Thursday, May 11, 2006
Would you like a rise with that?
Unite’s Supersizemypay.com campaign to unionise young workers in the fast food multinational chains has taken hold of a generation’s imagination, in a way I haven’t seen since the big pre-war mobilisations of Feb 15th 2003. Make no mistake, this new trade unionism is a social movement of the young, the brown, the immigrant and the poor, and in store after store, we are getting 100% per cent votes for strike action.
I’ve just returned from a night’s visting, recruiting and balloting, meeting workers on the graveyard shifts all over South Central Auckland. In the KFC in Balmoral, same as the Pizza Hut in Royal Oak or the McDonald’s in Greenlane, there’s one sentence I keep hearing from our members and delegates- “when’s it our turn to strike?”. Young workers are flaunting company rules, proudly wearing their Unite union badges and $12 an hour stickers on their uniforms at work, and you can even see them walk differently. Stroppier, taller, more confident- staunch. Itching for their turn to take action in what promises to be Auckland’s Hot Summer.
The Starbucks strike was awesome- when Vicki Salmon, CEO of Restaurant Brands, scoffed on National Radio that there were only three workers going on strike at the K Road store, she ignited the anger of our other Starbucks delegates and members citywide. 35 Starbucks workers took wildcat action, and the Workers Charter Freedom Bus ferried the wildcats down to the rally. Nick, the 16 year old Starbucks worker from St Lukes, spoke at the KFC strike ballot meeting two days later in the Balmoral store. His energy ignited the anger of the workers there, who voted 100% for strike action on December 3rd, the first strike action in New Zealand led by a strike committee made up in the main of teenagers, furious at the discrimination they suffer under youth rates. Teenage kicks aimed at KFC- Kiwis for Cheap...
At times, you feel like the Bolsheviks during the July Days. A premature uprising runs great risks, especially up against the enemies that we face. This is a David and Goliath battle. But what makes you realise that this is a movement for social justice and not just an exercise in collective bargaining, is the energy, creativity and thirst to have a go at the multinationals that you find in every store. Elements of the anti capitalist movement might have been misguided in their calls to boycott these chains- all along, we were really needed inside them organising young working class people.
Socialists and Workers Charter activists have been at the heart of this uprising, and at the time this article was written, were building flat out for a solidarity rally with the 30 brave KFC workers striking at Balmoral. In the weeks to come, the strikes will spread out to Lincoln Road, Royal Oak, and into the centre of the city and Queen Street. At the Unite strategy meetings, we often talk about Farrell Dobbs and the Teamsters rebellion in Minneapolis- and how a small group of dedicated socialists could build a massive citywide union movement. Hopefully this summer we will have our Fastfood Rebellion, and we hope thousands of low paid workers in petrol stations, supermarkets and video stores go on to follow our example.
Now, would you like a rising with that? Super size my pay dot com!
Also see Starstruck- David and Goliath
and Union Busters leave a bitter taste