Their demands were simple: to be paid £10 an hour; for an end to zero hour contracts; and for their right to join a union to be respected.
Each of these demands is extremely basic. £10 an hour would mean they can provide for their basic needs. An end to zero hour contracts would mean they no longer live under the constant threat of losing the hours they need to survive. Having their right to a union be respected would mean they have a voice at work.
What they were calling for was for their employer, the 2nd largest private employer in the world, to respect their right to live a life of dignity. These are the very things human rights are concerned with protecting.
The stories McDonald's workers told of bullying managers, of regularly suffering burns and of living under the constant threat of losing future hours, are indicative of a workplace where workers' human worth is not respected. Yet McDonald’s workers right around the world tell alarmingly similar stories. The 'McStrikers' in Croydon and Crayford were joining a global movement that has seen actions in 33 countries, demanding respect for workers in the fast food industry.
As our economies and companies have gone global, so must our fight to ensure human rights are respected. As with all human rights, it is the already marginalised: young, black, women and migrant workers who are on the front-lines, and impacted the most.
Human rights are about protecting the fundamental dignity inherent in every human being. Work has a massive effect on the quality of workers' and their families' lives. It can determine whether there is enough food to eat, a roof over their head, and other life essentials. Human rights must extend into the workplace (or where ever work is done) or they will be undermined.
Far too many employers see their workers as commodities and not as human beings. Depending on an employer for your means of survival creates a power imbalance that can make workers extremely vulnerable to those employers who seek to exploit.
Having the right to join together with other workers and negotiate with your employer helps to redress this imbalance and ensure human dignity is always respected. In fact the right to collective bargaining is as fundamental as freedom of speech, or the right to vote.
It's why today's UN Human Rights Day has seen the International Trade Union Confederation and European Trade Union Confederation join forces to name and shame McDonald's, alongside Samsung, as an employer that won't respect their workers' right to collective bargaining.
Human rights are interdependent: if you take one away, then others will soon falter. For decades, the right to collective bargaining has been under sustained attack across the globe. It must be defended.
War on Want is determined to support McDonald’s workers and their union BFAWU as they defend their rights. All of those who believe in freedom should do the same. Their three demands of £10 an hour, an end to zero hour contracts and for their right to have a union, are nothing more than demanding the right to live a dignified life.