Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Burgers with a bad taste

Two hamburger stories in today's Guardian.

Burger chain McDonald's ties 9 out of 10 workers to zero-hours contracts, we learn. It's Britain's biggest food chain and has 83,000 staff on these exploitative terms. And, no surprise, employers claim the economy needs this sort of flexibility.

I can't really improve on holzy's comment on the Guardian story :

Funny, ain't it ... I mean, the 30+ years of endlessly expanding layers of management and it turns out none of these idiots have a clue how many staff they might need on any given day.

It was prompted by the Institute of Directors attacking calls for a ban on zero-hours contracts, and claiming the UK could be in the same situation as Italy or Spain without a flexible labour market.

Today's Guardian cartoon
A typical clause in these contracts (from another fast food chain) reads: "The company has no duty to provide you with work. Your hours of work are not predetermined and will be notified to you on a weekly basis as soon as is reasonably practicable in advance by your store manager. The company has the right to require you to work varied or extended hours from time to time."

A strike by McDonalds workers in New York points the way forward. But first the workers need to be organised into a union and I know that’s a tough row to hoe.

The other story was the frying of the world's first lab-grown beefburger, and the crucial question is: how does it taste? So-so appears to be the answer since at the press conference where it was launched the promoters refused a request for a randomly picked member of the audience to sample it. Though of course that’s not actually the crucial question, is it? The crucial question is should The Guardian have devoted a two-page spread to the event funded by a billionaire American businessman? And will it save the world? A Guardian Poverty Matters Blog lambasts the experiment on the grounds that heavily processed food developed at a phenomenal cost in hi-tech western laboratories is the last thing the world's poorest people need to keep them alive. The true solution is for agriculture to reconnect itself with small farmers.

A cameraman films from a big screen at the press conference as a £250,000 lab burger fries
But maybe this misses the point. If there has to be meat eating, and if there has to be McDonalds – both those if’s need exploring but no space here to do it – maybe lab meat is the answer to the problems this entails: animal welfare, land use, biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions. It's all in this Guardian background to today’s burger story.