The campaign to stop the infamous corporate bully McDonald’s from setting up shop in Tecoma has become another symbol of the battle between real democracy and capitalist greed.
To residents of Tecoma in Melbourne’s Dandenong ranges, their home feels like a bastion from the profit-driven rat race, where multinationals have destroyed the environment, and human relationships. “Burger Off” campaigners think McDonald’s record of environmental destruction, disregard for health, and exploitation of workers has no place in their community.
In 2011 the local council received 11,700 written objections to McDonald’s plans and voted against the application. But VCAT, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, overruled the council decision, deeming local objections “irrelevant”. The issue immediately became one of democracy. How could widespread local objections be deemed “irrelevant”?
Massive community protests followed. But it took civil disobedience and union muscle to literally stop McDonald’s in their tracks. When McDonald’s finally moved in to begin demolition of the pre-existing building on 1 July this year, protestors blockaded the site for three days.
As a result, the CFMEU pulled all its unionised workers off site, citing respect for the rights of the community to protest and OHS concerns. As of 4 July there has been an official union position endorsed by the Victorian Trades Hall Council asking workers not to work on the site. Daily protests continue, with at least two people staffing a picket line during business hours.
But McDonald’s continues to bully and intimidate. It has issued writs against eight protestors, claiming potential damages of over $300,000 for delays to construction.
In the latest phase of the campaign, delegates from Tecoma travelled to McDonald’s headquarters in Chicago. They gained international media attention when they handed over a petition with nearly 100,000 signatures to it.
The members of the delegation returned to a packed out community meeting. They reported on the links they forged with American McDonald’s workers’ strike campaign to increase the $7.50 an hour minimum wage. Reports of McDonald’s employees that work 80 hour weeks and are still unable to pay the bills brought home to the meeting that this kind of corporate greed must be stopped everywhere, not just in Tecoma.
McDonald’s are yet to retract their plans to build in Tecoma. But as other campaigns, like the effort to stop the woodchipping giant Gunns from destroying Tasmanian forests, have shown, people power can stop corporate greed.
By Lucy Honan