On 15 May last year, fast food workers around the world walked off the job to demand better pay and conditions. This year they’re back for more.

On 15 May last year, fast food workers around the world took part in a global day of action. The walked off the job and picketed outside fast food restaurants in more than 30 countries and across 200 US cities.

Across the world, their targets were the same: the multinational corporate fast food giants who control so much of the world’s food and the world’s work: McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Starbucks and so on.

Their demands were the same: a living wage ($15 per hour, or its equivalent), the right to unionise, and decent conditions. An end to zero hours and precarious contracts, bullying, poverty pay and dangerous workplaces.

Karachi Fast Food Global

Workers in Karachi show solidarity with a sacked colleague in South Korea

The day was an unprecedented success: the #FastFoodGlobal hashtag on social media was alive with expressions of global solidarity. The hashtag trended on twitter that day, making it the first time in history that a labour dispute has been the most discussed event on social media. Social media united people: fast food workers in Detroit and Chicago could suddenly communicate directly with workers in Mumbai, Auckland and Tokyo. Many workers, perhaps for the first time, saw themselves as part of a global class of precarious workers, all exploited by the same companies, rather than just isolated individuals in awful McJobs.

The problem was structural, and not down to an individual failure to find decent work: our economies depend on exploitation.

But social media doesn’t change the world on its own: the day of action was just part of a move by low wage workers to challenge precarity everywhere. From Walmart workers to Ritzy Cinema strikers and Wholefoods employees, it’s the same battle for decent pay and jobs with dignity.

And it’s working. We’re beginning to win, to turn the tide.

In the US, under pressure from low wage workers and their supporters, cities have begun to raise the minimum wage. The US federal minimum wage is $7.25, but soon after the day of action last year, Seattle became the first major city to accept the fast food workers’ demand and raise the wage to  $15 and hour. San Francisco followed in November, and other cities and states have raised their wage too.

McDonalds and Walmart have been forced to raise their wages – though McDonalds is fighting back by suing the city of Seattle for raising the wage. Workers, not bosses, are setting the agenda.

Decent wages have been put on the political agenda, and any politician hoping to be elected will need to respond – the fight for $15 is already influencing Hilary Clinton’s campaign.

In New Zealand, the Unite union has signed collective agreements with a number of fast food companies to end zero hours contracts.

This is a major victory for unions and working people. Hundreds of thousands of workers will see more money in their pockets as a result, tipping the balance of power away from big corporations.

More importantly, isolated, marginalised and poorly paid workers around the world have been able to find their collective strength and voice, and take this struggle for justice and dignity forward.

Fast food workers are out on strike again today. You can find them on the #FastFoodGlobal hashtag, or in the street, picketing your local fast food store. Support is building everywhere: The social media Thunderclap campaign reached 1.3 million people this morning.

Show them your support: take a picture of yourself and post it on social media using the #FastFoodGlobal hashtag. Go down to join a picket near you.

The struggle didn’t start today, and it doesn’t end tomorrow. This is part of a long and difficult process to tip the balance of power in favour of working people. But we can do it.

Tomorrow, and the day after, continue to support this important fight for justice, dignity and decent wages.


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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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