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(en) Alt. Media, McDonald's Worker Resistance Shaking the Golden Arches By WILLIAM MacDOUGALL

From Tom Wheeler <twbounds@pop.mail.rcn.net>
Date Thu, 9 Jan 2003 14:10:33 -0500 (EST)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

McDonald's Golden Arches, if not beginning to crumble, are beginning to look
distinctly shaky. Chairman and chief executive, Jack Greenberg, walked away
from the burger giant after 21 years service at the end of last year--this
despite an earlier company request to remain at the helm until 2005.
McDonald's stock had fallen to one third of its value since Greenberg was
appointed CEO in 1998, with shares plunging to a seven year low last Autumn.

In December, an explosion injured at least 17 people in Bombay--six of whom
were customers and two Bombay McDonald's members of staff. Faulty air
conditioning was reported as being the cause of the explosion. McDonald's
Japan has cut its profit forecast by 91% due to the discovery of mad cow
disease in Japan and tough competition from Starbucks and low priced family
restaurants offering typical Japanese fare. McDonald's announced in November
that it is to shut 175 stores in 10 countries (pulling out of three
countries altogether)--reversing its 20 year policy of expansion.

Attempts at sacking French employees on trumped up charges of theft were
overthrown in the courts, while a documentary (On n'est pas des steaks
haches--"We're not minced steak") was premiered last October on the same day
(16/10/02) as an international anti-McDonald's protest which reached from
Milan to Mexico City. In Bonn and Munster, members of the Freie
Arbeiterinnen Union (FAU-IAA) leafleted customers and workers under banners
bearing the legends "Join the Resistance" and "McJob? No Thanks!". A
demonstration in Mexico resulted in 94 arrests on dubious charges of damage
to federal property and carrying explosives (fireworks).

The female McDonald's workers of Liverpool wore make-up as a small act of
defiance (normally prohibited), whilst other disgruntled McDonald's people
resorted to more radical"guerilla" type tactics to throw a spanner in the
works: altering food storage microwave settings, resetting grill timers,
working strictly to rule, and, of course, strike action.

In October of last year, McDonald's France took the unusual step of placing
a full page advertorial in Femme Actuelle ("McDonald's: Is It Causing
Obesity In Children?") in response to rising French child obesity rates. One
of the nutritionists commissioned to tackle the question concluded that
children should visit McDonald's no more than once a week. Not
unsurprisingly, the stateside McDonald's countered, arguing that "this is
the opinion of one consultant in France. We do not share this view at
all."An under construction McDonald's restaurant in Grenoble was burned to
the ground in a suspected arson attack in November. Just don't mention Jose
Bove whatever you do.

That McDonald's is currently feeling the heat is beyond question: the
fall-out from restaurant bombings and anti-globalisation protesters remain
only the tip of the iceberg. An increasingly mobilised and politically aware
staff can only add to the troubled fast food conglomerate's current

The typically teenage staff in your local McDonald's may well wear the
standard issue blue slacks and candy striped shirts topped off with a
baseball cap that we have come to associate with the fast food experience.
And yes, they are mouthing the McDonald's "can I take your order here
please?" mantra (so ubiquitous a part of daily life that it really should be
listed in Simpson's Quotations). But scratch beneath the surface and you
find something very different. The McChicken Sandwich you just ordered may
well have been prepared by a member of the Zapatista like McDonald's Worker

Describing itself as "a loose network of McDonald's employees, always
flexible, dynamic and unpredictable, we work together to strengthen the
position of workers in relation to our employer", McDonald's Workers
Resistance (MWR) emerged in 2000 as a "determined response to the idiocy of
[our] working lives. It's an angry rebellion against boredom, exploitation,
poverty and discipline...against the idiocy of McDonald's and capitalism."

MWR is an independent combination of a few small groups of workers that have
united in an attempt to create serious opposition to the company and its
alleged dangerous exploitative practices and disciplinarian boot camp
culture. Founded by a bunch of twentysomething Glaswegians sick of their
McJob lot, MWR has quickly established links with fellow workers as far
afield as Alaska and New Zealand. MWR is represented in America by convenors
in Florida and Virginia. They also produce McSues, an occasional irreverent
take on McDonald's own McNews in-house publication. Although humourous in
intent ("Everything you wanted to know about stealing from McDonald's!",
"Liberation begins when we put self-respect before burgers!"), McSues has a
serious message:

"Working for McDonald's is dehumanising, there is a 'procedure' for every
tiny action to make our role almost completely robotic. The pay is
infamously poor, management is frequently very autocratic. We are bombarded
with company propaganda and expected to comply with company stipulated
'appearance requirements'. Theft of wages (clock card entries being altered
by managers to save on labour expenses) is rife. Even when your shift
finishes, incredibly, you are not free to go and are obliged to stay on
should management demand it, which they almost inevitably will. You can't
even go to the toilet with out first obtaining permission. If a shift is
unexpectedly quiet and staff are not totally rushed then some staff will be
told to go home, if they insist on working their full shift they will often
be assigned the most unpleasant cleaning tasks to encourage them to rethink.
At other times every day off will be disrupted by a phone call from a
stressed, sometimes even tearful, manager begging you to come in and work.
The obsessive cost cutting and incessant prioritisation of profit has
enormous human costs."

MWR do not need to be reminded that McDonald's famously closed a branch in
Quebec in order to prevent the staff from unionising. By writing and
producing McSues anonymously, they are able to communicate with fellow
workers without any of the obvious risks of normal workplace activism.

Eric Schlosser, author of the New York Times Bestseller "Fast Food Nation",
notes that one in eight Americans are employed by McDonald's at some point
in their life. More people now recognise the Golden Arches than they do the
Christian Cross. American children are more likely to recognise Ronald
McDonald than they are Santa Claus.

McDonald's, like Disney, knows better than most that children are central to
the continued success of its business. Marketing guru and author of "Kids as
Customers" James McNeal advocates that companies portray themselves as wise,
benign, parent figure in the eyes of their doe-eyed charges.

Hence, World Children's Day (TM), McDonald's Kofi Annan supported
"history-making fundraising initiative" to help disadvantaged children
worldwide from money raised through Big Mac and Egg McMuffin sales paid to
the company's Ronald cDonald House Charity. "We're not asking you to give
money" said spoon-faced Canadian singer Celine Dion, "we're asking you to
eat at McDonald's".

World Children's Day, as if you didn't know, is a trademark of McDonald's.
Other money was raised on the day from McDonald's employee donations. The
irony of this was doubtless lost on McDonald's top brass who set the
November 20th date to coincide with the anniversary of the UN adoption of
the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Schlosser, whose book has resulted in him being compared to Upton
Sinclair--author of "The Jungle", a damning critique of the American
meatpacking industry which spurred Roosevelt to pass the Pure Food and Drugs
Act (1906) and the Meat Inspection Act (1906)--argues that not only are
children and teenagers McDonald's client base, they are also their labour
base--providing an available pool of cheap labour. McDonald's might provide
employment to those who might otherwise not have a job, but as Schlosser
argues, "the strict regimentation at fast food restaurants creates
standardised products. It increases the throughput. And it gives fast food
companies a vast amount of power over their employees."

Employees are a major part of that throughput equation; being as equally--if
not more--disposable as the burgers and fries they churn out. The key to
McDonald's success is a marriage of fordist assembly line techniques and
uniformity. Sociologist George Ritzer has summed up McDonald's triumph of
fordist efficiency over other human values as "the irrationality of
rationality." Former McDonald's US Vice President Ronald Beavers admitted as
much in 1995, when he observed that "they [McDonald's crew members] have no
guaranteed employment rights. They do not have guaranteed employment or
guaranteed conditions of employment."

The relatively young age and little previous work experience of McDonald's
crew members means that shouting is one of the main methods used by
management to discipline staff. "It's often very funny, but we've seen staff
reduced to tears. Sometimes it takes a few workers to stand together and
tell them to fuck off. Some of the managers like to think they're hard, and
use physical intimidation. They usually know when to back down."

When erstwhile McDonald's founder Dick McDonald died in 1998 at the age of
89, McDonald's Chairman Michael Quinlan was moved to poignant eulogy:

"The global 'McFamily' of employees, franchisees and suppliers owes a debt
of gratitude to Dick McDonald and his late brother, Mac. The McDonald
brothers never dreamed that the restaurant system they conceived at their
first McDonald's in San Bernardino, would eventually touch so many people
throughout the world."

That, as members of McDonald's Worker Resistance might counter, is a moot
point. Upton Sinclair famously said that "I aimed for the public's heart,
and by accident I hit it in the stomach." Whether MWR enjoys the same level
of success remains to be seen. The tide may not yet be turning, but the
burger ain't flipping:

"We've found a voice for our frustrations, we've made lasting friendships
and we are beginning to regain sovereignty over our lives. Maybe the
resistance grows, maybe we can strike globally, maybe the same happens in
other workplaces, maybe we occupy our workplaces and collectively take
control over the wealth we produce. Maybe not. Either way we will have no

Fries with that sir?

MWR can be contacted at http://mwr.org.uk/

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