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McDeath

Last December with the holidays season many families around the world prepared to celebrate together yet in Peru there are two families that didn’t have anything to celebrate. Alexandra Porras Inga and Gabriel Campos Zapata were two workers at a McDonald’s restaurant in Lima, Peru who died this month of electrocution while mopping the floor without the security measures proper to task. The news has shocked Peru a country who has been governed mostly by right-leaning parties who have crushed the worker rights movement and yet surprisingly the coverage even from the conservative publications has been more sympathetic to the victims than to McDonald’s which is switch in the pro-business mindset of the Peruvian media.

Peru is a country where deaths and injuries in jobs are quite common yet the tragedy at McDonald’s had some elements that have captured the imagination of regular Peruvians and generate a sense of indignation toward the fast food industry. Both Alexander Porras Inga and Gabriel Campos Zapata were very young having finish high school a couple of years ago plus the fact that it happened at McDonald’s one of the symbols of modern capitalism.

Politicians in Peru mostly on the right have always mention that a key to development was formalization of economy so big corporations like McDonald’s and other fast food chains are generally cited as an example of the modernization of the country yet after the accident there is new scrutiny over them. The government has closed several fast food restaurants over mainly exposed wired which could cause electrocutions to both workers and consumers. Many former workers of fast food chains after the tragedy have been telling their stories of low-pay jobs and exploitation how the didn’t get pay for extra hours and bad treatment from management. Even a conservative leaning publication published an op-ed calling modern slavery the labor conditions on fast food restaurants.

McDonald’s is particularly on the eye of activists. The families of the deceased workers have said that the company hasn’t communicated with them despite the fact that the company have say otherwise yet is difficult to trust a corporation that has a culture of secrecy it is still unclear at what moment exactly of that tragic morning of the 15th of december the young workers died. The company still doesn’t release the security cameras. The family of both victims are suing McDonald’s and the government for failing to regulate to labor risks. Activists all around Peru have been protesting in front of McDonald’s restaurants with signs that read “McDeath”.

While this is a shifting moment for Peru which is waking up from neoliberal dream and realize that big corporations are many times more exploitative of their workers than many segments of the informal economy the problems of McDonald’s are not limited to Peru. In many parts of the world McDonald’s workers have been striking for better wages and also fighting the culture of sexual harassment inside the company.

While McDonald’s has been heralded by some as a success story of a free market economy the real history of the company is much more complicated. McJobs is a term described for low quality jobs with bad payment and there are a lot of reasons for that. While McDonald’s keeps being a highly profitable corporation the truth is that in the United States where it was founded it still depends on government welfare since the jobs are poorly paid it is the taxpayers who have to fund the public aid which  allows their profit margins to be so high. But that’s not the only form of subsidies it receives, the farm bill spends billions on subsidies on corn which is used to feed chicken and cow the main ingredients in the fast food industry.

The tragedy of McDonald’s in Peru is the same tragedy of McDonald’s all over the world that low paid and many times part-time workers that are forced to do extra hours without payment and work even when bad functioning equipment could put their lives at risk. While many workers of McDonald’s and other fast food companies face poverty their CEOs and shareholders have become extremely rich this isn’t a result of the free market but of corporate state capitalism under which the winners and losers have been chosen by the government.

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Camilo Gómez is a freelance writer and host of the History and Politics podcast.

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