By Edward Helmore
McDonald’s in New York’s Times Square, in midsummer. The fast food store heaves with native New Yorkers and tourists, including a table of Filipino nuns and a troupe of burlesque actors. The staff, remarkably unstressed, offer only accommodating smiles. But behind the scenes the atmosphere is anything but relaxed.
McDonald’s, along with dozens of profitable Wall Street-listed fast food and retail chains, is being rocked by unprecedented workforce- and consumer-led protests over wages and conditions.
Since last year, when Walmart faced the first co-ordinated strikes in its history over pay and conditions, similar protests have been spreading through America’s low-wage workforce. Earlier this month thousands of fast food workers in cities including New York, Chicago and Detroit took to the streets, many wearing red “Fight for 15” T-shirts – a reference to the popular call for a $15 (£9.70) hourly wage, almost double the current minimum. With more protests planned for the autumn, America’s most marginalised, vulnerable and exploited workforce is on the march.
“We’re frustrated and we’re angry,” says Alex Mack, 33, a worker at Wendy’s in Chicago. “I make $8.25 an hour and it’s impossible to live on. I’m a father, a husband. I’m always robbing Peter to pay Paul, shorting one bill to pay another.” But Mack is optimistic that the strike action will be successful. “If we stick together, it’s not impossible,” he says.