A brief history of McDonalds Workers' Resistance

International McDonalds strike in Germany
International McDonalds strike in Germany

A brief history of MWR, by MWR - a network of McDonald's workers in the UK fighting to organise in the multinational anti-union food giant. Young, dynamic and exciting, MWR unfortunately mostly wound down in 2004.

Submitted by libcom on July 4, 2005

The people who were in the original MWR group started working at a McDonalds in Glasgow, Scotland, between 1996 and 1999. Amongst our number was Shlonghoover who never knew where the line was, Zotard who had phat trousers, Funnywump who'd been sacked by Burger King, Webel who read too much, Bouncer who drank too much, Casper the stoner, Why-Bird the stoner, Benjamin the brawler and Pes the fugitive. We worked for McDonald's for different reasons, but mainly desperation. We were quite good workers, we even won crew member of the month awards. Then in 1998 they kept promising us bonus money and then refusing to pay it. One night in the pub, someone got the idea we should start a trade union! Assuming there was no trade union interested in the likes of us, we decided to try and start our own. We collected signatures from 40 staff out of 60 but while we were wondering what the fuck to do with them, the staff turnover was so high that almost half our signatories had left or been fired. Having failed so miserably we did the only logical thing- we gave up.

But the idea was resurrected a few months later. Damn it we thought, maybe the law's never going to recognise our organisation, but that didn't mean we couldn't still have one! We organised a secret underground cell of about 15 workers. Our first major action was January '99 when we disrupted the night shift with a barrage of snowballs. We started to stick together at work and because we did such a big share of the work we were able to get away with a lot. Labour costs went up, the pace of work went down, and we were decidedly happier than before. We even began to introduce direct democracy (though we didn't know the term back then) and made the wrap and call person an instantly recallable delegate. We began to challenge racism and other prejudice in ourselves and others, we were learning quickly. As the new millennium arrived, people started to drift off, managing to get new jobs or preferring the dole to McDonalds.

Those of us who remained were getting frustrated; we had done all we could without just getting ourselves fired. We realised it was impossible to fight McDonalds in one restaurant; we had to spread the rebellion to other McDonalds workers in the UK and around the world. We started work on the first issue of McSues , a satirical magazine ripping the piss out of that McNews rag. Mostly the first issue of McSues was filled with jokes about Ronald McDonald's alleged paedophilia (symbolic assaults on corporate imagery was our retrospective justification). We contacted some fellow workers in England and with a mixture of persuasion and threats, convinced them they wanted to set MWR up at their restaurants. On October 12 th 2000 we went public and McSues, strangely, was an instant success. With help from an autonomous community group and a sympathetic printer, we printed 2000 copies and set up an e-mail address where workers could write to get them. We advertised our rag on McSpotlight and various people helped distribute it at their local McDs. It was photocopied and sent all round the world from Sweden to New Zealand, there were even Greek and Czech versions made! As workers started to get in touch we were greatly encouraged, lots of them were supportive and everybody agreed we had to do something. We opened a PO box so we could collect letters without McDonalds catching us but someone kept knicking all our mail. Hmmm. That Christmas we sent senior management a card , we are still waiting for them to reciprocate.

We started taking things more seriously as we were beginning to get a lot of e-mails asking for advice about all different things. Then people started asking our opinions on the "anarchist platform' and other things we'd never heard of (we thought it was a Sex Pistols/ Gary Glitter tribute band). So we had to start learning quick! The ideas we developed haven't really changed.

Then a nice guy contacted us wanting to do an interview for The Face magazine . We'd knocked back a few journalists, but The Face , how cool is that? We continued to talk with different McDonald's workers all over the UK and the rest of the world. We made new friends like Workers Resistance Against McDonalds and the controversial McDonalds International Liberation Front , and we sent material to workers who wanted to organise a fight back at their store. We started to hear inspiring stories about various campaigns of direct action at different McDonalds, times that little things were won and times it was just about revenge. We began to have a lot of information to share- even though our numbers were declining until it was just Bouncer, Webel, Wump, Zotard, Casper and Why-Bird. The problem was that we knew McDonald's were hunting for us and we were so determined to keep our heads down that we couldn't recruit anybody new to our collective. Then we expelled Why-Bird because he was a stoner who never turned up to meetings.

Nevertheless, we produced a second issue of McSues , and also developed a proposal for a global day of industrial action by McDonald's workers. We also started to have regular weekly meetings instead of getting together whenever someone could be assed. Here are the minutes that Casper recorded at one of our meetings. Then there was September the 11th and here's the statement on terrorism we approved.

As 2001 came to an end, MWR was already a successful network and then we started working on this website. We didn't know the first damned thing about computers, we thought windows 2000 was a double glazing firm. The website looked even rougher than it does today. We worked on it day and night and Bouncer managed to delete three days of work. Which wasn't something he mentioned when discussing the internet and labour activism . But despite it being a bit crap, our website started to get loads of hits, word spread through the workforce and we had more e-mails to answer than we could keep up with. We started to build up a large contact list and began sending out monthly bulletins. Then Loaded did an article about us which was nice. At that time we were updating our news page regularly. And then we produced The Alternative Crew Handbook, it was probably the most popular thing we ever did. Hundreds of workers were reading it from the first day, and everybody wanted to suggest their own skives and dodges- we couldn't keep up!

We were performing many of the functions of a union, explaining to workers their rights, providing advice, support, or just someone to write to. We answered enquiries on everything from rape to facial hair. MWR Midlands started up with their own website, then MWR Manchester, in fact MWR groups started to spring up all over the world. We were also working like crazy to publicise our global day of action and things were really flying - the workers were pissed! We formalised our basic principles and set up a system of local contacts. As we were going to conferences, doing interviews and trying to contact as many workers as possible, others were flyering, leafleting, putting up stickers and doing graffiti at their restaurant to advertise the day of action. When it finally came we were totally exhausted. The morning before, Bouncer had been drinking for two days, took an E, fell over a fence and woke up in hospital, which didn't really help. Like everything we did, our action turned into a farce. There were rumours of extra security at McDonald's across Glasgow, so we went to another town, got lost, could only find one McD's and it was doing an all night close, so we ended up spray painting on a wall... nearby a McDonalds. But the next day, while we were off work leafleting our co-workers in still another town, the International McStrike went massive! There were attempted strikes in London and Paris, a work stoppage in Moscow, a blockade in Milan, leafleting, pickets, walk outs, sick days, thefts, sabotage, from Adelaide to Aberdeen, from Milan to Malmo, the International McStrike exceeded expectations! And Wump ended up trying to talk in Italian on a crap mobile connected at the other end to a tanoi broadcasting to hundreds of people blockading a McDonalds in Milan. He might have managed if he hadn't been caught short and needed a wee wee.

We started to get a bit carried away with ourselves. At the European Social Forum in Florence, we agreed to call an action to support the popular rebellion in Argentina. At very short notice we organised the International McGo-Slow as Fuck! It didn't go quite as well as we had hoped although given it was the Saturday before Christmas where it did happen, it caused some queue! At this time MWR was so well known in the workforce that (pretending we didn't know anything about it) we had to put up with co-workers quoting us all the funny bits from our site. It started to piss us off. We had managers telling us jokes we'd written and fucking up the punch lines.

Early in 2003, there was a nice article about us in Counter Punch and we distributed a survey to all our contacts. We began to develop a federated structure which Wump now thinks was a big mistake. We produced our first and only annual report that had optimistic expectations for the year ahead. MWR in Birmingham made a proposal that we should launch a pay campaign and those of us in the UK decided (eventually) that we would concentrate on a campaign to win £6.00 an hour, how were we about to do that? We were so optimistic after the year before that we really thought we could scare them into putting up wages at least a wee bit. If our numbers were to grow the same way they had last year then we could offer a credible threat of serious disruption to normal service. But in fact people started to drift away, leaving the job or leaving the struggle. And none of the workers in other countries took on the work of organising the campaign over seas.

We opposed war and called for and participated in walk outs and protests. We also produced the one and only issue of MockNews, which was kind of like McSues only shorter and online. But things were not going well, our numbers were dropping and our democratic decision making process wasn't working too good. People weren't participating so much anymore, it was like we had lost our ability to inspire. We had new rival organisations that were promoting discussions about cheese when we wanted to talk about justice! We set up an e-mail forum to link MWR and the newer groups but only 70 people signed up and the other groups didn't really support or promote it. We printed fucking thousands of stickers in an attempt to kick start the pay campaign but somehow we weren't having the same effect as we used to. It was the same at work, we couldn't inspire our colleagues anymore. In fact, after so many years working at McDonalds, we could hardly bear to speak to them. Then, after lucky clogs got to go and share our experiences with the Canadian Labour Congress, in the space of two months, the remaining members of the original MWR clocked out for the last time. The world reeled. Wump responded by doing an interview with the Japanese organisation 'Shop Fight', and another with some French Syndicalists . Bouncer responded by immediately getting sacked from two new jobs. Casper responded by rolling up some tokes. Everything fell silent until a cry erupted - "MWR is dead, long live MWR!"

And so it came to pass that a new generation would come to struggle under the banner that had plagued McDonalds for so long. Once again the exploited were destined to rise up against the Tyrants. This then is our gift to you; that you may hold on to the ideals of MWR and struggle for your dignity as others have struggled before you. We pass you some sort of metaphorical flaming torch. It's up to you now Topper...

More information
Lessons of MWR - Interview with former McDonalds Workers Resistance member, 2006
MWR's website exists as a resource at mwr.org.uk