"Supersize My Pay" Documentary - Any critiques?

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Chilli Sauce
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Nov 7 2012 00:32
"Supersize My Pay" Documentary - Any critiques?

Just saw it. Thought it was pretty good, had some rousing protest scenes and I love the idea of just going into a building and calling out the workers.

There were obviously downsides. For one, much of the focus was on union officials. The ratio of camera time for union officials v. camera time for union members was actually pretty shocking.

Secondly, there was no discussion of the on the shopfloor organising. All these shops seemed to just magically had members which officials and activists could magically walk in and call them out. I mean, I'm sure they have their reasons for that, but I think if we want to make labour documentary it should give a realistic picture of the organising that went on before the big sexy actions. Without that, it's really easy to think, 'Well in x place, the workers are just more militant. I mean just look, all of them are union members and they strike just by being called out. Shit that my co-workers aren't like that...'

Plus there was a line about, 'they can't punish you for striking, it's illegal'. Horrible advice.

I'm especially curious to hear from, if possible, from NZ folks who might have seen how the campaign functionted on the ground..

wojtek
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Nov 7 2012 00:54

http://libcom.org/library/super-size-my-pay-fast-food-workers-new-zealan...

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Chilli Sauce
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Nov 7 2012 01:06

Thanks W, that's really helpful.

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happychaos
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Nov 7 2012 03:12

Hi Chilli Sauce,

Funny, I was just writing a post on SupersizeMyPay.com for the forum post on fast food organising when I saw this thread.

I always considered it a political mistake and felt ashamed that I never wrote up a report on the dispute. I was heavily involved and played a leading role in the dispute, designing the strategy, organising and co-ordinating the campaign.

I was pretty disillusioned by the time I quit Unite. I was upset with officials involved in the campaign and with anarchists who hadn't been very supportive and in some cases had been hostile to the campaign. One positive outcome of this disillusionment was that I found Libcom, but I too quickly dismissed LibCom as somewhere more interested in theory than practice.

The article wojtek refers to has been updated. That version contains a number of mistakes. Unfortunately the new article isn't available online, but the author told me it should be back up next year. I don't personally agree with the main political arguement of his article, but it is still the best available overview of the dispute.

Despite my role in the dispute, I've never actually seen that documentary. I refused to watch it. I met the documentary makers and while I really liked them, wasn't impressed by their approach. The directors are socialist comrades from Aussie, but were more interested in focusing on the role of socialists as organisers in the dispute than the important stuff. Your comments vindicates my refusal to watch it!

Looking at their intentions positively, they were probably trying to use SSMP and socialists involvement to encourage socialists back home to be more involved in industrial disputes. Looking at it in a negative light, perhaps it was simply propaganda for their brand of socialism.

In the meantime, the real value that could have come from a documentary on the dispute was lost. In fact there was actually another independent documentary funded by the union, which despite not being finished, was really good and had lots of promise. Sadly it has never been made public.

I'd like to watch the one you saw now, so it would be cool if you could flick us a link to it. I've got very little hair left, so I'm no so worried about watching it this time.

SO

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Chilli Sauce
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Nov 7 2012 10:21

Thanks for that Simono, really insightful. I really think you should do a write up about your involvement in the campaign. In fact, here's a deal: you do your write-up and I'll do a proper review of the documentary as a blog entry.

I'm also really curious if you appear in the film, it sounds like you probably do.

In any case, I saw the film at a screening which had a discussion afterwards, a lot of which focused on the ongoing organizing efforts of the retail/service/restaurants workers who were present. It was good, despite there being some very different politics amongst those present.

I just had a quick look, however, and I can't find it available online to watch or purchase. I'm sure it's out there somewhere and you'd probably be able to download it as a torrent. Maybe one of our more tech-savvy comrades can point you in the right direction?

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Nov 7 2012 11:35

I'm pretty sure I'm not in it. I tried to stay out of it, I was annoyed with what was being said. The fact people speaking didn't talk about how things were organised, pretty much summed up some of my frustration at the time. - SO

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Nov 8 2012 10:51

Simono, there was one thing I wanted to ask you about. In the review that W links to above, it says:

Quote:
McCarten signs the deal without consulting the union rank and file; they aren t even given the chance to vote on the offer presented by Restaurant Brands...

A deal is signed for all 7,000 workers who work for Restaurant Brands... they move the pay scale for those under 18 to 90% of the adult rate

However, in the film, there is a scene where the workers look like they're being given a private ballot on exactly that (90% of adult rates). Now I'm sure that could be, eh, creatively edited and that the union would have their reasons for that, but I'd be curious if you remember how all that went down.

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Nov 8 2012 22:35

There was a vote, but it only involved a very tiny number of people, mainly a few key delegates. I can't remember why this was but remember being really pissed off. It was one of the reasons I left.

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Nov 30 2012 03:14

A view on SupersizeMyPay.com by a socialist organiser involved in the dispute:
http://anticapitaliste.blogspot.co.nz/2006/05/beat-brands_30.html

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Chilli Sauce
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Nov 30 2012 09:58

Thanks for posting that.

This is the most interesting bit for me:

Quote:
Many workers had doubts about the Yuletime ceasefire, especially with the momentum we had built up in the weeks previously. But we were committed to bargain in good faith with RB, and so we suspended the actions.

Now who is "we" here?

For those who haven't read the article, it's written by a paid organiser who starts off the article about the radical nature of the Unite union. But there seems to be a definite switch at this point. Perhaps it hints at the switch to bureacracy and, as other critiques have alluded to, foreshadows the point where Unite eventually began to quash the self-organisation and wildcat strikes of restauarant workers on the shopfloor.

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Nov 30 2012 13:36

Its a bit more complicated than that, but certainly none of us were happy about the "ceasefire". When I say "we", I think I'm also talking about the same "we" as Joe: the paid officials.

I was as uncomfortable with the ceasefire, as I am with the simplistic notion that bureaucrats just call off strikes to mediate capitalism and sell industrial peace.

When we simplify things, and ignore issues, we fail to come up with our own strategies to deal with the reality of organising which affects everyone, regardless of their political colours.

There is always the question of workers ability to win during different stages in a dispute and where the "peak" is, which there inevitable will be. (This is of course the argument put forward by libertarians who support collective agreements, even if they restrict strikes like they do automatically in NZ.)

Our solution, of course, should be that these decisions are made by as many people involved as possible, that they have as much input as possible. This not only means workers control their dispute, but it means where there isn't a win, because people own their actions and decisions, they can learn more lessons than simply blaming it on the union leaders.

Both workers and bureaucrats will make decisions about ending action where they feel the union is loosing ground, which will inevitably annoy some of the more militant workers.

Personally, an important tool to deal with this problem is to have meetings before a dispute where frank and honest discussions are had about objectives/milestones that need to be achieved to demonstrate the groups strength. These should be reviewed during the dispute and should be used to measure how we are going. An important part of this is numbers on the picket, numbers crossing the line, how much money in the fighting fund, how many people are turning up to the picket, how many aren't without reasonable excuse, etc etc.

Certainly, near the end of SupersizeMyPay.com when the union wanted to accept the deal, I wasn't particularly happy about it. However, I did accept, that we had run out of steam. This is mainly because a) the dispute relied on paid officials (which is probably likely for any fast food campaign, although I think I could do it better now) and b) we had used up most of our organising capital, c) organising work wasn't happening and this meant d) we could damage the widely held perception that we were a lot stronger than we really were, and as the Art of War says, don't let your opponents know your weakness if you don't have to. In other words, we had reached out peak, perhaps gone past it.

I still had a strategy up my sleeve, but it wasn't to be.

I suppose we do need to keep in mind most young workers got up to a $5 an hour pay rise, easily the highest pay rises for workers in NZ in the past decade.

SO

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Nov 30 2012 16:22

SO, I'm not totally sure I understand those first three paragraphs?

Did you write that article you linked to above?

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Nov 30 2012 23:02

Ooops, was really late at night.

A socialist called Joe wrote the above article. He was a paid union official during the dispute. I was an unpaid volunteer.

Quote:
Its a bit more complicated than that, but certainly none of us were happy about the "ceasefire". When I say "we", I think I'm also talking about the same "we" as Joe: the paid officials.

We were pissed off that there was a ceasefire. The people who were pissed off were the union officials. There weren't many activists actively involved beyond their workplace, I'm sure they were pissed off too, I can't remember.

Quote:
I was as uncomfortable with the ceasefire, as I am with the simplistic notion that bureaucrats just call off strikes to mediate capitalism and sell industrial peace.

Sometimes, people call off action, or sign deals, not simply because bureaucrats want to sign deals/mediate capitalism/retain their relationship with the bosses, but because there is a lul in the fight or its loosing momentum.

Quote:
When we simplify things, and ignore issues, we fail to come up with our own strategies to deal with the reality of organising which affects everyone, regardless of their political colours.

Basically I was probably reading into your post too much. But if we always assume union bosses simply sell workers out, without understanding the nature of disputes power rising and falling, having a peak etc, and there being a best time to solidify wins in writing or whatever, then we won't be able to take that reality into account and come up with our own solutions. Or we won't be able to deal with it when it happens.

Hope that's a little clearer!

Simon

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Dec 1 2012 08:07

Ah. It does.