witness statement

name: Magazine Article by Peter Sutcliffe
section: Employment
for: The Defence
experience: McDonald's Crew Member, East Ham, 1986-'87


The article gives an insiders tale of work at a McDonald's store.


I worked for McDonald's at East Ham for over 12 months from December 1986.

Full cv: (not available for these witnesses)

full statement:

Independent Labour Party Mag - Spring 88

Fast Foods, throw away jobs

Working in fast food is now the commonest choice of a first job in Britain. where young people are finding it increasingly hard to secure any - employment. Three out of four workers in the fast food industry are under 21 where the annual staff turnover is 300 per cent. Between 40-70 per cent of new recruits leave within a month.

PETER SUTCLIFFE (Worker number 209.528), who has been employed at a branch of McDonald's in East Ham for over a year, offers an insider's view of life behind the counter.

Faced with a restart interview and wanting to keep up my part time college course. I signed up for a job at my local McDonald's. I needed flexible hours to fit in with my studies and the Governments Jobstart bribe of 20 a week made wages bearable.

What amazed me from the start was that most of the McDonald's workers seemed so happy. They like their jobs. Love the food and they don't think that the wages are bad.

At my local McDonald's there is no resentment against the management itself - only towards individual managers. The managers are friendly and, like us, they work long shifts, many only for 60p an hour more than 'crew' members.

Jealousy is intense. Everyone congratulates crew members who are promoted to the 'training squad' - a ridiculous position, where for an extra 10p an hour, those that are selected are burdened with many more tasks. But behind their backs it's a different story, with everyone privately agreeing that the promotion is undeserved.

For at McDonald's happiness is superficial. Everyone is desperate for promotion - that extra star on their badge, or the 5p pay rise awarded every four month for those that perform their work well.A comprehensive and conformist environment is deliberately fostered.

The work itself simultaneously combines boredom with fantastic activity. Britain's 19,000 McDonald's employees all produce identical food in an identical way to McDonald's 560,000 workers worldwide.

Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald's is estimated to have earned over 500 million. McDonald's staff earn from 1.58 an hour for a 17-year old outside London to 2.89 for a nightshift worker in Central London.

Hours vary and can rise well above the official 35 hours a week. You may be 'asked' to come in on your days off. No-one has fixed hours. Flexibility is the key at McDonald's - and it benefits the management and adds to our insecurity.

The response of the left to McDonald's is often appealing. Many individual socialists are inclined to patronise you when they know where you work.

Labour councils rarely resist new McDonald's branches from opening. Waltham Forest council is the exception. The council failed to stop one being set up in run down Leyonstone, but it succeeded in Norman Tebbit's leary Chingford constituency. The only other place where McDonald's has accepted defeat is in exclusive Hampstead.

Trade Unions

Although the unions have shown an interest in recruiting McDonald's workers, their methods can often be dire. Their campaigns are run by officials that haven't heard of Rick Astley or Mel and Kim, but who think that young people want Billy Bragg posters.

We do have to recognise that trade-union recruitment has been made more difficult with the removal of the under-21 year olds from the protection of wages councils. But even more damaging for the unions has been the Thatcher government's ideological attacks on them.

Many young people doubt whether the unions have anything to do with them. In an individualist culture the unions have not responded in ways that might begin to win over young people.

Traditional trade union practices, organising in workplaces and recruiting new workers in the process, no longer apply. Young people go straight from school onto the YTS, then onto the dole or into a non-union workplace. They never see the unions. To gain a hearing , trade unions will have to get into the schools, youth clubs, unemployment centres and be seen on the high street and in the town centres.

In stark contrast with conditions for its staff in Britain, the McDonald's employees who have the best deal are found in Nicaragua. There the union is recognised and all the workers have 90 days paid leave a year to attend the unions education schools! McDonald's also subsidises their workers travel costs and it even provides a works library.

This is only possible because of the collectivist society that is being created in Nicaragua and the pressures that can be put upon employers. It is the sort of society we have to create if we wish to improve workers conditions here.

I don't mean that 'only under socialism' will workers at McDonald's or elsewhere get a better deal, but only if the labour movement gets its act together can there be any real improvements in the world of fast food.

date signed: not dated
status: Not read out in court
references: Not applicable/available

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