Since its creation in 2010, ReAct Transnational’s organizers have helped unionize workers in a several countries and in many sectors of the economy. We implement methods inherited from the European and North American labour movements: broad, direct action to force negotiation with decision-makers. And we also promote innovative union action to bring previously ununionized workers into the labour movement.
For example in Europe we see the development of the function of "delegate-organizer" within traditional trade union organizations as a counterweight to the increasing institutionalization of industrial relations, where trade union action is too often a victim of the rhythms of the politics of social dialogue. And new forms of work require new methods of collective organization. Too many minority, women and young people can only find work as subcontractors, self-employed, seasonal and informal workers. Here our goal is to find new ways to ensure that they can win through collective action, the key to the renewal of trade-unionism.
McDonald's workers organize to stop discrimination
Mobilization pays off: first victories for young workers
With both current and former employee members, McDroits works to end discrimination at all McDonald's restaurants. To demonstrate the systemic nature of harassment, McDroits members decided to launch a call for employee testimony to document on-the-job discrimination, including moral and sexual harassment, rape, sexism and racist acts. Within a few months nearly 150 workers contacted McDroits to tell about the hell they experience at McDonalds.
Lucas, now a McDroits organizer, said: "Recently one of the managers who has been working at McDonald's for 10 years told me: 'Your boobs are a lot like my chick’s, you must be good for a fuck.' Or Sarah tells the story of when once she cried at work, her associate said to her, "here’s another babe who bawls just because ofme "… "these chicks who try to put one over on me, it just makes me laugh ". And when she objected, the he replied: "anyway the manager, she won’t do a thing about it… no risk they’ll blame me!". Most McDonalds workers are convinced that management systematically puts women up front at the counters to "please the customers", and assigns the men to the back kitchen. When it comes to harassment, victims are usually sidelined while aggressors go unpunished.
On October 16, 2020, union employees accompanied by staff of the French CGT, by allied civil rights organizations and journalists, scotched the 150 employee statements collected by ReAct on the windows of the posh headquarters of McDonalds France, and lifted the omerta on their daily life at work. After this McDroits representatives were finally, and politely received by management. They left the meeting with McDroits’ first labor victories:
An end to mandatory skirts for women employees
A protocol for alerting and investigating workplace harassment
The naming of referral staff to investigate sexual and gender-based harassment in all corporate and franchise restaurants across France
Training of all staff to raise awareness of harassment and discrimination
Respect for transgender people's pronouns and first names
Suitable uniforms with the right size for all staff
Since 2021, McDroits has continued its work mobilizing young workers and exposing harassment, pushing this giant multinational firm to go further in its commitments worldwide. In September 2022, Mathilde was invited to testify at the European Parliament, alongside activist workers from Brazil and the United States: "We employees know that in reality the protocols they put in place against harassment only serve to discredit the victims. These measures are not just insufficient, they are really dangerous." Tanya, an activist in New Orleans, says "it's not just one restaurant that's the problem (harassment at McDonalds) … is a global, systemic problem."
McDroits: A Vehicle for Unionization
Building McDroits has given ReAct Transnational a chance to test old and new methods for successful collective action by putting them in the hands of young workers, otherwise far-removed from labor unions. ReAct organizers bring students and other young workers together by seeking them out where they are on campuses, at parties, on line and such. Together the workers discover they are not alone; they share what angers them most about their “McJobs”. With McDroits, ReAct Transnational has demonstrated an approach for organizing collective action that unifies and mobilizes young workers. Our methods are less risky and less costly than long, official strikes. And they work! McDroits is now widely known in France as a resource for young workers, ready to act to improve conditions directly at their restaurants. Many McDroits members have gone on to join traditional French labor unions.
McJobs under assault everywhere from the United States to France
In 2012, a few dozen fast-food workers launched an unprecedented strike movement in New York. Exasperated by the miserable wages that forced them to do several jobs to earn a decent income, they demanded a significant increase in the minimum wage that will put an end to the situation of millions of poor workers. That was the beginning of the Fight for $15. With the support of many citizens’ groups alliances and from the American union the SEIU, the movement gained momentum and brought together hundreds of thousands of people. This movement won an increase in the minimum wage in many states and cities of the United States (California, Massachusetts, New York, Illinois, Florida...).
But to win at the scale of a multinational, it takes allies in all the countries where it operates. The second most profitable country for McDonalds is France. American and French unions are developing those alliances: this is the context in which ReAct Transnational has been asked to use its experience to help unionize McDonalds in Europe.
McDonalds is the largest employer of students in France. Thus it is on university campuses that the ReAct Transnational team can work with a majority of employees. A campus McDonalds employees’ organizing meeting in February 2020 identified key employee grievances, and McDonalds employees began the drive which led to the creation of “Mc Droits” (McRights): a union for employee rights and the end of discrimination at McDonalds.
Facts about Mc Donald's
One of the world's leading commercial real estate owners
$96 billion in revenue in 2018
Nearly 2 million employees
One in ten young French people aged 18 to 35 has worked at McDonald's
The largest employer of students in France
80% employee turnover in 2021
As the second largest private employer in the world behind Walmart, we all know at least one person who has had a "McJob". In France, McDonald's employs more than 75,000 people directly or through franchises. The report “Unhappy Meal” (EPSU , EFFAT, War on Want and SEIU, 2015) exposed a tax evasion scheme that put McDonald's at the top of the list of tax evasion in France.
To learn more about the McDonald's System, find here the report published by ReAct Transnational in 2018.
On 18 May 2020, an international coalition of trade unions (the International Union of Food Workers (IUF), EFFAT, SEIU) filed a complaint against McDonald's with the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), accusing the brand of allowing systematic sexual harassment to proliferate.
In 2021, ReAct Transnational published the McProfits report (see opposite ), detailing how McDonald's benefits from French public aid, to the detriment of its workers . Benefitting from documentation provided by Unions – and under pressure from the press - the French Government conducted an inquiry into tax fraud at McDonalds France.
In 2022, McDroits and the French Union CGT held a public meeting to mark the ensuing, historic 1.245 billion Euros fine levied on McDonalds for tax fraud. That was when they also put McDonalds on notice to produce their “vigilance plan ” or face consequences. French law requires large companies to lay out a detailed, annual plan to ensure the respect of human rights and the environment throughout the corporate supply chain, including overseeing franchises.
Cameroon: Castel’s Somdiaa/Socusam seasonal sugar cane workers win a strike
Optimize profits by denying seasonal workers their labor rights
Somdiaa’s Sosucam sugar cane plantations cover nearly 25,000 hectares, and employ nearly 8,000 workers in Cameroon. Nearly 90% of Socucam's workforce is now temporary: seasonal or subcontract workers with undated contracts or no contract at all! They are “at will” employees with no enforceable rights, no guarantee of rehire next month or next year. Kaoba, an agricultural labourer is one of them: "I have been working at SOSUCAM as a seasonal worker for more than twenty years".
Many work more than six months of the year as seasonals, which is illegal under Cameroon labor law. As temporary workers they earn lower salaries, have no health coverage, receive lower quota-fulfillment bonuses than do full employees, seniority is not recognized for seasonal workers in rehires, and the list goes on. The basic salary of seasonal workers is €80 per month (52,000 FCFA). "As a seasonal worker, I am not housed in the SOSUCAM camp, so I receive a small bonus of 5,000 FCFA ($7.50). But supervisors get a housing bonus of 35,000 FCFA" Issa, cutter.
The Castel group’s SOMDIAA subsidiary has made these disguised “at will” day work into a system. Somdiaa’s own figures show that over 60% of its workers in 8 African countries have similar temporary contracts. This is not an isolated case in the agribusiness sector.
L'organisation collective face à la précarité
Les saisonnier·es de la Sosucam ne sont pas représenté·es par les syndicats existants, dirigés par des travailleur·euses permanent·es, en CDI, et avec de meilleures conditions de travail. Ils et elles ont donc décidé de s'organiser, avec l'appui de ReAct Transnational. Des organisateurs accompagnent depuis 2022 les travailleur·euses des plantations de canne à sucre en Haute Sanaga afin de construire le Syndicat OnEstEnsemble des Saisonniers de la Sosucam.
Via du porte à porte là où les travailleur·euses vivent, en allant à leur rencontre là où ils et elles se retrouvent en soirée ou le dimanche, en s'appuyant sur les leaders des différentes communautés pour qu'ils et elles parlent à leurs collègues dans leur langue maternelle, en tenant des réunions en non-mixité pour faciliter l'engagement des femmes, les organisateurs appuient la construction du syndicat. Il rassemble aujourd'hui plus de 150 membres, tandis que son bureau exécutif, composé uniquement de saisonnier·es, a été élu lors de son assemblée fondatrice en février 2022. Le syndicat a quant à lui été légalisé en octobre 2022, permettant à ses membres de mener de nouvelles activités.
The main demands of SOMDIAA’s Sosucam Seasonal Workers' Union
Health coverage for seasonal workers
Eliminate at-will work and subcontracting
Equal working conditions for permanent and temporary workers
Respect for labour law (labour code, collective agreement, international labour conventions) and the law on trade union rights
Improving the legal framework for workers and trade unions in Cameroon
Increase the “daily ration bonus”, so as to ensure food security for workers
Make the “on-call bonus” the same for all workers temporary and permanent; equal risk compensation and working conditions for night work
Two Union strikes - March and April 2022 - mobilized several thousand workers. They won the following concessions from Sosucam:
Protective equipment (gloves, rain coats, boots and leggings) for 1200 agricultural labourers on the plantation
Improving access by all workers to company medical centers
The suspension of new cutting techniques and quotas imposed by management to increase production
An increase in the cutting bonus from 175 to 250 FCFA
A new end-of-campaign bonus of 15,000 FCFA
Sosucam labor relations commits to recruitment of a social mediator from among current harvest workers
Cancelling company sanctions on the 180 seasonal workers who challenged objectives, which led to the first strike and the creation of the Union
Building a union for “shadow” and gig workers in cleaning, security and home help
Between 2016 and 2020, ReAct Transnational led a successful organizing project in and around the French city of Lyon to promote collective action and unionization in sectors where traditional French unions have long struggled to organize. The campaign helped many “shadow” service workers unionize, and demand respect for rights often denied them at large, well-known French service companies.
The project’s goal was to mobilize and bring together “shadow” workers, isolated by gig platform and subcontract managers. Poor and alone they may live paycheck to paycheck, and are often targets for wage and benefits theft: They are housekeepers in hotels, janitors in shopping malls, retirement homes and hospitals, security guards in commercial or industrial areas, they provide home help.
Early on, ReAct organizers met Asha, an Armenian immigrant, in front of the First Class Hotel where she worked. She had signed for 50 hours monthly paid at only 485 €, but she actually works at the hotel 3 times that many hours. Sara cleans rooms at the Ibis airport Hotel for up to 12 consecutive days, no days off. Foulemata was fired on the spot for talking to colleagues about unpaid overtime. Ahmed worked for 2 months as a security guard at Primark with no contract, no pay slip and finally, no salary. Mamadou worked 12 hours a day and had more than 80 extra hours unpaid even as the Christmas holidays approached and the hours are even longer. Aminata recounts the unpaid disguised on-call duty in home care.
This helplessness at work is a daily reality for tens of thousands. ReAct Transnational organizes workers to counter it through daily visits to workplaces, through face-to-face home visits, with small meetings to build confidence, to plan collective action; by training workers in negotiation, by outmaneuvering management threats and winning victories small and large. For 3 years, ReAct Transnational worked to unionize hundreds of shadow workers. Most of them had their introduction to labor action when they won a short strike at Lyon’s prestigious Part Dieu shopping centers. They won concessions from the giants Carrefour or Primark, from the famous Louvre Hotel chain and from a private medical clinic nearby.
Find out how individual anger can be turned into collective strength.
Read: Balayons les abus, Marielle Benchehboune, Syllepse, 2020.
The book "Let’s sweep away abuses" describes how ReAct Transnational is rethinking and testing new methods of union action in unorganized sectors of the economy, including the personal services, security and janitorial sectors.