Newspaper article International New York Times

Fast-Food Protests Move Overseas ; Labor Leaders Say Strike in U.S. to Be Supported by Rallies in 30 Countries

Newspaper article International New York Times

Fast-Food Protests Move Overseas ; Labor Leaders Say Strike in U.S. to Be Supported by Rallies in 30 Countries

Article excerpt

Workers are planning strikes in 150 cities in the United States on Thursday, and they will be backed up by protests in 30 countries.

Even though fast-food workers have staged several one-day strikes in the last 18 months, the protests have not swayed McDonald's or other major restaurant chains to significantly raise their employees' pay.

So on Thursday, the fast-food workers' movement planned to broaden its reach as it pushes for a $15-an-hour wage that restaurant companies say is unrealistic. In addition to one-day strikes in 150 cities across the country, the movement's leaders hoped to take their cause global. They said support protests were to take place in 80 cities in more than 30 countries, from Seoul to Panama City.

Over the last decade, as American labor unions have declined in membership and power, they have increasingly turned to unions in Europe and Asia to help pressure companies overseas to stop battling organizing drives at their United States units. And now the fast- food movement, underwritten by the Service Employees International Union, is embracing a similar strategy as it struggles to gain influence with the fast-food giants.

"It's a global economy, so they're saying, 'Why not go overseas to make it into a global fight?"' said Lowell Turner, a professor of international labor relations at Cornell University. "They're trying to create a global protest movement."

The movement's organizers said there would be protests in 30 cities in Japan, 20 in Britain, five in Brazil and three in India. The effort's strategists point to some fast-growing overseas markets as vulnerable targets for corporations like McDonald's that have begun relying more heavily on foreign revenue, now that domestic fast-food sales are languishing.

To help propel the effort, a labor federation with 12 million workers in 126 countries -- the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations -- met in New York last week. It brought together union officials from more than two dozen countries, many of them with thriving, powerful labor organizations, to throw their weight behind Thursday's protests.

Massimo Frattini, international coordinator of the federation's restaurant division, said restaurant workers in Europe, Asia and Latin America were eager to join in to help both their own causes and that of their United States allies.

"Fast-food workers in many other parts of the world face the same corporate policies -- low pay, no guaranteed hours and no benefits," said Mary Kay Henry, the president of the Service Employees International Union.

But such overseas cooperation does not always guarantee success. The United Automobile Workers has asked unions in Japan and other nations to pressure Nissan to adopt a less hostile stance toward its unionization campaign at Nissan's plant in Mississippi. …

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