First fast food union conference in USA supersizes
The first ever convention of fast food strikers who have formed “alt.unions” in the USA took place this weekend in the Elmhurst suburb of Chicago, Illinois. The phenonomen of alt.unions – where groups of workers form their own unions in fast food restaurants and other low wage jobs and launch demonstrations and strike action – has made the union movement sit up and take notice worldwide. Between twelve and fifteen hundred fast food workers attended, including – according to the New York Times’ Steven Greenhouse – 68 workers who arrived on charter buses from St. Louis, 100 from New York City and 180 from Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas, and fifty who flew in from Los Angeles and two dozen from Seattle.
One reporter suggests that the movement has ballooned from around 200 workers involved in the original strikes to thousands of workers across the USA and it is estimated that 6.7 million workers in the USA have already had their wages increased as a consequence of the movement’s two main demands – a minimum wage of $15 per hour and the right to form unions. That figure is based on the US government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimate of how many people are affected by recent minimum wage increases like Seattle’s $15 an hour. Many more cities are now considering such increases.
The most recent nationwide action in May affected fast food restaurants such as Burger King, McDonalds, KFC etc in 150 cities across the USA with solidarity events in over thirty countries such as Brazil, Germany, Mexico and New Zealand.
US unions have embraced the alt.union movement, which uses social media and community groups to organise strikes and demonstrations but they have not attempted to take over and – although they are providing financial and practical support – they are not demanding union subscriptions in return. The president of the Service Employees International Union, Mary Kay Henry, addressed the convention saying:
“Because of your courage, this movement is getting stronger every day. It’s getting larger. One-hundred thousand workers [from Seattle] sent me here to thank you.”
Employers operating fast food chains are at odds as to how to deal with alt.unions. McDonalds described the strikes as “astroturf rallies organized by outside groups”. But the statement making the claim was removed from their website and replaced with one saying that the company “respects our employees’ right to voice their opinions and to protest lawfully and peacefully.”