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FAST FOOD ALIENATION: SERVICE WORK AND UNIONISM IN BRITISH COLUMBIA, 1968-1 998
Jeremy Strachan Mil loy B.A., Trent University, 2005
THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
ln the History Department
@ Jeremy Milloy 2007
SIMON FRASER UNIVERSITY
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Since Wor ld Wor l l , serv ice work hos become the moior employment
sector in North Americo. One of the most recognizoble forms i t tqkes is in the
fost food industry, o mult i-bi l l ion dol lor business with outlets ol l over the globe.
Lit t le hos been writ ten obout the history of this work, centrol to the functioning
of the g lobol economy ond o key port of the move f rom on industr io l economy
to o consumer one. This move hos chonged work drost icol ly ond ro l led bock
the l imited borgoin of postwor Fordism.
This thesis historicizes fost food work by exomining BC's White Spot
choin, which unl ike o lmost ony other hos been unionized for over three
decodes. Drowing on union records ond orol interviews, i t onolyzes fost food
unionism, evoluotes orgonizing in the sector, ond drows out workploce
dynomics qnd processes; orguing thot lobour proct ices in th is sector hove been
cruciol in moking work more exploitot ive.
Keywords: fast food; labour history; Fordism; service work; unions
Subject Terms: Fast Food Restaurants - Canada; Labour Unions -
Restaurant Employees - Canada - 2}th Century
i l l
To Soroh, for everything
I hod heqrd q lot of greot th ings qbout Mqrk Leier before I come to SFU,
but he st i l l monoged to exceed my expectot ions. For his knowledge,
encourogement , r igor , good humor , ond cooch ing , lom t ru ly g ro te fu l . lom
olso thonkfu l for the chol lenges ond support of fered by El ise Chenier , ond to
Stephen McBr ide for being q percept ive ond engoged externol exqminer.
My reseorch wos oided enormously by the stoff ot UBC's Rore Books
onds Specio l Col lect ions, whi le my progress through the progrom wos enobled
ond encourqged by the stoff ot SFU's History Deportment. I must olso thonk
those workers qnd trode unionists who grociously took t ime for on interview.
Support , encourogement, loughter , ond inte l lectuol s t imulot ion were
provided by my fr iends, both ot SFU qnd outside. Thonk you. Thonk you to my
fomi ly , John, Mol ly , Clore, Br idget , ond M-J, whose love qnd encourogement
hove susto ined me qnd whose exomples hove inspi red me. This work is o lso in
memory of my mother, Cotherine.
Finol ly, this work is dedicoted to Soroh, with boundless groti tude for
I om lucky ond proud you shore youryour love in ol l i ts mony monifestqt ions.
l i fe with me, ond I with you.
Approvol Abstroct Dedicotion Acknowledgements
Chopter 1: Introduction: Jobs Of lhe Fulure
Chopter 2: Serving, Sweoting, Smiling ond Selling: Work of White Spof ond
Toble Of Contents
Chopte r 3: " l Didn't Even Know We Hod A Union"
Chopter 4: "l Guess This Kindo Pufs Sguomish On fhe Mop
Iokes On McDonolds
Chopfer 5: Conclusion : Everyone's Jobs
": A Rebuih Union 65
i i i i i iv Y
Introduction: “Jobs Of The Future”
Look at the past serving the future. The men sitting at the table in the
photograph served by one embodiment of their industry’s history. Confident
and relaxed in expensive suits, they can enjoy the service of the bearded
prospector as an amusing throwback to the old days of Canadian restaurants.
The days when food was strictly a necessary proposition, something sold to
camp workers in mining towns, factory workers in the big cities, or in Chinese
restaurants dotting the small towns from coast to coast. The days of running
hardscrabble, subsistence businesses are over. They can laugh because they
have seen the future of their trade, the future of the Canadian economy, and
the future looks very different.1
Harvey Smith, the youthful, crew-cut man in the centre, is the president
of the Canadian Restaurant Association. Bonanza ’65, the trade show he put
together, drew over 20,000 delegates to Exhibition Park in Toronto to meet,
greet, and be wowed by 500 displays erected by 275 firms. Even better, it’s
getting front page coverage in the Globe and Mail’s business section, a must
read for Canada’s elite, above the fold next to articles on the big players in
pulp, airlines, and auto manufacturing. His comments to the Globe reporter are
fitting for a man, and an industry, in a confident, expansive mood.
Smith and the man to his right in the picture, Arthur Somerville, asserted
that restaurants would be one of Canada’s leading employment engines over
the next two decades, and that the industry was already of such importance
that its fundamentals needed to be taught at the university level. The biggest
challenge facing this rosy future was the ability to attract the right workers.
Smith said better people needed to be attracted with higher wages and better
technology. Somerville said of the importance of workers, “in the past, many
1 Roger Newman, “Restaurant Industry Forseen As Mainstay For Jobs Of Future,” Globe and Mail, 23 March 1965. The headline also is the source for this chapter’s title.
establishments have just muddled through, but you can no longer be in the
restaurant business just because you make the best hamburgers in the world.”2