(Eng) McLibel Case Update

neil birrell (neil@lds.co.uk)
Mon, 18 Dec 1995 20:42:56 +0100

FREEDOM (Anarchist Fortnightly) 16TH DECEMBER 1995
84B, Whitechapel High St., London, E1 7QX UK


The McDonalds libel case, already the longest libel trial in British
history, has now been going on for more than two hundred court
days, which makes it the longest civil case of any sort. The new
record is celebrated in The Guardian of 9th December, written by
Maggie O'Kane who thinks Dave Morris's name is Dave Willis, but
is otherwise fairly accurate. The previous record, of 198 days, was
set by Graham v Rechem International, as recently as summer 1995.
Evidently trials are getting longer, but McLibel is likely to go on for
another fifty days and so seems likely to retain the record for some

McDonalds, the American fast food chain, is pursuing an action for
libel against our comrades Helen Steel and Dave Morris.
McDonalds are represented by Richard Rampton QC and his junior
Timothy Atkinson. Helen and Dave are conducting their own
defence - legal aid is not available in libel cases. =20

Mr Rampton told Maggie O'Kane "It's just another job, isn't it? The
workload hasn't been bad, since we've had to give them lots of free
time to prepare the case." =20

Since October, the defendants have been concentrating on
McDonalds' employment conditions. It emerges from the evidence
that, as in most of the catering industry, pay is low and conditions
poor, and trade unions are not encouraged. =20

One witness, Iain Whittle who had worked for McDonalds in Sutton
in the 1980s, had his evidence reported in the London Evening
Standard. He told the court how a group of fifteen workers, joined a
trade union, after which fourteen of them were sacked for various
trivial reasons. Mr Whittle was the only one retained until he left of
his own accord. He testified that if someone was off sick the rota
would be altered to avoid paying sick pay. =20

McDonalds have a rule that burgers, once prepared are not to be
held on the hotplate for more than ten minutes, but Mr Whittle said
that in Sutton they were often kept for longer than this to avoid
wasting food. Egg muffins were sometimes held for more than an
hour, which is why McDonalds stopped serving them except in the
breakfast period. Strict adherence to company rules was impossible
because of poor staffing levels. =20

Various witnesses have testified to McDonalds anti-trade union
attitude, among them a former industrial editor of the Daily Mirror
who said Sid Nicholson, then head of McDonalds personnel, had
told him in an interview: "We will never negotiate wages and
conditions with a union and we discourage our staff from joining." =20

Sid Nicholson is now UK Vice President. He testified earlier in the
trial that in most of the country, crew are paid exactly the same as
laid down by the Catering Wages Council or a few pence an hour
more. He agreed that it would be illegal to pay less. About 80% of
crew are part-time, working twenty hours a week or less. Their
scheduled hours may be cut or extended at the discretion of
managers. =20

A crew member and trade union representative from Lyon related
how five McDonalds managers were prosecuted in July 1994 for
attempting to rig a union election, and falsely accused him of
making bomb threats. The union branch, now established, has won
twenty court orders telling McDonalds to stop harassment. Two
former crew members from Dublin told of a seven-month strike in
1979 which forced McDonalds to recognise a union. A former crew
member from Ontario told how he had signed up a majority of her
fellow crew to a union when she was 16, and the management had
got the other workers to show their opposition to the union by lying
down in the snow in a pattern fonlling the word 'No'. =20

In the days before the Christmas recess, evidence was due from
three former workers at Colchester McDonalds (McDonalds Store
of the Year 1987), including the manager from 1987-1991 and the
assistant manager from 1986-1991, about watering down products,
working amid sewage on the floor, long hours including 2 hour
shifts, illegal hours worked by minors and continual pressure. =20

As we have remarked many times in Freedom, it seems clear that
McDonalds issued the write against members of the anarchist
environmentalist group London Greenpeace on the assumption that
they would all agree to stop distributing anti-McDonalds leaflets
rather than suffer the risk and expense of going to court. Whoever is
the technical winner of the case (and McDonalds' victory is by no
means certain even in law), McDonalds has lost. The offending
leaflet, which might well have remained a little local difficulty, has
achieved a world circulation of several millions. There is an anti-
McDonalds newsletter on the Internet, where all the world can
learn, for instance, of the Australian village which expelled its
McDonalds shop earlier this year. And by the time the case ends,
McDonalds will have spent more than =A33 million in lawyers' fees
and court costs. =20

The legal journal The Law has called upon McDonalds not to take
out any more libel writs. It is quite likely than McDonalds will
Contact: McLibel Support Campaign, c/o 5 Caledonian Road,
London Nl 9DX.=20
McDonalds' competitor Burger King has paid a former kitchen
porter Elmiuz Dinar =A36,500 for racial discrimination. He was paid
=A32.99 an hour. Despite the Catering Wages Council (shortly to be
abolished), Burger King have paid some under-18 staff only =A31.00
an hour. Unlike McDonalds, however, Burger King sells a
vegetarian concoction.=20