About that Big Mac

July 14, 2008 at 8:48 pm | Posted in British Politics | Leave a comment

Ever since Subway came to these shores offering fresher, tastier and healthier food for similar cost and speed, I’ve struggled to understand what, exactly, is the point of McDonalds’ existence. There’s the family-friendly aspect, I suppose, but then all Subway needs to do is produce its own version of the Happy Meal and we could see hundreds of McDonalds branches close overnight and finally turn a corner in the fight against obesity & heart disease (Dawn Primarolo, this is your moment!).

Alas, there are always some hold-outs against the forces of progress, and it seems Labour MP/Minister/blogger Tom Harris will still be Mclovin’ it for the foreseeable future. Naturally, I find it disheartening whenever anyone has an opinion different from mine, but I’ll bear Mr Harris no ill feeling for this unfortunate instance of Being Wrong. What did amuse me, however, was this:

More importantly, they provide employment for many people, particularly the young. And if you can get past the “McJob” snobbery that’s prevalent today, it might be recognised that McDonald’s, in many communities, are an important employer. More to the point, if McDonald’s were not there, those communities would be worse off.

The same is, of course, true for many fast food outlets which provide vital jobs particularly for young people, whether long or short term, and provide a popular service at the same time. The more people who can gain an understanding that “service sector” need not necessarily mean “second best”, the better.

This is a fairly standard defence of the MSG-drenched giant and there happens to be a good deal of truth to it, but I always find amusement in how removed this line is from the experiences of people who actually work there. Sure, it’s been about 8 years since I proudly wore a McDonalds pinny (I actually still wear it when cooking, just for old times sake) and it’s possible that working conditions have improved dramatically, but looking back I still cringe at the indignities I had to endure for my four quid an hour.
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Where to start? Well, there were the numerous times I was asked to do 12 hour shifts. The times I had to scoop shit off the floor and mop up a toddler’s vomit. The time I had to wait for a drunk couple to stop fucking in the disabled toilet before I could go in and clean it. The times I’d get so dehydrated during scorching-hot Saturdays that I’d secretly glug the remains of whatever drinks customers had left behind. The times I went into the room where garbage was compressed and had to hold my nose from the corpse-like stench of rotting meat, eggs & dairy which all combined to make the kind of smell that makes you sick. Then there was the time I’d worked eight hours on the till only to find it was £1.50 down; the punishment was to sign a declaration on the shop floor confirming that I had been properly-trained (thus exonerating the managers) and the company’s dramatic revenue loss was basically my fault for being a sorry human being (at the age of 16, this is a traumatising experience). Talk to someone else who managed just 6 months there and you’ll find my experiences are not untypical.

The reason I mention this isn’t as a vehicle to talk about the kind of organised labour/workers rights issues that gets the lefty in me all lathered-up – there’ll be other occasions for that. Nor am I trying to create any kind of working class authenticity for myself – my parents might never have attended university, but my own education screams “I’m Middle Class!”). And yes, I know there are worse jobs than working for McDonalds – an A&E nurse on a Saturday night for one.

No, I mention it because whilst it might be true that companies like McDonalds can offer enterprise and opportunity to those with low skills and working experience to those with none, I don’t think we should forget about how much this costs. Working for that company can be as tedious, exhausting and ego-crushing an experience as it gets, and whilst many of the young people who work there only do so en-route to making something better of their lives, unlike their more privileged peers, they (sometimes literally) have to wade through a lot of shit before getting there.

So the next time any of you have an urge for a Big Mac, don’t get too pissed if they get your order wrong, give you incorrect change or fail to serve you with the fawning politeness you might find at Pizza Express. Lay off the McJob jibes, resist the urge to view them as shit-for-brains morons and just give them a break. A Big Mac meal costs a couple of quid – you only get what you pay for.

Photo by Flickr user Paleontour (Creative Commons)

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