“To every worker out there who is stepping up collectively to demand change – our solidarity is with you. You are amazing, and inspiring so many others to step up too.”Sarah Woolley, BFAWU General Secretary
Sarah Woolley, General Secretary of the BFAWU, spoke at the #PeoplesBudget event on Monday evening. We are pleased to re-publish her speech in full below.
Thanks to Arise Festival for the invitation to speak tonight.
I want to start off by sending mine and the BFAWU’s absolute solidarity to the BMA and HCSA Junior Doctors who are out on strike today and the next few days, the GMB members at Amazon in Coventry and Mersey care NHS foundation trust, the Unite members in Diageo and to the PCS members, the NEU members and RMT members that have strike days coming up this week – the rallies on Wednesday I am sure will be epic!
And to every worker out there who is stepping up collectively to demand change our solidarity is with you – you are amazing and inspiring so many others to step up too.
To every activist who is working hard to challenge discrimination against disabled people, migrants and refugees and the many other campaigns that are ongoing locally and nationally, we stand in solidarity with you too.
And to those who may be watching who aren’t in a trade union, but want to organise in your workplace initially but hopefully as we grow communities too, come together with co-workers to challenge bad practices or push for a decent pay rise, get in touch with Organise Now. We have over 150 volunteers who are ready to help coach you through making a difference in your workplace and it starts with talking to those around you.
The Bakers Food and Allied Workers’ Union represents people throughout the food industry, our members keep the nation fed and are part of the biggest manufacturing unit in the UK, yet when it comes to government investment our industry is at the bottom of the pile, left behind by the government in favour of other industries which means companies are left to use profits – if indeed they make them – to pay for new initiatives, such as being greener, to repair machinery or purchase new pieces of kit to keep up with competitors and the pressure from supermarkets and consumers to produce more for less.
This means that the pot then available for workers’ terms and conditions is squeezed and squeezed, because they can’t continue to push high price increases onto consumers, they will go elsewhere which will have a negative impact overall and shareholders aren’t going to want to lose out on their profits now are they meaning our members’ wages, terms and conditions are pushed further and further down. Paid breaks are being taken away, overtime reduced, differentials between grades eroded and the minimum wage becoming more of a reality for many of them who for years worked for employers who championed the fact they were anything but a minimum wage employer.
Add that to the cuts others are going to cover tonight to our NHS, benefits, public services, education and local councils – and those mentioned in the Q&A such as bus accessibility – [it is perhaps no surprise that] we are seeing more of our members turn to the Ron Todd Foundation for solidarity packages and support. Food banks are becoming a regular occurrence for those who weren’t surviving back in 2021 before the cost-of-living crisis started.
Our industry needs investment from the government to ensure every worker is well paid, with at least £15 an hour, and has access to full sick pay from day one. We know that small and medium businesses may struggle to keep up with the huge national and international organisations operating within the food industry, in terms of tech and speed, but investment from the government even if it was only to ensure our industry was greener would certainly help them to be able to pay our members better and attract people into the industry that has long been seen as somewhere to go when there is nothing better.
We know those outside of the movement will ask “where will the money come from?” for all this investment that is needed across multiple sectors, because that’s what they do. They forget that millions of pounds can be found when its needed for a failed track and trace system through covid, but heaven forbid we want workers to be paid a decent days wage or a reduction in utility bills that are literally crippling families – a start would be getting the likes of Amazon and Starbucks to pay their taxes, getting people like Alastair Salvesen or organisations like Elagmore private equity firm to pay out the redundancy payments that were negotiated in good faith with the BFAWU out of the tens of millions they boast of having in the bank, rather than passing the burden over to the tax payer as they both chose to go into administration instead of doing the right thing.
We need to educate people about the importance and relevance of trade unions and keep pushing back – people like me and other general secretaries aren’t the trade union, our members are, and they decide the direction and action they take!
If you are watching and want to organise your workplace but don’t know where to start get in contact with Organise Now where our group of coaches can support you through the process.
If you are watching this and not in at trade union, join one and get active within it, and also look out for organisations like the Ron Todd foundation or DPAC (Disabled People against Cuts) who do amazing work in our communities, because organising is needed there too
We know the Chancellor’s announcement will focus on making sure the Tories’ friends and donors get richer whilst making life more difficult for the rest of us, because that is the Tories through and through, they are no friends of the working class.
And the only way we can enact change is by working together in solidarity across the Labour, Trade Union and Community movements – no one is going to give us anything for free but together we are a force to be reckoned with.
Join a picket this week, join a trade union and organise now.
- Sarah Woolley is the General Secretary of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU). You can follow her on twitter here; and show your support for BFAWU members on Facebook and Twitter.
- Find out more about Organise Now here.
- You can watch the Investment Not Cuts – the #PeoplesBudget We Need event back here.