Workplace group McDonalds Workers Resistance answer frequent questions "'cos some of the questions we get asked are really shit...".
Here are the MWR Frequently Asked questions. Hopefully these will clarify a few recurrent points and be of general interest. If you're thinking of e-mailing us to shatter our illusions through brilliantly, not to mention smugly, observing that if McDonalds 'is as bad as you say then why do people work there? Ha, got you there!' then please read some of the stuff below before making a tit out of yourself (not the first one, it shouldn't be there).
Q. If a good cook could cook cookies how many cookies could a good cook cook?
A. If McDonalds cooked cookies and got a good cook cooking them then the good cook could cook a lot of cookies but at the end of the day neither the cook nor the cookies would be very good.
Q. Is McDonalds really such a bad job?
A. Yes. Even compared to other shitty capitalist employment “opportunities” it is dispicable. It is totally degrading and dehumanising, there is a ‘procedure’ for every tiny action to make our role almost completely robotic. The pay is infamously poor, bad enough, according to the high court, to depress wages throughout the catering sector. Management is frequently very autocratic, the company likes to employ ex-military personel because they bring “a sense of discipline”. There are no overtime payments or any rights beyond those legally constituted. Hours are often unsociable. The work is sometimes relentless and employees are expected to ‘hustle’- basically run about like fuck for 8 hours (or 10, or 12...). Because of the pace of the work cuts and burns are very common, most people who have worked there for a few years will have at least one permanent scar. We are bombarded with inane company propaganda and are expected to comply with company stipulated ‘appearance requirements’. Theft of wages (clock card entries being altered by managers to save on labour expenses) is rife and is tolerated by the company- widespread frauding of employees wages to save the company money is NOT an offence that leads to dismissal, taking a drink without permission potentially is. Hours can be cut (completely) with just 10 days notice (often, in practice, much less). Even when your shift finishes, incredibly, you are not free to go and are obliged to stay on should management demand it, which they almost inevitably will. The UK crew handbook states “due to the nature of our business, on occasions you may be asked to continue working past your normal finishing time; you will be released (sic!!) as soon as the need for your services has past.” You can’t even go to the toilet with out first obtaining permission. If a shift is unexpectedly quiet and staff are not totally rushed then some staff will be told to go home, if they insist on working their full shift they will often be assigned the most unpleasant cleaning tasks to encourage them to rethink. At other times every day off will be disrupted by a phone call from a stressed, sometimes even tearful, manager begging you to come in and work. The obsessive cost cutting and incessant prioritisation of profit has enormous human costs.
Q. If you don’t like it then why don’t you quit?
A. We need the money. Of course, we could quit and try Burger King, KFC, GAP, a BT call center, Wetherspoons, but none of them would represent a great improvement. Some of us have quit but others have chosen to stay and fight to change things. None of us plan to work for McDonalds for ever, but at present the alternatives are also shit. Over the last few years there has been a great increase in ‘McJobs’- low paid, unskilled, short-term work in the service sector. If you don’t have many qualifications, or if you can’t work full time, then it can be difficult to avoid these jobs. One of the reasons workplace exploitation continues is because we are encouraged to think our frustration is a personal issue- don’t like McDonalds? Quit and try Burger King. Still shit? Quit, work in a pub. Don’t like that? Try a call centre. Try another call centre, work in an office... This can go on indefinitely until we recognise collectively that our frustration is not a personal issue, is not even a question of a particular job, but is an effect of a social system that exists in opposition to our pursuit of happiness.
Q. If McD’s is so bad, why do people work there?
A. Perhaps because they’ve a ‘poor employment record’, no qualifications, or they can only work at particular times because they’re studying or have kids. And McDonalds probably isn’t the very worst job in the world- you can get some great banter with your co-workers and it can SOMETIMES fit around other commitments. But just because we can think of a few examples of worse exploitation doesn’t make McDonalds exploitation okay! To say a job is okay because you know of a worse one is like saying having your hand scalded is okay because having your fingernails pulled out is much worse!
Q. I worked at X and it was just as bad. So, why McDonalds?
A. Because that is where we happen to work. Had we worked in Burger King, on a building site, in a call centre, a hospital or an office, we would probably have done something similar. The problem is not just McDonalds or even McJobs, we are against the very idea of wage labour- of having to self yourself to survive in order to make other people rich. All workers in all industries should organise against their bosses.
Q. So, why don’t you join a trade union?
A. More than any other corporation on earth McDonalds is notorious for its obsessive, determined and frequently illegal attempts at obstructing trade union activity within its workforce. After the legendary McLibel trial, the high court determined that McDonalds was “antipathetic” towards trade unions. No shit. Tactics used to fight trade unions have included, in France, framing crew member Hassen Lamti for armed robbery, before offering him a bribe to renounce the union. Around the world McDonalds has been responsible for a mass of illegal dismissals of trade union activists. In Canada they made workers lie outside in the snow in the shape of a “no” (to unions). Other anti-union campaigns have involved an “anti-union slide show”, a visit from a top baseball player, a bingo night... They are prepared to engage in lengthy, obstructive legal battles, and frequently shut down whole stores should trade union recognition become unavoidable, in Puerto Rico they pulled out of the whole country following a dispute and opened some years later with non-unionised labour. In the past they have used lengthy polygraph tests (lie detectors) to screen for union sympathisers. They employed John Cooke to “keep the unions out”, he stated in an internal memo that “we do used polygraph tests in a Gestapo type manner”. According to Cooke, “unions are inimical to what we stand for and how we operate. They peddle the line to their members that the boss will be forever more against their interests”. Read the rest of this article with our reasons for prefering loose non-membership organisation to traditional trade unionism.
Q. What’s this “wage labour” you’re always going on about?
A. We use ‘wage labour’ to talk about the system of employment where most people have to do work, usually for a company, in exchange for pay. In this system, capitalism, we have to do things, not because we think they are useful, because they help ourselves or others, or because they are enjoyable, but simply because they are profitable. The system of wage labour is supported by governments who make great efforts training people for work, trying to force benefit claimants into employment and sometimes using violence (the police) to break up strikes and ensure the system continues. So, we recognise that our interests are opposed to the corporations that need us to work for them and the bosses that we are supposed to obey, but also the governments and politicians that try to ensure the whole thing keeps running.
Q. You people don’t even want to work, do you?
A. No, we do seem to have a strange aversion to wasting our lives doing useless things just so that some shareholder can get one of those garage doors that opens as he drives towards it. But we have no problem doing things that we think are useful. None of us grudge the huge amount of time we put into MWR because we think it’s worthwhile. We’re not lazy (well maybe a bit), but we’re not stupid either.
Q. But if everyone had your attitude surely the economy would fall apart?
A. Thankyou, our point exactly.
Q. Capitalism’s not great, but was the Soviet Union any better?
A. Fuck no, that’s not what we want!
Q. So, what do you want?
A. A diverse pluralistic society based on co-operation. Where work is performed because it is useful, not because it makes money. A society that is ecological and sustainable, is communist in the sense of sharing and working together, and anarchist in refusing hierarchies and grand bureaucratic orders. A world where everything we do, every minute of our lives, will be valuable.
Q. But it will never happen will it?
A. Sure it will. It may seem absurd to talk about revolution but all the alternatives assume the continuation of the present system... which is even more absurd. See ten reasons to expect revolution...
Q. I’m a McDonalds manager, my job’s shit as well, why are you having a go at me?
A. We’re not really and it’s good you recognise that your job is shit as well. You are a skivvy, a totally expendable slave. You are exlpoited and you have to sell yourself just to make a profit for McDonalds. Fair enough, we understand that. However, sometimes some of the things your job requires you to do (if you’re a salaried manager, hourly paid managers are usually just crew members who wear shirts) will bring us into conflict. You have to try and ensure that we make as much money for the company as possible, obviously this is not in our interest. If you’re fucking about and not doing your job properly then perhaps we are on the same side, if you’re going to the lengths of fucking about with our clock card entries to save on labour costs then you deserve a kicking. Ultimately all McDonalds low level employees have the same interest because we would all benefit from destroying the economy, but in everyday incidents this is not always apparent.
Q. If you did your jobs properly, wouldn’t you get promoted?
A. Yes... but no thanks. Floor managers get even more shit than crew members, still get abysmal pay and still have to work their asses off to make people they never meet rich. Salaried managers have also got really shit jobs, the work is simultaneously stressful and mindless, and worst of all it can require people to be actively involved in enforcing the exploitation of workers.
Q. Why didn’t you work harder at school?
A. This whole argument is idiotic. People do crap jobs, not because of their personal deficiencies, but because capitalism requires these jobs be performed. If everyone doubled their performance at school then people would still work for McDonalds. Open your eyes, break with your individualistic conditioning and learn to see things as social rather than purely individual problems. And of course, lots of people work at McDonalds while they’re at school/ college/ university.
Q. Do you really think students working part time are going to care about any of this?
A. Well plenty do. Students working at McDonalds tend not to be studying economics at Harvard. The students involved with MWR recognise that although they will end up doing different jobs these too will probably be tedious, pointless and exploitative. Students actually have a bit of a history of rebelling... And obviously only a fraction of McDonalds employees are students.
Q. Aren’t McDonalds workers just kids, wont they all get other jobs soon?
A. Well all sorts of people work for McDonalds, older people, people with families, as well as ‘kids’. Most McDonalds workers are young and then they get other jobs, often different versions of the same shit (for example, we know lots of workers who’ve left to work in a call center). Few jobs are for life these days so observing that McWorkers will probably get other jobs later is pretty irrelevant. For many young workers McDonalds is an introduction to a lifetime of wage labour. And just because something doesn’t go on for ever doesn’t mean that it should be tolerated- prisoners? Most of them get out eventually. Pensioners? They all die eventually. There are so many excuses to justify exploitation and wasting your life - ‘it’s only for a bit’, ‘it could be worse’ - and it’s possible to accept these excuses until it’s too late. And McDonalds and similar employers provide a function, started in school, of training young workers to accept discipline, to subordinate their lives to the economy.
Q. The turnover at McDonalds is so high and the company is so militantly opposed to workers organisation, isn’t it just impossible to organise in McDonalds?
A. That’s just a cop out. Sure it’s difficult, we know that only too well, but it’s not impossible, we’re proving it’s not impossible. And when we see that garment workers in Bangladesh, sex workers, even prisoners, manage to organise then we know that we can certainly go from strength to strength.
Q. Why do you do things anonymously?
A. So as not to get sacked and especially so as not to endanger the jobs of friends who have more at stake than us (ie families to support). McDonalds has a long, really incredible, history of doing really wierd things when people oppose them. Like in France they framed a crew member who was a trade union activist, Hassen Lamti, for armed robbery and then offered him a bribe to renounce the union. They have been found guilty of illegally dismissing trade union activists on numerous occasions. And we’ve had letters about really scary stuff, like someone claimed they had their flat broken into, someone else reported serious threats of physical violence. For a long time all our mail was going missing. There was no mail at our PO box even when we sent it ourselves. Normally you would think there was some problem at the post office or something, but here there is a precedent. Indeed, stealing other peoples' mail would be behaviour entirely in character for McDonalds. It emerged during the McLibel trial that McDonalds had paid 7 "enquiry agents" to infiltrate London Greenpeace. Two of these agents, Mr. Bishop and Mr. Allan Clare, admitted, in court, to stealing mail belonging to London Greenpeace. Mr. Clare also admitted to breaking into London Greenpeace by swiping the locks with a phone card. While Mr. Roy Pocklington followed members of the group home to find out their address and in an especially distasteful incident, he provided a parcel of baby clothes for Mr. Morris' (one of the eventual McLibel two) son, in "an attempt to discover Mr. Morris' address". All this information comes from the Mclibel support campaign's 'Trial News 3' (August 1996, p-10) which quotes the court transcripts. So, when our mail started to go missing McDonalds dirty tricks seemed the most plausible explanation. McDonalds is a completely manic criminal organisation and we mustn't forget that. Anyway, we had great fun sending them made up names and addresses, fictitous meeting places, etc. The Newcastle lot even sent them stuff written in a combination of Greek and Russian letters. It didn't say anything but it would have needed a translator to work that out. McDonalds is very easy to take the piss out of. So, we don't know if they got all that stuff but someone's sitting with a weird pile of mail.
Q. I agree with you but all my co-workers are indoctrinated, what can I do?
A. Well, you’ll have to change their minds, which shouldn’t be too hard. McDonalds propaganda is so idiotic that it doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. And in every store there are bound to be some potential allies, we’d be delighted to send you resources that may help you encourage others to see sense, or you could produce your own. And, of course, you could become a regional co-ordinator. See also, get involved and tips on starting your own resistance group.
Q. Why do you swear so much?
Fuck knows man.
Q. Why don’t you sign on?
A. We know loads of folk who sign on because they don’t want to work. That’s great, good luck to them, we have nothing against folk blagging the dole, recognise the refusal of wage labour as a radical political act and have made statements expressing our solidarity with benefit claimants. However, we are also only too aware of the severe, even tragic, consequences of unemployment, consequences reflected in rates of suicide and depression. The suggestion that everyone can choose to live happily on the dole is idiotic. Personally, I want to be able to get my round in (occasionally!), I don’t want to get kicked out of my house, I want a bit of cash to spend on luxuries... these things require money. Of course, we would prefer that, to give one example, fashion wasn’t defined on the terms of capital, we would prefer that all social meaning was created by ordinary people, on our terms.
Q. Why do you go on about Ronald McDonald being a paedophile?
A. Ronald McDonald is a fictional character and so he can’t literally be a kiddy fiddler. However, the clown is used to perpetuate child abuse. That is the only appropriate description for profit motivated emotional manipulation of two year olds. McDonalds have invested $Billions on the clowns image, and the image they’ve created is perilously close to appearing paedophilic (for example, the advert where he comes to a little girls window at night time and takes her away). What we do is to launch a violent symbolic assault on the image, we use connotations of paedophilia, bestiality, ‘spewing down dungarees’, to subvert McDonalds corporate imagery at its weakest point, to permanently influence how people perceive the images, to detract from the power of McDonalds advertising and to metaphorically expose the violence hiding behind the clown’s mask. Our attacks are against the corporate image and we don't mean any disrespect to the poor minimum wage guys that have to play the part.
And (really!) questions we have been asked, but not frequently...
Q. Why don’t you work on an organic farm?
A. Aye, you can hardly get around Glasgow for all the organic farms.
Q. You are obviously intelligent and ambitious, why don’t you apply for a loan and start your own business?
Q. Who should I vote for?
A. Definitely our friends and comrades at the UK Independence Party. No, just kidding, don’t vote, cause trouble.
Q. Isn’t this almost communism and against everything America stands for?
A. Er... yes.
Q. Aren’t you proud to be American?
Q. How can you support terrorism after September the 11th?
And a question we’ve never been asked:
Q. Wow, there is so much great stuff on this site, where should I start?
A. Well you might try looking at our new highlights page. It presents some of our favourite pieces from the MWR site with links to the pages the extracts have been taken from.
Question not answered? For more questions and answers see full transcript of an interview with The Face Magazine. If your question still isn’t answered then please contact us.
If you want to know more about the ideas behind what we do then please check out The Heavy Stuff