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05/08/02 . N/A . A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E . Canada
Being a McWorker, a McDonalds report from Germany
In order to struggle together we need to share information about our work and our situations. After 'What is McDonalds' comes a report of daily life from my experience of working in a German McDonalds, 2002. There is a description of the work and the method of exploitation, then what kind of other people worked there and how they coped with it, then some stuff about the current areas of tension, followed by food horror stories.
What is McDonalds?
McDonalds is used by some people as a symbol of 'evil multi-national American imperialist culture'. But in reality it only has a different face from any other employer. Working for wages IS exploitation, be it in McDonalds or an organic bread shop. Although some say that working for McDs is especially bad in terms of supporting multi-nationals, almost all companies are tied into 'global economy' through production, supplies or sales.
In contrast to this, working for McDonalds can lead to possibilities for the world wide workers struggle in two ways:
1. Where I work, almost all the workers are immigrants, who live in isolated communities to a greater or lesser extent and sometimes have contact to their home countries. At McDonalds they meet each other, share experiences and stories of life in Germany, of life back home, of why they are here and the situations in their home countries. This multi-culti image that McDonalds likes to have in its adverts is perversely true, due to the limited opportunities for immigrants in the German labour market. So they are international in both senses, the company goes all over the world, and once there they bring together people who have had to move around the world themselves. Oh yeah - and then of course there is the international promotions such as Asia week!
2. When you have an international company, with the same work conditions, work processes etc. - you also have a great opportunity for international workers collaboration, struggle, connections. The McDonalds Workers Resistance web site is a fantastic example of this with letters, stories, reports etc from all over the world. (www.mwr.org.uk). Or, for example, some of the people where I work had heard about the Paris McDonalds strike, and can identify with it, and see that although it seems impossible to struggle where we are - other have, and they have won. It is so much easier to see what I have in common with a Chinese McDonalds worker, than a Chinese person working in family-run restaurant in Kumming. Actually, all three of us are exploited in much the same way, and are wage dependent - but it is just so much easier to imagine communication and joint struggle with the Beijing McDonalds worker. There would be a really clear point to it, and we could have a common starting point to struggle together. There is an anti-McDonalds day on October 16th (originally instigated by the anti-McDonalds lobbies) and there is a suggestion for international workers action. Wouldn't that give them a fucking scare!!
Being a McWorker
This has to start with the 'interview'. This consisted of the three tough questions: "What is your name", "What country do you come from" and "do you have a work permit". I guess my answers must have been OK, because I got the job. My induction was being shown where the uniform is and then taken directly to the McFryer.
Specification and tools
The first thing you notice is absolute specificity of the job - the tools, the work process and the actual food. Each food item has its own machine. There is one toaster-grill for each kind of bun, and one fryer for each kind of burger. This is not to do with the food itself, as the heat and size of the toaster are pretty much the same, but rather to do with ensuring a smooth work process - in this way it seems more like a factory than a kitchen.
These machines all beep when the time is up and the burger fryers lift their lids automatically. You are also told to do things in a particular order, so the work process for each step is very defined. As each McDonalds is exactly the same, the speed is set by international standards, which makes setting a slower pace for yourself and other workers a bit harder.
The machinery is in some ways highly evolved, or you can see that it has been made exactly right for its particular job through trial and error, the actually speed and ease of each task is maximised - e.g. the Big Mac bun toaster. But the standardisation also makes things quite simple e.g. the same trays are used in the whole kitchen and everywhere you can click them into these little slots. Normal multi-purpose kitchen tools are not to be found. The uniforms have no pockets - this is to stop us stealing, but also just shows how slick each step is - there no need to carry anything, it is all there right where you need it. And the product is so set, that you are never going to have to do anything else.
The area is laid out for maximum efficiency and minimum movement by the worker - for example the buns, toaster grill and trays all being one on top of the other. If you forget exactly how many gherkins go in a McRib, there are signs everywhere with words and pictures telling you.
I work in the kitchen - my area is one meter wide and four meters long (fryers on one side and 300 degree open grills on the other), but I mostly work at one end, in a one-meter by two-meter area. This is the Burger, Cheeseburger and Big Mac area. In busy times there are two or three of us in this two square meter area. The grills have large lids - also hot - that open to a 45-degree angle, so any time you put burgers on the grill, or take them out, you are inserting your hands into this heat monsters mouth. A frozen burger that would take about 15 minutes to cook at home takes 45 seconds here.
One work step, of about 1 to 2 minutes, could be making 12
Everyone who works there has burns and burn scars from their fingers to half way down their forearms, the longer they have been working, the deeper and more permanent the scars - but, showing me his creamy white and spotless arms, the manager assured me not to worry as "They go after a while".
The division of labour
The labour is further divided again and again as required. E.g. I can do the burger, cheeseburger, Big Mac bit myself. When two people work at the cheeseburgers, then one does rolls and laying out burgers, and the other does fillings and taking burgers off the grill. If there are three then you get a roll person, a burger person and a fillings person. So in busy periods it splits and splits, until it finds its own equilibrium.
There are signs in some areas that say how the division should be further split, for example by the drive in area there is a chart defining the jobs that each person should do from one to five workers, including a map of where exactly they should stand.
Within the kitchen team we decide ourselves out who is doing which end, but the boss says which overall area you work in.
As each step is so defined and each food item and tool is separate - you can instantly see what the next step in the work process is. For example if you see 12 buns in the cheeseburger toaster and it beeps - you know that the only possible next step is the ketchup. So if your colleague is putting the burgers in the fryer you can step into the process instantaneously, without disturbing his or her rhythm of work. They will turn around and see what you are doing, and so can immediately start preparing the next 12 rolls. In this way you can step into the shoes of anyone and further split the division of labour as and when necessary. This can last for as little as one minute or less, and then the two workers are reduced to one again.
If you find yourself with nothing to do, you can be immediately occupied without un-necessary time wasting questions such as "Oh - is that a McChicken your making". Of course its bloody not. If it was then we would be standing by the Mc Chicken toaster, toasting McChicken rolls, right next to the McChicken grill. So the absolute precision of the work process enables seamless co-operation and a full use of every work minute of every worker.
The subjective experience
OK, so people need to identify with their work, or at least make sense
of it - and they have to do this at McDs too, which is pretty fucking
difficult at times - so what do we get:
What sort of workers
Where I work in Essen, Germany, out of about 50 workers there are about 15 from Afghanistan, 5 from India, people from Syria, Iran, Nigeria and many other places. Surprisingly few Turkish and Polish, (compared to the amount of Turkish and Polish in Germany) but maybe they are already a step up the hierarchical ladder than the Afghanis. Apart from the seven bosses, I have only met one German worker. The language is a German based free-for-all. Lots of the workers have lived there a long time and still don't really speak very good German.
About 70 % women and we are whole range of ages. A lot of the people had a really hard time finding a job in Germany and seem to feel that it is better to stick where they are that to try and find something better. There are the ones that had professions 'back home', and there is a sense of sadness sometimes that this is where we ended up - but never openly vocalised, as people have to get on with it. It is kind of hard to really question how they feel about the job sometimes because of the stigma, and so the sort of shame, of middle aged patriarchal men working there for years. Surprisingly, those I asked do not seem to have really looked elsewhere for a job. There is a feeling that 'German' jobs are just too unobtainable and it took them long enough to find this job. Some feel they are 'lucky' to have this job and are really worried about unemployment.
Due to this I felt that people didn't like it when I seemed to not care about the rules. It seemed arrogant of me, when they have had to obey these stupid rules and not cause trouble for years and then I act disrespectfully even though I am new. It doesn't seem fair somehow. They seem resigned to their fate, so they can't slag the job off too much.
There are people supporting whole families on the wage. One woman on her own with three kids, one man with five kids whose wife works in a clothing distribution warehouse. There are also some young, second generation people who are a college and work part time. Their German is good, but I guess they still could not got a 'German' job. They are the ones who tend to 'enjoy' the work most and work fast and flirt and everything. There is a woman with a bad knee who has to stand all day, but still won't look for another job due to low confidence and low motivation. She has been here six years and speaks very bad German. People really like to talk about 'home' and how beautiful it is there.
1. At the moment the management is changing because the old boss could
not control the workers and too many people were taking too many sick days. The Super-boss from the German head-office has come in to sort us all out. There are a few (well, two) workers I have met who seem to be really openly rebellious and disrespectful. This is really refreshing after so many 'jobs-worth' people. Most people just work there - neither looking for promotion, nor making trouble.
Pay and conditions
We get a five minute break every two hours, and a half hour break every four. This is the time in the kitchen until you are back in the kitchen again. The walk to get the coffee and then get upstairs to the break room takes about 1 * minutes, and the loo another minute.
The pay is 6.17 Euro per hour (4.50 pounds), 7.27 Euro between 10.00 p.m. and 6.00 a.m. It is so weird going shopping for food, or buying a falafel after that work, and spending so much on food, after seeing this shit all day.
25 Days holiday a year. After you have worked there one year you get an extra months holiday pay a year, Christmas money and other little perks.
1-month probation with a three-day notice period, then a two-week notice period after that.
The fried eggs for the breakfast muffins come in plastic wrapping ALREADY IN THE SHAPE OF A FRIED EGG!! The scrambled egg is a liquid in a tube and the boiled eggs are also plastic wrapped peeled eggs. When I accidentally left the scrambled egg cooking in the pan for over five minutes - IT WAS STILL NOT BURNED. What the fuck is that stuff??? The onions are white stuff in a vacuum packed bag, that you soak in water for two hours, then they are 'onions'.
And also, the washing up liquid is actually called McLiquid, and then you have McDisinfectant etc. etc.
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