There is a hidden world right beneath our noses. It’s made up of people, many of them just like ourselves. The people of this world make our beds and replace our towels, they refill our drinks and cook our meals.
They are wage workers, college students, and single mothers; they are, but for a slight change of fate, ourselves. They work harder for their meager wages than one might imagine and they are not happy. Recently, a group of people from this oft-unseen world banded together to do something about it.
Make Ends Meet
Matt Rouse works as a kitchen worker at the Bright Helm Pub in Brighton, England. Like nearly all of his fellow workers, he’s been working for a pittance for the past few years. So when he heard that his co-workers across the country were organizing a demonstration, he jumped at the chance to join them.
Matt was spurred to action by a number of factors. First and foremost was the fact that his co-workers were aiming to get the base pay raised to a much more comfortable and liveable £10 an hour. The second reason was due to the injustices he and his fellow workers had dealt with in the workplace.
Workers at JD Wetherspoon, a chain of pubs in the United Kingdom and Ireland, as well as those from restaurants T.G.I. Fridays and McDonald’s, are all staging coordinated strikes to showcase their dismay at what many would consider “poverty pay.” That is to say, a pay scale that would not be considered a living wage in today’s economy.
“We are determined to stand together and make our demands for £10 an hour for all, and union recognition heard,” explained Rouse in a recent interview with The Independent. He and other employees are determined to work with other pub, restaurant, and fast food workers to make their position known.
The striking workers organized and decided to walk out of their respective workplaces in October and convene at a rally in Leicester Square. It’s not only restaurant workers like Rouse who will be in attendance either. They will be joined by hospitality workers from across the U.K. and from four other continents as well.
Boni Adeliyi works as a waitress at a T.G.I. Fridays in Milton Keynes. Like Rouse and so many others, she believes that the strike shows the strength and solidarity of the working class in the U.K. She also believes that change is coming and that all young workers should begin to unionize.
Trade unions or labor unions first came about in 18th century England but gained popularity among the masses in the early 20th century. Labor unions are, by-and-large, good news for workers, who wish to use their unification to fight for better rights, improve wages, and improve safety standards. Though most of the time they are bad news for business owners.
The increased bargaining power of workers is a bane to businesses who rely on their workforce to maintain production and in the case of many of the striking workers, serve customers. “All young workers should join a union,” explains Boni. “It’s important to know your rights and how to fight for them when they’re being ignored. Together we are stronger.”
Striking McDonald’s worker Lauren McCourt believes that if the industry as a whole begins to listen to worker concerns, the sector will be better off. She also believes that the days of poverty pay, of insecure contracts, secure hours, and lack of respect for workers are ultimately numbered. She might be right, too.
A Fair Percentage
Looking at the statistics, we can see that the hospitality sector employs about 4.5 million people. For scale, that’s approximately ten percent of the U.K.’s working population. Global organizations such as these have not happened in the industry before now, and the rise in these demonstrations only indicate how believable Lauren’s prediction is.
The desire for a living wage is nothing new, and has been ramping up in recent years. There is a growing movement amidst low-paid hospitality workers the world over, particularly in the fast-food industry. It is only recently that these workers have come together to organize in a way that those in other industries, those with unions, for example, have done in the past.
Across the Pond
This is especially true in the United States, where fast food workers have been trying to have their own meager wages raised to $15 an hour for a few years now. Looking at the statistics, we can see that approximately 10.5 million Americans are currently defined as “working poor.” Though they hold at least one or more full-time job, they cannot seem to make ends meet.
The problem with this might all lay in the idea of minimum wage itself, which has been fairly stagnant for years. This is true regardless of the ever-dropping value of currency the world over. Those at the top are doing fine though. They earn more than ever, while inflation drives the median pay down below the poverty line.
The Widening Line
In 2013, a full-time service industry worker made about $14,500 a year. This is not a lot of money and it’s even less when you think about trying to raise a family on it. Income inequality is widening the gap between the rich and the poor, and that’s a gap that was already perilously wide to begin with.
It is worrying that those who work between 40 and 60 hours a week still cannot support their family. And as the middle class slips further down the poverty line, this promises to get worse before it gets better. This is why so many people the world over are doing everything they can to make their lives better.
Some believe that $15 an hour in the U.S. or £10 an hour in the U.K. is a bit much for someone operating a McDonald’s cash register. Opponents cite that businesses, unable to pay their workers and their rent, would be forced to close. Others say that human workers would be replaced by self-service kiosks – some of which McDonald’s restaurants have already begun using.
McDonald’s has of course spoken out in response to the October strike. As far as they are concerned, the numbers of people involved in the demonstration represent an “extremely small proportion” of its 120,000-strong workforce. The McDonald’s spokesperson even cited that dispute the purportedly low pay, many have joined their corporation in the past year.
They aren’t wrong either. McDonald’s isn’t exactly floundering these days. The fast-food giant has restaurants in 120 countries and territories around the world. They have 38,699 restaurants which serve an average of 68 million customers each day. That’s a heck of a lot of jobs too, more than 375,000 people as of 2016.
The Right Direction
“We are putting up the rate of pay,” explained Wetherspoon spokesperson Eddie Gershon. “In the last financial year, we paid record monthly bonuses and free shares of £43 million, equivalent to about 50 percent of our net profits.” Like McDonald’s, Wetherspoon also cited company growth in the past year.
Fighting For All
Rouse, Boni, and the others don’t know if the demonstration will ultimately change things, but they all agree that this rally is only the first step in eliminating the working poor in their industry. “This is only the beginning, we will keep fighting for everyone, for better wages and rights for hospitality workers across the country,” said Rouse.