Abi Wilkinson writes:
It seems clear that certain Labour MPs are keen to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn at any cost.
Were this not the case, it’s unlikely that something as minor as the decision to ban a fast food retailer from lobbying at the party’s forthcoming conference would have prompted the kind of fierce attacks the Labour leader has suffered in recent days.
Backbencher Wes Streeting has been a particularly vocal critic.
When the news initially broke he told the Sun that declining a McDonald’s request for a £30,000 exhibition stand at the Labour party conference “smacks of a snobby attitude towards fast food restaurants and people who work or eat at them.
“McDonald’s might not be the trendy falafel bar that some people in politics like to hang out at but it’s enjoyed by families across the country.”
The attempt to present falafel as a symbol of metropolitan elite decadence is somewhat undermined by numerous old tweets in which he discusses his own enthusiasm for the Middle Eastern snack.
Similarly, the suggestion that Corbyn is snubbing McDonald’s because of anti-fast food snobbery is fairly unconvincing given that he recently presented a prize at the British Kebab Awards.
It does fit a particular narrative that has been developed around the Labour leader, though, which seems to be the purpose of such slurs.
The McDonald’s ban wasn’t actually a diktat handed down by Corbyn’s office, however, but rather a ruling by the business board of Labour’s national executive, a committee that the leader doesn’t even sit on.
The justification had nothing to do with McDonald’s menu choices and was far more carefully reasoned than critics had supposed.
The Labour party-affiliated Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union is currently fighting for recognition from McDonald’s.
Union leader Ronnie Draper directly asked NEC members to support this struggle by refusing McDonald’s conference access unless it agreed to discuss union recognition.
The union says that so far the company has repeatedly refused to even meet their representatives.
Though the ban was prompted by events in the UK, McDonald’s anti-trade unionism and poor treatment of workers is also a global issue.
In the US, for example, dozens of former McDonald’s workers have filed cases alleging they were “fired or intimidated for participating in union organising and in a national protest movement calling for higher wages.”
In Brazil, the Senate’s human rights committee has heard claims that McDonald’s franchisees “denied workers’ pay for extra time worked, [didn’t] allow them to join unions and employed teenagers in their kitchens without protective gear, causing some to suffer serious burns.”
Despite all of this, some of the most vocal critics of McDonald’s exclusion from the conference seem to have simply adapted their arguments and doubled down in support of the fast food giant.
Bizarrely, we now have the spectacle of some Labour MPs siding with a multibillion-pound corporation over trade union members affiliated to the party who are fighting for a true living wage and basic employment rights.
In the New Statesman, Wes Streeting praised McDonald’s “willingness to engage” on employment rights issues – seemingly unaware of how such a statement will read to workers desperately fighting for union recognition.
Streeting contends that it’s better to engage in “dialogue with businesses” than to enter into any sort of conflict.
And while he is right that cooperation can often be the most effective way of getting things done, sometimes conflict is necessary.
Sometimes refusing to work with a company is the best way to get the message across that their behaviour is not acceptable.
If Labour MPs don’t recognise the utility of collective action – in the form of strikes, boycotts or bans – they don’t understand the history of their own party.
Neutrality isn’t always an option, especially when a trade union has specifically asked for support.
Allowing a company to have an official presence at your party conference, to schmooze with senior figures and attempt to exercise political influence, isn’t a neutral act.
Lobbyists are prepared to cough up so much cash to reserve a place for a reason.
At the very least, allowing a company to purchase an exhibition stand signals a level of tacit approval. At most, they might get their money’s worth and actually sway the opinions of key decision-makers.
It matters who has a seat at the table.
And Labour is right to take a stand over McDonald’s refusal to engage with trade unions.