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10/09/01 . IUF . IUF Web Site . UK
McDonald's and New Labour: An Open Letter to UK Prime Minister Blair
With McDonald's sponsoring a reception at the New Labour party conference, the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) has called on the Prime Minister to publicly affirm the right of McDonald's restaurant employees in the UK and internationally to be represented by a trade union.
Date: 10 September, 2001
To: UK Prime Minister Tony Blair Concerns: McDonald's sponsorship of Party Conference
Dear Mr. Prime Minister,
On behalf of the IUF's world-wide membership, I am writing to express my profound distress at your decision to solicit and accept McDonald's sponsorship of a reception at New Labour's annual conference. This decision, in our view, expresses a clear repudiation of the democratic values of the labour movement, values which New Labour claims to continue to embody despite disagreements with the party's trade union constituency over some policies.
The IUF, as an international federation of trade unions, represents more than 10 million workers around the world. Some of our members work at McDonald's, a company which makes no secret of its hostility to trade unions and the internationally-recognised right of workers to collective representation at the workplace. Workers have, as a rule, been able to achieve recognition of this right at McDonald's only through dedicated, tenacious collective resistance to the company's anti-union policies. In some cases, they have been supported in these efforts by governments committed to upholding their countries' obligation to defend international labour rights standards embodied in Conventions of the ILO.
In Russia, our members have been seeking for over two-and-a-half years to have their union recognised and to engage McDonald's management in negotiations for a collective agreement. Union members at McDonald's McComplex food processing plant outside Moscow have been the target of a systematic campaign of harassment and intimidation, including death threats against the union president. Their right to bargain collectively with the company has been defended by the mayor of Moscow and by the Russian State Duma. McDonald's' well-publicised presence at your party conference, however, is likely to encourage the anti-union campaign and reinforce the company's belief that political support for trade union rights is of little consequence when even New Labour supports McDonald's. And the case of Moscow McDonald's is but one of many.
A charitable interpretation would dismiss McDonald's' presence at the party conference as a regrettable lapse in judgement and bad timing, coming as it does on the heels of the well-publicised child labour scandal in Surrey for which the company was fined. For McDonald's corporate management and their franchise holders in the UK and internationally, however, the company's presence at the party conference will be seen as a positive endorsement of McDonald's policy. That is to say, as an endorsement of the very policies the labour movement has always sought to combat. For the IUF, and for our members, supporters and friends around the world, McDonald's symbolises all that is wrong with global fast-food capitalism. The McDonald's system is based on low pay, unsocial hours, dead-end jobs, and the evasion of corporate social responsibility through the franchising of exploitative work systems. The McDonald's corporate philosophy embodies a fundamental opposition to the human rights and dignity of its restaurant employees.
Moreover, McDonald's has distinguished itself by its corporate bullying and relentless dedication to squashing public discussion of its practices, as recently exemplified by the UK McLibel trial (in which, you may recall, the presiding judge substantially agreed with the defendants' description of the company as anti-union). If New Labour is serious about combating social exclusion, one would have thought the party conference would be vigorously debating measures to halt the kinds of workplace practices for which McDonald's has become notorious. While their sponsorship of the party conference suggests that debate on these issues will be minimal, it is nonetheless not too late for you as Prime Minister to publicly express support for the right of McDonald's employees in the UK and internationally to be represented by a trade union.