ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Low Wages and Fast Food

Even as American fast food chains like McDonald's gain popularity in countries like India, in the US their workers are waging a bitter struggle for a higher minimum wage, better working conditions and the right to unionise. This article locates the "Fight for $15" campaign of American fast food workers within the larger context of workers' struggles in that country.

When McDonald’s, the ubiquitous American fast food company, first came to India, it provided the aspiring middle class a sniff of the much-revered American lifestyle. Two decades hence it continues to capture the imagination of urban India, especially of children who rejoice at the idea of a “happy meal” filled with toys and goodies. In stark contrast, in the United States (US), the home of McDonald’s, the company represents a strikingly different story. In the American landscape it is hardly a mark of aspiration. Instead McDonald’s has become the ultimate mascot for fast food workers’ daily struggles.

In 2012, a large number of fast food workers marched on the streets of New York City under the banner “Fight for $15” per hour. Since then, the movement has grown larger, spread to over 150 cities around the country and received support from similar movements in several other parts of the world. The campaign includes workers from a large number of fast food companies including Papa John’s Pizza, Subway, Burger King and KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken), to name a few. McDonald’s, however, is the campaign’s most important symbol as it leads the fast food industry. It also employs over four lakh people, the largest chunk of the fast food labour force. It leads the fast food industry in terms of business. The “Fight for $15” campaign believes that if McDonald’s changes its policies towards workers, other companies are likely to follow suit.

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