Today, the labor coalition leading the ongoing movement to raise wages for fast food workers announced that workers in 150 cities around the world will walk out and/ or strike on May 15. That's fine and dandy. But might there be a better way for this movement to operate?
The movement to unite fast food workers for higher wages and better working conditions has been going on longer than most people thought it ever would, and it's gained more support than many thought was possible. It is the single most visible ongoing labor movement targeting low-wage American workers, and that is just one reason it is extremely important. It represents an attempt to create some sort of real organized labor class at the very bottom of the income pyramid. In the context of growing income inequality and the vast American class war, it is a lone beacon of light from the flagging world of unions. It is hope.
It is also not really a labor campaign. It is a PR campaign. And that is completely rational. A real unionization campaign of American fast food workers would require resources so vast as to be almost impossible. There are just too many fast food workers, and the job turnover is incredibly high, and getting enough of them to become actual union members to make a serious industry-wide difference is a task that boggles the mind. A unionized fast food labor force would be great. But it is not going to happen in the foreseeable future.
What can happen, though, is that fast food wages can be raised and working conditions can be improved as a direct result of public relations pressure applied by this campaign. This campaign brings a lot of public attention to the awful conditions of fast food employees. It humanizes fast food employees. And it makes the fast food industry look greedy, small-minded, and un-American. Which they are! So we are always ready to offer our full-throated support to these fast food workers across the world, as they complain loudly about the raw deal they've been getting for too long.
That is PR. That is politics. Both are important. But the organized labor issue is also important. More important, in fact, since PR campaigns ask for improvements in working conditions and wages, whereas strong organized labor demands those improvements. So here is an idea for the union coalition leading this fast food campaign: unionize one store. One single store. One McDonald's location. Better yet, write a check to purchase and run a McDonald's franchise, unionize the work force, and prove to the world that it can run well and make a profit and serve all the Big Macs that anyone can want, while still treating workers well and paying a living wage. This would be an irrefutable testament to the viability of what the campaign is asking for. It would be proof that it can work. It would be more than a powerful PR tool; it would be a profit-and-loss statement that unions can hand over to the industry and say, "See? This works."
Big unions are spending millions of dollars on this campaign. Take a chunk of that money and start your own franchise. These arguments are all theoretical, until they aren't.