We speak to TGI Fridays worker Lauren Townsend about their strike and the growing international resistance of precarious workers against low pay
What happened during the Fast Food Shutdown on 4 October and how did it happen?
It started with McStrike, which was inspiration for us at TGI Fridays when they started messing us around. We initially joined the BFAWU, and later moved over to Unite to work under one campaign. We then we went out on strike and that led to us thinking about a joint Fast Food Shutdown during International Fast Food Workers Week. The UK hosted the international delegation, we had workers over from Fight for $15 in the US, Burger King workers from Spain and workers from Chile, Argentina, Italy, Thailand, Indonesia, all over. Wetherspoons got on board and balloted for strike action which passed. And then it really grew.
On 4 October it was TGI Fridays, McDonalds and Wetherspoons workers, as well as Deliveroo, UberEats and Uber drivers who came out on strike in support. It was the BFAWU, Unite, GMB, IWW, IWGB, even CWU and Unison came out in support. It was a real act of inter-union collaboration, which I think is really important if we’re going to further the trade union movement, we need to be working together over sectors and I think we’re leading the way there in hospitality.
Do you think the Fast Food Shutdown was successful? Have you had any victories in the campaign?
It was successful in a number of ways, the press coverage we got was really good and it drew people’s attention; there was about 5-600 people at the rally in Leicester Square, which was impressive for a Thursday morning with 2 weeks notice. There were also solidarity rallies up and down the country – in Manchester, Bristol, Glasgow, all over.
And there’s been small wins. The McDonalds workers won the biggest pay rise in ten years after they first started striking. Even Wetherspoons just announcing they were balloting for strike action made their CEO Tim Martin bring forward their next year’s pay rise to this year. TGI Fridays have been a bit more stubborn, but we have had small wins too. And the movement is growing, it’s snowballing, young precarious workers on minimum wage and youth rates are getting involved and I’m hoping we can take it further.
Do you think Jeremy Corbyn has had an impact on young people getting involved in trade unions?
He definitely has. We’ve seen so many people become politicised in the last few years because of him. He speaks to a lot of young people, he’s authentic and principled. And he’s working on rebuilding the links between the trade unions and the Labour party, which because of Thatcher and then Blair, those links were severed. And it’s not just young people, I’ve met so many older people who think Corbyn is a breath of fresh air.
How did you join the movement?
For me, it was when the company sat us down in January, we had beaten record sales, we thought we were going to be given a pat on the back. Instead they gave us two days notice that 40% of our card tips were going to the kitchen. For some of my colleagues who were mums and have worked for TGIs for 8, 10 12 years and this is their job, their incomes, their livelihood. These are people already living paycheck to paycheck , they don’t have any savings, they don’t own a house, they were going to lose £50-60 a week. Their only options were to take more shifts and spend more time away from their family or maybe try find another job or just struggle and claim benefits. They say you get a fire in your belly, that fired me up.
What message do you have to young precarious workers?
I would encourage every young person to join a trade union and get involved, it’s so empowering, and whatever you put into to the union, you will get back tenfold. You will never meet such supportive people who have the right ideas and have good hearts, and want a better world for everybody, not just themselves.
It gives me so much hope for the future to see this uprising from young people who are mobilising, and in an industry that’s famously hard to unionise. We’re proving that it’s not impossible,. The time is now, this industry is ripe for the picking and if you put the effort in, it’s possible. So join a union and get involved.
Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.
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