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(en) Russia, extract from Avtonom #20 - Workers of McDonald's discovered a new way of class struggle

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Wed, 15 Oct 2003 09:57:01 +0200 (CEST)


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[Russian version of this article has been published in Avtonom #20, journal of Autonomous
Action. Website of Autonomous Action is http://www.avtonom.org (note changed address!)]
Russian labour market is built almost completely according
to interests of the employers. Employer
has a huge authority over employees, a power which is
seldom limited by workers resistance. Trade unions are
not everywhere, and where they are they are usually a group
of bureaucrats, to whom defence of workers' rights
is of little interest. One does seldom discover solidarity and
mutual aid amongst waged workers, but problems
related to daily work are not disappearing anywhere.
Working place conflicts are everywhere, taking most
different forms. Workers of McDonald's chose a quite
unique way to resist, a completely unforeseen way of
struggle against employers in Russia. But before going to
the main theme of the article, few words about the
corporation itself.

McDonald's is the biggest fast food chain in the world,
according to their official website they are present in 119
countries. If in USSR in every city and village one could find
a statue of Lenin and a park named after Gorki,
the yellow letter "M" on red backround is their capitalist
equivalent. Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze was
present in the opening of the first McDonald's outlet in
Georgia, that gives some picture about the financial and
brand power of this global fast food chain. This reputation
has not come to company without a price - in any
globalisation critical demonstration a couple of outlets are
trashed as symbols of the global capitalism.

Different transnational corporations producing goods for
"mass consumers" have different methods of adaptation to
local markets, some make their products look as local as
possible, in accordance with local traditions. This is for
example what Nestle does with confectionery brand
"Rossiya". McDonads' uses the very opposite approach - in
any point on earth one finds the same menu, almost same
prices and service. There even exist such a concept as "Big
Mac rate", since value of one hamburger in different
countries measures oscillations between different
currencies.

But McDonald's has most various kinds of problems -
besides typical critics such as bad quality of food and
violation of workers rights, in India McDonald's outlets have
been targeted due to exploitation of cows, considered in
India as sacred animals. In South America McDonald's has
been criticized for destruction of the tropical rainforests. In
the official website of McDonalds one finds much promising
slogan of the corporation to attract new workers: "We value
You, Your career and Your input in development of our
company". To put it straight: that is NOT true.

McDonald's appeared in Russia some ten years ago, in
beginning as a fine, expensive restaurant. McDonald's was
a fresh new thing, a symbol of the beginning of the nineties.
Work was much more intensive than "Soviet citizen" had
get used to, but salary was not bad, some people sacrificed
their studies for such a work. But it went on like this only
until "Black Tuesday" of 1998. Then salaries were cut to a
fraction, and the former level has not been reached ever
since (other transnational corporations followed the same
pattern). But then already many enough Russians between
18 and 45 years relied on rat race of the market economy
instead of planting potatoes to their 1/7 acres. Intensity of
the work in McDonald's was not anymore a shock for
Russians. Also prices in McDonald's became gradually
affordable for average consumers. These two factors
together with the pioneering gains corporation had reached
in the beginning of the nineties helped McDonald's to
become biggest fastfood
chain in Russia, and to expand to other CIS countries as
well.

Working conditions in McDonald's are tough, everything is
built on a strict hierarchy. Majority of workers are
"krushiks" (from English word crew), that means janitors,
clerks and kitchen workers. "Krushiks" are controlled by sly
and complicated hierarchy of managers, whose goal is to
ensure that 100% of the working time is used for the cause
of the company. Every minute of the working graphic of a
"krushnik" is regulated. Most of the "krushniks" are
students, who would not find a qualified work and agree to
work for a small (in Moscow around 100$) salary which is
guaranteed by reputation of the transnational corporation.
Usually "krushniks" do not stay in McDonald's very long
time - few people like treadmill. Managers are a bit more old
people, selected from the ranks of the "krushiks". Managers
aren't given any free time either, but their work is easier, and
salary better. And an important psychological factor is that
when one already climbed first step of the ladder, he h
as some further motivation to stay employed in the
company.

In a system where employers try to maximally exploit
employeers, one may not escape friction and conflicts. So
web-site http://www.macdonaldz.narod.ru appears in the
autumn of 2000, site is made by workers of McDonald's
outlet in the Pushkin square. Group publishing the site
named themselves "hooligans", their activity is covering
skeletons in the closet of McDonald's. Site publishes
information about contents of the food which is sold by the
chain, as well as a sort of diary from which the three
following stories are extracts.

First story

Let us take such an important issue as health of the
workers. As in any big industry, McDonad's has its own
professional diseases. So which kind of trouble may a
person getting employed in McDonald's expect?
First of all, swelling and tired knees, resulting varicose
veins. Workers must stand all the time, and only in times of
breaks they may sit down for a while (although usually the
legal one hour break does not exist, and we have only 30
minutes). Second trouble is mental stress, followed by
nervous breakdown in the course of time, with some people
one week of work is enough. Work with clients, which are
most various types is stressing in itself, besides that
managers keep breathing to your neck, demanding
continuous activity. Hustle and bustle all around. This is
reason of the high turnover rate of the employed, this does
not bother employers but first of all those in the bottom
because everyone has to work for two others who just left
the company. Third trouble are burns, food is cooked in very
high temperatures (168-218 celsius). No matter how much
you try, you may not avoid burns, expecially when grilling
meat. Grills are located pretty low, and pork fat easily drops
to o
nes hands, it is also easy to accidentally touch blazing
parts of the grill. Safety measures are about zero.
Everything is open, drops of melting pork fat are flying all
around. Sometimes spray, gel and other drugs against burns
are available, sometimes not. Third professional disease is
overweight, although this is not a problem for everyone. No
further comments about that one!

Second story

In every corporation one does have inspections, in this
chapter we cover inspections in the system of McDonald's.
These are various - inspections of quality, culture, hygienics
and safety. Let us talk about the last one. Inspection day
begins, it may be inspection of Ts.O. (Central Office) or
SES. All SES specialists are bribed, all the results what one
may expect. You may ask where are our proof, we answer in
our eyes and ears. Where are their documents? "Which
documents?" Nothing is made in written form, all talk only
face to face. Yes, it is practice in most of the companies,
but here we talk about McDonald's which is boasting how
they abide every law. Or every law except some. Lady from
SES arrives and goes around staff area, special attention is
given to kitchen. This time a full hustle is going on in outlet
everything is washed, brushed, glancing. But that is a pure
formality, everything is always ok.
Then we have internal checks, organised by the Central
Office, usually inspection of time and quality of service. For
smallest deviation from standard or graphic punishments are
expected along every single ladder of the hierarchy. But
most outrageous was the food safety inspection, organised
in the middle of last June. Lady from central office came
with a stack of papers, we had been expecting her for three
days during which panic passed all critical limits (hustling
alone is always in the limit). Everyone is controlled, hands
must be washed and rags changed every 15 minutes. Only
supervisor inspection had caused something like this before!
And soon we see why it must be so complicated. After such
inspection outlet is given grade from A to F, and in case of
grade A (which we received) all managers from the rank of
second assistant to director are given a price, 40% extra on
monthly salary. So it is very much in the interest of the
higher management to raise profits and qua
lity of production during this very day. But this award has
no any relation to reality of junior managers and simple
workers, they are yelled, their every move is controlled,
juice is squeezed from them and they are thrown away. They
get no any financial incentives.

Third story

In McDonald's you may also find "McBucks" and
"McShop". Around twice a year workers whose work is
qualified as excellent, such as those who won a competition
in selling some certain product and those who have kept
fulfilling rules and standards, are given "McBucks", small
pieces of toy money. They are used only inside McDonald's.
They include stamp of the outlet, worker's personal number
and autograph of manager who gave the coupon. Nominal
value of one coupon is 10 roubles (30 cents).
Then management sets up the happy date - "McShop".
This is a shop, where one may buy souvenirs with this toy
money, such as pens, mugs and t-shirts... to put it simply,
corporate gifts. In the middle of October we had "Italian
weeks", Central Office squandered "McLiras" instead of
"McBucks", this toy money was well printed and designed
which is unusual. In the end of the month we had "McShop",
prices of souvenirs were set by the central office as well.
Cost of a mug was 9 coupons, a bag costed 40 coupons,
clocks were 8 coupons, t-shirts 8 coupons, cd 10 coupons
and a bottle of coke 2 coupons. But the hilarious thing in all
that was that these "McLiras" were given in a very stingy
quantity, average worker had maybe 5 or 6 coupons. Not
because they had worked little, but because conditions to
get these coupons were incredibly strict. A girl runs around
all day, smiles, fulfills any demands whatsoever and after all
that receives one single miserable coupon, just figure out!


In http://www.macdonaldz.ru one may read more such
sketches from life inside McDonald's. This is what
"hooligans" tell about themselves:

"Our site was founded in November of year 2000. Since then
we have collected materials, written articles, planned
design. Since September 2001 we have registed our site in
internet search engines. Some 50-60 persons visite our site
every day, so obviously information we are providing is
interesting to people. We receive most various kinds of
feedback, from "why are you doing this?" to "thanks, I was
planning to work in there but I changed my mind". What is
expecially interesting is that half of our visitors are former
and current employees of the company. Interest of the rest
is employment opportunities or contents of the products.
Main activity of our group is to provide true information
about attitude of McDonald's to its employees. We try to
provide pure facts, to get readers a real picture on what is
going on inside the firm. We want to tell people, that "McD"
is nothing as cool as people would expect, standards are not
followed, no attention paid to human rights or labou
r codex."

"Hooligans" is not the first group of McDonald's workers in
Moscow fighting for their rights. Not so long time ago there
was a scandal connected to an initiative to found a trade
union. Management launched a campaign of serious
harrasment against the initiative, but in the end union got a
legal status. Union was not organised in an outlet, but in a
factory providing fod for the chain, but now activity of this
small union seems to have deceased.

Management of the McDonald's in Pushkin square is well
aware of the site of their unruly workers, but it is not that
easy to single out who are the editors. Restaurant in
Pushkin square is one of the biggest in the whole world, and
has hundreds of staff. Is activity of hooligans gaining any
results? Maybe. In site one may find section "progress",
which includes reports about reforms which have taken
place in the outlet since the site was opened. One may
suspect that partially these reforms are made by
management which is afraid that protest may take more
serious forms than just a site in the internet. Another
success of "hooligans" is due to stupidity and ignorance of
McDonald's brandmakers. In Russia McDonald's spends
thousands and thousands of dollars to advertisement in
television, they finance enormous billboard ads in streets
and metro, they engage in charity, invite journalists to have
a lunch and golf. But official Russian website of McDonald's
just does not exist! So
a person looking for information about the corporation
through any search engine very soon finds site of the
"hooligans". This way quite many people have learned about
the order of things inside McDonald's.

Success of "Hooligans" has brought some follow-up, such
as another Moscovite group in
http://www.mcdonaldc.narod.ru, and groups in Minsk -
http://www.belmac.narod.ru and
http://www,kompaktor.narod.ru. In contrary to "apolitical"
Moscovites, Minsk sites are clearly more left-wing. We
specially recommend the second Belarussian site, where
one may read characterisation of "corporate ethics" of
McDonald's in the spirit of Beavis and Butt-head.

To sum it all up, it is definitely positive that working class
resistance takes place in McDonald's, the very symbol of
the "generation which chose Pepsi" (at least until they do
not have to sell it...). It is also great that people do not
believe in sell-out unions, but fight with the System (even if
only in the framework of their own workplace) themselves,
counting on themselves and their friends, putting to the
process of resistance lots of creative energy. It will not be
that easy to fool "hooligans" to FNPR union or to any of the
Parties of "Work". In another hand it is discouraging that yet
resistance exists only in the internet, and yet it is not clear
if there are chances to move struggle "offline". It seems
likely, that currently anonymous "hooligans" may only
appear in daylight when we a more massive resistance
movement gets organised in the fast-food chain.

Listev

Post Scriptum: Soon after publication of this article in
Avtonom #20 in summer 2003, management of Pushkin
square McDonald's managed to single out and fire (lone?)
author of the http://www.macdonaldz.narod.ru site, and we
finally had a chance to see in the real life this person with
whom we had clandestinely cooperated almost two years.
But resistance against McDonald's is to be continued.



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