The Fight for $15 and Why Fast Food Workers WILL win
I am going to eventually get to the point of this article as stated in the title, but until then, bear with me here.
Recline your office chair, sit back and close your eyes. Vividly visualize what’s to come of the 21 century. Think about the type of businesses and amenities defining our cities and towns, the leading industries and corporations of tomorrow. flexitarian pundits who like to use jargon such as ‘disruptive technologies’ and ‘the knowledge economy’ marvel and gush at a world where everyone is, or aspires to be a programmer, app creator, or AI expert. Now open your eyes folks, have a sniff and take in the aroma of grease infused with salty meats, radiating throughout your block - that’s the future, chicken nuggets, the Whopper, Subway Sandwiches and a late night bucket of chicken.
McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, KFC, Hardee’s, Domino’s Pizza, Pizza Hut, they’re everywhere. Megacities, big cities, small towns, the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and slowly but surely, Africa, the colossus that is the fast food industry spreads its tentacles far and wide, proliferating almost every aspect of our physical spaces, diets and culture. The velocity of each tentacle moves with the force of a freight train that only knows one direction, and engulfs everything within its reach and way.
List videos and articles from sites like the Business Insider and Linkedin hype AI technology, data science and the creative arts as the industries of the future, and that, they may very well be. But if you think that they will create enough jobs to staff towns like the cotton fields (yes, turns out that positions as field hands, house slaves, slaveowners, overseers, slave patrols, auction houses, insurers, banks and all were where most of the jobs in Antebellum South were at) of the 19th century did or the 20th century steel plants, coal mines and automobile factories, then you’re frankly delusional. I doubt whether they’ll even be able to create Walmart or Amazon jobs (when we think about scale). Put down your Forbes newspaper, get out of Shoreditch and hop into the real world - this ain’t it chief.
Restaurants (many of them serving fast food) are the second largest employer in America (yes, you read that right, receipts). Gleam over the top 50 employing industries and you barely come across the buzz, ‘rockstar’ industries so lauded by economic pundits and business people around the world. Job site Payscale predicts that by next year, that the USA will be home to more food service jobs than manufacturing jobs, something that is already the case in the UK. I am sure that a similar trend can be observed across many other parts of the developed world too. Nearly two million people around the world are currently working at a McDonald’s near you. McDonald’s…that’s just one…..freakin…..restaurant….chain. The scale and proliferation of fast food restaurants in our economy is hulk like, swole as hell, veins popping out of its neck, arms and chest, towering over the rest, feeding off of the same growth hormones and steroids served with your Big Mac and chicken nuggets.
And believe you me, the plunder and expansion is far from over. Fast food chains won’t stop spreading until the whole world, every slab of concrete, is covered in fast food goodness. To them, every city needs to look like Manhattan.
Props to you for making it all the way here, now you can finally learn how this ties into the Fight for $15 and the plight of the fast food worker. In the USA, the average age of your fast food worker is 29 and they can expect a median annual pay of about $22,000. It’s no longer the job of the high school student but still fails to pay a wage sufficient to raise a family or live with some level of dignity and economic security. The Fight for $15, a US labour movement focused on increasing pay and improving working conditions and benefits for fast food workers, is the reaction to this sorry state of affairs.
And I am here to tell you that by hook or crook, the Fight for $15 is already gaining momentum and will, eventually win. It shall tame the food and beverage behemoth and mould it to better serve the interests of a community of stakeholders which extend beyond those of company shareholders and execs. Why? Because the power and leverage is in the hands of the workers for once.
Namely being because, first of all, all of these fast food chains can afford to pay them more.
Second, as the industry continues to rapidly grow, it’ll be in constant need of workers for years to come, especially given that fast food jobs are difficult to outsource.
Third, yes, there is always the chance of automation, but we’ll cross that bridge when it comes, which could be a while from now. Because everywhere I go, where they have self-ordering machines and the like set-up, the sight of more customers follow, then more restaurants open. Even in a scenario where each fast food store employs relatively fewer workers, the growth in the total number of stores could still mean more fast food workers employed overall.
Something I hear from a lot of people quite often when it comes to denying fast food workers who are getting breadline salaries a raise, is the strangest of arguments. The argument goes that fast food work is low skilled and supposed to be temporary. In time, fast food workers should either climb up the promotional ladder or train and up skill into better paying jobs. This logic dictates that fast food jobs should remain shit paying jobs because they are shit paying jobs. This doesn’t really make any sense. At one time, factory jobs, you know, those jobs that presidents are fighting tooth and nail to bring back because of their relatively high pay, they were also once shit paying jobs as well.
Factory jobs in the West were the things of horror for the longest of times, then Henry Ford, the assembly line and unions came along and changed that. Changed it to the point that these same factory jobs paid enough for one person (usually male) to raise a family, not only in decency and dignity, but in comfort. Why can’t things be the same for fast food workers? Because they - more than any other group of labourers - are the factory workers of our time.
Now is the opportune time for fast food workers to push for higher pay. Bigger paychecks for workers will probably come at the expense of profits, but so what? Vaster profits have occurred at the expense of wages paid for decades, maybe, for the sake of ensuring that one of the world’s largest employing industries pays the faces of its stores a living wage, for the sake of the wider economy, the tides need to turn.
83 McDonald's stores spread over 2km of prime land. Also known as Donald Trump's wet dream
Society be like
The spinning jenny (pictured left) and the cotton gin (pictured right), were both big technological advances which enabled businesses to produce more with fewer workers. Factory workers and government at the time pushed hard to prevent widescale adoption of the spinning jenny for fear of losing their jobs. Abolitionists across America thought the invention of the cotton gin was just another signal of the institution of slavery nearing its end.
One was followed by the Industrial Revolution, the other was followed by the Civil War (NEARLY 70 YEARS LATER). I'll leave you to guess how they impacted on employment numbers at the time.