Fast-food workers in more than 140 U.S. cities joined ranks with international labor organizations last week to send a message to global leaders: raise and enforce pay standards for the world’s lowest paid workers.
In an unprecedented effort to put pressure on companies that pay their employees less than what is considered a living wage, workers from 33 different countries staged walkouts for better pay and working conditions. Legislation concerning the right to strike is being considered in several countries including Iceland and the U.K. Nevertheless, workers stepped out in force on six continents to lobby for better pay and working conditions.
In Australia, workers staged a teach-in at McDonald’s headquarters in Auckland, while in the Philippines, a flash mob strike turned into a dance to attract attention to workers’ rights. Workers in Italy opted to hold their strike action on Friday, May 16, possibly to coincide with government efforts to prevent the loss of 1,200 jobs at Electrolux facilities.
Here in the U.S., the strikes focused primarily on fast food chains that have historically based their wage structure on the minimum wage. McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC and other restaurants saw protests outside their doors. None of the corporations reported any closures as a result, although workers in St. Louis said that a McDonald’s store was briefly forced to shut down. Attendance ranged from a few dozen to a couple of hundred in most of the 150 cities.
The International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers Associations (IUF) acknowledged in a statement on Thursday that the global strike action is part of an effort to highlight the need for a change in the pay structure for fast-food workers.
“These unprecedented international protests are just the start of a worldwide campaign to change the highly-profitable, global fast-food industry,” said IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald in a press release. “We’re putting the companies on notice: Make changes now, or this fight is only going to spread further and grow stronger.”
IUF representative Massimo Frattini said that the global strikes were planned in concert with strike actions organized by the Swiss union UNIA.
“At global level common demands are: Raising wages, better working conditions, full time employment; stable employment, [and] freedom of forming or joining a union without retaliation,” said Frattini in an email to me last Thursday. “So far we are receiving good reports from all over the world in terms of participants.”
Other events included:
Image of Richmond, Va. strike courtesy of Bernard Pollack/AFL CIO
Images of Geneva and Karachi strikes courtesy of IUF
Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.