The fight for a global minimum wage

May 15, 2014

Demonstrators gather during a nationwide strike and protest at fast food restaurants to raise the minimum hourly wage to $15 in New YorkOn Thursday, fast-food workers in more than 30 countries across six continents will take coordinated action on an unprecedented scale. In the United States, they will walk off their jobs in 150 cities — the largest strike ever. Workers around the world will join these protests in 80 cities.

The protestors are set to take over a McDonald’s during lunchtime rush hour in Belgium; hold flash-mobs at McDonald’s restaurants across the Philippines, and conduct a teach-in at McDonald’s headquarters in New Zealand.

The spread of the fast-food movement to the global stage is notable for the speed at which it has happened. What began as a single strike in New York City in November 2012, with roughly 200 workers participating, has in 18 months spread across the country and now across national borders. The efforts of fast-food workers have captured the nation’s attention, been featured in President Barack Obama’s speeches on inequality and inspired local elected officials to raise minimum wages.

Demonstrators rally to raise the hourly minimum wage to $15 for fast-food workers at City Hall in SeattleThe worldwide reach of the movement spells trouble for fast-food corporations. The sight of Japanese and Indian workers joining their counterparts in the U.S. protest should leave these corporations shuddering.

While U.S. fast-food sales are stagnant or declining, revenues overseas are surging. The industry’s international footprint has increased dramatically in recent decades into a global profusion of U.S. fast-food restaurants.

More than half of Subway’s new stores in 2013, for example, were opened outside the United States. McDonald’s overseas sales have outpaced domestic results for some time, with the majority of the company’s revenue coming from Europe and Asia.

Fast food’s future is clearly global. Hamburgers and milkshakes are increasingly common in cities from Buenos Aires to Beijing, and their growth shows no signs of slowing. International fast-food restaurants are expected to expand at four times the rate of U.S. businesses, according to a recent Merrill Lynch report.

That’s why it was so significant last week when workers from Argentina, New Zealand, Denmark and dozens of other countries joined for the first time to plot a global fast-food organizing strategy.  Ron Oswald, president of the International Union Federation that orchestrated the meeting, said it was only the beginning of an international fast-food worker movement.

In the United States, McDonald’s has expressed concern about the protests, warning investors it might have to raise wages this year because of them. Company executives responded to class-action suits alleging widespread wage theft by launching a comprehensive internal investigation. They have also been monitoring the websites of the protest movement, according to internal emails reviewed by the Wall Street Journal.

Chinese queue outside the newly opened Mcdonald's restaurant in Xian, Shaanxi province, August 31, 2..If the worker movement prompts this much concern in a country where sales are slumping, imagine the level of alert once it reaches countries that are key drivers of fast-food corporations’ growth.

That is where the focus is — in Japan, where workers will protest at 30 different McDonald’s in 30 different prefectures; Brazil, where employees will rally at restaurants in five different states; and in Britain, where a 20-city protest will launch that nation’s Fast Food Rights campaign.

Thursday’s strikes and protests mark more than international solidarity among fast-food workers. They are borne of the same set of circumstances — low pay, erratic scheduling, few benefits and persistent violations of rights. Though the workers may speak different languages, their struggles of raising a family on poverty pay are often universal.

As we’ve seen in the United States, until fast-food corporations recognize this reality and raise wages, they’ll continue to face growing worker unrest – and threats to their bottom line.



PHOTO (TOP): Demonstrators gather during a nationwide strike and protest at fast food restaurants to raise the minimum hourly wage to $15 in New York, December 5, 2013. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton


PHOTO (INSERT 3): Chinese queue outside the new Mcdonald’s restaurant in Xian, Shaanxi province, August 31, 2001. REUTERS/Files


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America went broke in the 1920’s because employers refused to pay workers more than starvation wages. In order to recover from the depression, America made it LEGAL for workers to organize unions and demand a fair wage and benefits. That is when America built the biggest and most prosperous economy the world has ever seen.

American businesses decided to break the unions by moving their factories to other countries. Now, prosperity is nothing but a MEMORY for America.

Posted by wigglwagon | Report as abusive

If business is global, unions will be global. Deal with it.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

The increase in minimum wage is a trade off. It sounds great but the consequences can be grand. The increase can go in many ways which can really hurt our economy. It can increase unemployment because companies want to maintain low prices so are forced to either relegate their workers to part time jobs, which pay less, or restructure, resulting in higher unemployment. If a company desires to maintain its workforce, then it can simply increase the price of good because of the high cost of labor. A company can also move its offices to low tax and regulation countries, taking away revenue and jobs. Workers’ rights are important but if we keep bullying business owners like this, we will suffer the most and lose the prosperity we have been gaining for so many years.

Posted by andrewcho | Report as abusive

Personally I think it’s sad and pathetic that anyone would bring children into society knowing that, as parents, they aren’t capable of competing for resources in a way that will provide their offspring with a decent life. I feel a lot of pity for those within our society that can’t do anything in life to survive except work a minimum wage job as their “career”. I wish there was some way to curb the whole reproductive “rights” thing so no more kids would be born into lives of struggle due to their parents selfish ignorance and lack of responsibility towards providing an ideal habitat for their offspring. No wonder so many people with families that are working minimum wage jobs are bitter and frustrated at life. But don’t they see that they had the opportunity to make choices regarding their own personal situations i.e. who they mate with, how many offspring to bring into the world, etc.
Seriously, should a small ice cream cafe owner be forced to pay an ice cream scooper $15 an hour for a summer job? I don’t think so.
NO ONE should expect to make their livelihood or raise a family working for minimum wage. My nephew is ecstatic that he’s working 20 hours a week this summer for $7.75 an hour. He’s totally thrilled that he’s going to be bringing home over $100 a week. Now he can take his girlfriend to the amusement park and pay for his own gas,etc. THAT is what a minimum wage job is suppose to be for. NOT a forever, full time job for a man to do thinking that’s good enough to support a family on.

Posted by QuidProQuo | Report as abusive

You have to earn it! Go to school, get training and make a better life, don’t demand and expect it to be GIVEN to you. When I was 19 I was serving my country, try that. You will get money for collage. Just keep wanting everything for no skilled jobs, that’s what is ruining this country. Redistribution of wealth comes before all.

Posted by iserved | Report as abusive

The global economic systems was created by man! It was not blessed by a god and is not a natural phenomena like the ocean, soil etc. Since the global system was created by man it can be changed to benefit PEOPLE rather than serving corporations and greed. What are billionaires to do with the money other than play some sort of a game to get MORE? As a retired union worker, I am not rich but many times I believe I am blessed and the happiest person on the planet. The simple joys of things such as riding a bike can not be overlooked but workers must be given a living wage that provides for life’s necessities. In the U.S. families require 2 incomes to get by and some of those workers have two jobs. Is that the way to raise a family? The global corporate model where thousands die in a Bangladesh garment factory is unacceptable.

Posted by johnnyboone | Report as abusive

Wages are dependent upon the supply of labor and the demand for those services. Fast food workers are typically some of the lowest skilled jobs in the economy, easily filled by just about anyone with some intelligence and a willingness to work.

If wages are increased artificially (i.e. not driven by the supply of jobs and available employees) then costs will increase dramatically. Then you run the risk that demand for the service these employees provide will decrease, resulting in fewer jobs. So you raise the wages but reduce the number of jobs available–then the labor supply for these jobs increases but the jobs are not available. So the issue of a living wage my work for fewer employees, while more potential employees are not able to find work. So, you merely shifted the problem to fewer people working.

People forget that these are entry-level jobs–historically filled by no/low skill part-time employees (high school student and part time adults)–both easily replaced as evidenced by 400% annual turnover rates in these industries. Thus, many of the employees move on to better paying jobs–as designed. These employees are transient by nature, seeking a better paying job as soon as they have a work history. Except for those who develop a skill within the industry (management, etc.) it is expected that you will turnover and be replaced by another no/low skill person. The wages align with the value, ease of replacing, and productivity of the employee. That’s the supply-demand reality.

If these people want to make more money, the solution is their responsibility, and not solely that of the employer.

Posted by COindependent | Report as abusive

Minimum wage laws set the value of the dollar, not the value of labor, and will not lift anyone out of “poverty” for long. My first job in 1964 paid one dollar an hour, and at 16 I was thrilled to have a job and be able to get some money. Now minimum wage is 7.25 and I would say that what has happened is that the dollar is now worth 7 times less than in 1964. I am certain that once a 15.00 minimum wage is enacted, it won’t be long until 15.00 is not enough to support a family as prices for everything will go up yet again.

Posted by zotdoc | Report as abusive

A global minimum wage is a sure way to ensure global poverty and unemployment.

Posted by ekaneti | Report as abusive

The real answer is to stop buying things from those that won’t pay a decent wage, and to elect political leaders that are not in the pockets of major corporations. Of course to do that you need to be engaged and have access to information. So, the solution will never happen because the majority of those who would benefit have been brainwashed into agreeing with their masters or have left reality and escape into make believe. The fact that some people are demonstrating for fairness is interesting, but there are too many who are still dillusional and refuse to wake to the reality. You can easily guess that most commenters on Reuters will be disciples of the facist empire, whether they call themselve left or right, they serve the same masters.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Global minimum wage would bring jobs back to America. Other countries would lose their comparative advantage in labor cost, and they could not undercut us as severely. Fighting for lower wages abroad is anti-American.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Comments about making a poor choice to work for minimum wage are a little judgmental,I work for minimum wage not because I choose to do so, I was a nurse for 25 years until occupational related injuries and other health issues made it difficult to impossible to work in my chosen field for better wages.I am not selfish, irresponsible or pathetic. Denied disability and unable to full fill the job requirements of being a nurse I was left with not much choice as the job market for a nurse who can no longer is nonexistent.I don’t think asking for a cost of living adjustment is delusional,though I agree $15.00 an hour maybe unrealistic I don’t think $10.00 to $12.00 is overwhelming these companies make billions.

Posted by angellec | Report as abusive

I’d like someone to give me a genuine reason why Australians should support this action. I’m 64 years of age and have NEVER seen any similar action from the U.S. to support such action in Australia.
Moreover, our fast food workers enjoy far better wages and conditions here in Australia then their counter parts in the U.S. (Maybe the U.S. doesn’t like that, and would like to see ours receiving similar wages as in the U.S. ?)Let’s face it, PAID ANNUAL HOLIDAYS, PAID SICK LEAVCE, and LONG SERVICE LEAVE ? WOW, eat your hearts out Yanks.
The reason for that is the UNIONS fought long and hard to create better conditions and wages over many years, whilst in the U.S. the Government, Chamber Of Commerce and all businesses have fought tooth and nail to destroy and minimize Unions and the part they play in your society, thus you have this unequal situation.
At the end of the day, the FAULT lies entirely in your own hands, and to remedy the situation, need I say it, you all need to get off your collective backsides and FIGHT to remedy this issue YOURSELVES, not rely on other nations to do your dirty work for you.
I can never understand the thought processes of business leaders in the U.S. if the workers get a decent wage, they will SPEND that money, thus the businesses will benefit in the long term. Give them a lousy wage, and they spend less, thus less profits, not hard to work out is it ?

Posted by itchyvet0 | Report as abusive

Minimum wage is on its way up. ‘Bout time.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive

[…] say I work only for the franchise, and the corporation has to respond to my co-workers and I when we demand $15 an hour and the right to form a union […]

Posted by Who really owns your friendly neighborhood McDonalds? | The Great Debate | Report as abusive