most crew are young, and therefore would rather spend their money on going out, getting drunk, than a union subscription. There is no instant gratification, and the results would take too long. Or because they are young they would believe all the promises a union would make - even worse !

The prime purpose of a Union is, as I've said elsewhere, to provide a fair balance between employer and employee. As such, this process can only work properly if both sides are allowed to voice their opinions equally. If, as in McDonald's case, the union is not recognised (which is a breach of both EU law (the Social Chapter)and US law (as the UN Decl. of H.R. is part of U.S. law)) then the balance of power is shifted unfairly towards the employer, allowing them to get away with unfair treatment of employees.

It's called the Dignity of Labour. Yes, it is a principle, and one that is most conspicuously absent in sweatshops. It's because your employees are human beings too, and have a right to fair treatment.

: 5. Unions would turn the workplace into a real "them and us" situation.
: Teamwork between crew and managers would vanish, because there would be a lack of trust. It would be like walking on eggshells ! Crew could be discouraged by their peers from becoming one of "them" and aiming for promotion.

Funnily enough, I don't see this as a necessary event. Many industries get along just fine with unionized staff. All the unions are asking is a reasonably decent treatment for their workers - conflict may ensue if the management want to exploit their workforce, but this has been the case since the days of the Chartists.

: There is no simple answer. Unions in the UK in the past crippled industry. Their demands were unreasonable, they held the country to ransom. Right now London Underground are striking. Do you think this wins them support ? No. Just millions of pissed off commuters having to walk to work in the rain, who couldn't give a shit about anyone else's problems because they have enough of their own. At the end of the day, the world has changed and people unfortunately tend to look out for numero uno. It is very hard to whip up massive support for something like this. Remember, this is the "me" generation you are dealing with.

First off, it didn't rain! And the walk did me good.

As to the unions crippling Britain, would this be the same country that had its entire primary industrial base sold off by the Tories?

Can you blame the unions for trying to oppose the mass redundancy of their workers? It's their job to try and defend them.

Finally, the "me" generation has a bit to learn, and rather fast, as our civilisation is approaching the rocks rapidly (see any number of previous posts of mine about global warming, resource depletion, general bad ecological stuff and so on in the Capitalism and Anything Else rooms). According to the Powers that Be, at 24, I should be a greedy little moneygrubbing capitalist. Can't see it, myself.

The UN Internation Panel on Climate Change is saying we've got 50 years left. We need to start working together, or we will see unprecedented human suffering. Of course, that might well involve very un-"me generation" collectivisation and *gasp* socialism, but so be it.

As something for the "me" generation to meditate on, here's a famous passage written by John Donne in 1624 (a month before he died);

"No man is an island, entire unto itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod is washed away by the sea, Europe is the lesser, as well as if a promontry were, as well as if manor of thy friends, or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls.

It tolls for thee."


Reporter: "What do you think of Western civilisation?"
M.K. Gandhi: "I think it would be a good idea"

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