McDonalds Workers Resistance on their employer, what is unique about it and what is the same about it as every other corporation .
McDonalds, Not Just Another Company
McDonalds doesn’t just take advantage of a world that exists for the benefit of business, but, more than most other corporations, is active in constructing and enforcing that world. McDonalds targets its advertising at children as young as two, the importance, not just to McDonalds, but to the economy generally, of nurturing emotional identification with corporate imagery, cannot be underestimated. Two year olds have little chance of differentiating between family and friends with whom it may be constructive to develop a reciprocal emotional solidarity, and an imaginary clown that exists only to increase McDonalds profit margins. The relentless targeting of Ronald McDonald images at young children is a form of abuse, extremely manipulative, McDonalds (and other advertising) prepares children for a lifetime of cultural meaning determined by capital.
McDonalds increasingly enjoys a mutually beneficial relationship with state education systems. This can involve advertising, corporate talks, ‘career advice’ and McDonalds also provides an increasing number of school meals, with the benefit to the company of developing in young people a taste for McDonalds characterless food.
15% of Americans (and loads of people from the rest of the world), will then experience their first employment with the company. ‘First jobs’ at places like McDonalds have replaced national service as an often temporary stage of disciplining and preparation for a lifetime of subservience to capitalism. These jobs now continue a process developed in schools of socialising young people into the productive process. In other workplaces, working conditions that might otherwise be refused are tolerated because employees have experienced much worse in McJobs. The work is designed to completely strip employees of their humanity, it is reminiscent of army boot camps where soldiers have to be turned into ‘fighting machines’. In both institutions ‘why?’ is a forbidden question- procedures and orders are their own justification. McDonalds is very proud that other employers like to employ people who have had successful periods of employment with McDonalds. This is actually true. Employers know that if someone comes from McDonalds with a good reference then they have been through the boot camp. It is like a badge that simply says ‘I will put up with shit’, it’s a certificate that indicates your spirit has been repressed, that you have shown obedience. These are the sort of workers capitalism requires in the greatest number and these are the sort of workers the McDonalds experience is designed to produce. Fortunately, it very often fails.
Again working in cosy partnership with state bureaucracies, McDonalds and similar employers have been invaluable in creating a casualised labour market supported by unemployment. The unemployment has been essential for breaking the strength of workers organisations and supports casualised labour where people can be hired and then fired if they’re not sufficiently compliant. A few employers totally committed to using cheap, non-unionised ‘flexible’ labour, supported wholeheartedly by governments, have been enormously influential in creating the contemporary ‘flexible’ labour market with its consequences for the old workers organisations. McDonalds doesn’t just benefit from the contemporary labour market, it has helped to create it.
Similarly, the sort of work people do today is increasingly rationalised, never ‘McDonaldized’. McDonalds has set an example, enthusiastically adopted by bureaucratic organisations everywhere of how to regulate procedures to ridiculous degrees, of how to ensure that there is no human input required for efficient functioning. It is Fordism taken to another level, it is scientific management taken to extremes. McDonaldization represents a new level of alienation, the total war on human creativity is McDonalds great gift to the economy.
But the influence of the company extends to all wage labourers. Workers are taking shorter and shorter lunch breaks, devoting ever more of their lives to the productive process. McDonalds supports this trend perfectly- race to McDonalds, get served some shit straight away (OK, not quite), gobble it down on the way back to the office. Speed is emphasised over quality in everything McDonalds does (it is not surprising that McDonalds has struggled in Italy and some other areas with strong culinary traditions). The food is served quickly, but also the customer is supposed to eat it quickly- this is why many McDonalds chairs are designed to become uncomfortable if sat on for any length of time. This way of living is a consequence of the logic of production, time away from the productive process is presented as lost time. Of course, the opposite is true and in taking lunch breaks at McDonalds we lose an opportunity for socialising and pleasure. McDonalds entire philosophy is produced by, and supports and reinforces, the idea that time out from the economy is ‘wasted’. To this understanding, taking time to cook a meal, then slowly eating it with a few friends or family, is ‘time consuming’. Or in other words, it occupies time that could otherwise be devoted to the economy- either to the productive or consumptive process. The whole idea of ‘time consuming’ activities only makes sense in a world defined by the economy, and out with this world, McDonalds philosophy is completely meaningless.
Within this world, however, McDonalds has sufficient influence to actually change established dietary practices across whole regions. For example, according to ‘Behind the Arches’ (a book authorised by McDonalds in 1987), McDonalds in Japan faced “a fundamental challenge of establishing beef as a common food”. Their president Den Fujita stated “the reason Japanese people are so short and have yellow skins is because they have eaten nothing but fish and rice for two thousand years”, “if we eat McDonalds hamburgers and potatoes for a thousand years we will become taller, our skin become white and our hair blonde”. McDonalds also changed eating habits in Australia, Peter Ritchie (at the time McDonalds Australian president) has stated he attributes “that change to the influence McDonalds has on children”. ‘Behind the Arches’ concludes that rather than adapt to local tastes and preferences, “McDonalds’ foreign partners made major changes in marketing in order to sell the American system”. Indeed, McDonalds is prepared to support such means as are necessary to “sell the American system”, the company supplies symbolic practical support and important ideological support to the military imperialism necessary for the onward march of mono-culture. For example, they provided food to US troops as a token of support for the genocide about to be perpetrated against the people of Iraq.
McDonalds- Just Another Company
We think McDonalds is just another company and it does exactly the same thing, has exactly the same motivation, as companies all over the world- it aims to make money. There is no room for emotions because the agenda of profit is absolutely total. McDonalds is happy to try running hotels or selling veggie burgers, there is no reason why they wouldn’t be prepared to run a chain of organic vegan restaurants, cannabis cafes, folk clubs or anything else they thought would be profitable.
It happens that, at present, McDonalds believes that in order to make their maximum profit they have to (or rather are able to) exploit their workers to a special degree, devastate the environment, kill loads of animals, exploit children and displace people from their land. But this is just what McDonalds business happens to entail, there is nothing here that another corporation is not capable of. The logic that drives McDonalds is exactly the same as the logic that drives the local organic food store.
It’s obvious that shutting down McDonalds would only open up new market space to other corporations acting on exactly the same principle. One of the regions where McDonalds has been less successful in recent times is in the United States, but McDonalds problems have certainly not coincided with a decline in burger culture and all which it entails. Moving from a profit driven, exploitative and ecologically destructive economy to a society of co-operation, equality and sustainability requires us to attack not just individual corporations but the profit system itself. It requires people everywhere to develop different political, economic and social structures.
“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” (David Thoreau)