Workers need a commitment from Labour – Sarah Woolley, BFAWU, on the National Policy Forum


“Apart from the row about not offering £15 an hour, the New Deal for Working People document has some really important demands in it. But have they survived the NPF and will they make it into the manifesto?”

This article is a published version of the speech given by Sarah Woolley, Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) General Secretary, at the ‘What’s in & out of Labour’s Agenda? National Policy Forum Report-back‘ held on July 25th.

You can read Sarah’s contribution or watch the discussion in full below:

WATCH: What’s In & Out of Labour’s Agenda? National Policy Forum Report-back.

As you’ll be aware, I wasn’t at the NPF in Nottingham because our Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union recalled conference delegates and took the historic step to disaffiliate in 2021, after having been involved in the Labour throughout its existence.

We helped to get it set up and were involved in the forerunners to the party since 1902. 

This wasn’t a decision our members took lightly. But they felt that the writing was on the wall under Keir Starmer’s leadership, when he sacked Andy McDonald for arguing that Labour’s manifesto should commit to a National Living Wage of not less than £15 an hour, insisting that the New Deal for Workers Green Paper kept the figure they were promising at £10 an hour.

Well that would be a pay cut for our members, because even the Government’s Living Wage is forecast to hit £11.08 an hour from April 2024. It just goes to show how short-sighted and lacking ambition they are.

We all know that inflation is rocketing, food prices even more than general inflation.  in the three months from April-June 2023, the cost of cheese has gone up by 23.7%, milk by 21.1%, biscuits by 18.3% and bread by 17.4%.

We published a report this year called “Foodworkers on the Breadline, based on a survey of workers who make the food that’s on the supermarket shelves. 88% of food workers were found to be cutting back on heating to save money, which the report’s authors said was having “very significant” effects on their mental and physical health. 63% of those surveyed saying their income was insufficient to “meet basic needs”. 

So like you I don’t know what exactly what got decided at the NPF except what I’ve read in the press or on social media. But I want to know what they are going to do for BFAWU members, and I’m not at all reassured by what I’m hearing.

We’ve got members who earn a bit more than the £7400 cap for being eligible for free school meals. But they’re still receiving Universal Credit, still finding it really hard to make ends meets.   But Labour’s ruling out providing universal free school meals to feed hungry kids.

We know that keeping the two-child limit on Universal Credit will keep around 250,000 children in poverty. But that’s a price worth paying apparently. 

Look, I get that spending promises need to be funded. But we’re living in one of the top 10 richest countries in the world. The Financial Times publishes a supplement called “how to spend it” because billionaires start to run out of ideas. Ok, so they are cracking down on Non-Dom status. That’s a good start. But it doesn’t go far enough. Where are their other ideas to bring in money by taxing obscene wealth? Don’t tell us our kids have to starve – when they don’t. 

Apart from the row about not offering £15 an hour, the New Deal for Working People document has some really important demands in it. But have they survived the NPF and will they make it into the manifesto?

I’m hearing rumours Starmer doesn’t want to abolish the youth rates of the Minimum Wage which push so many young people into poverty by leaving the U18 rates in companies like McDonalds will continue to exploit young people. 

Their commitment to offering day one rights to all workers is being questioned. This would be a green light for employers in the food sector to carry on exploiting agency workers, many of them migrant workers, to lead a race to the bottom in pay and conditions. 

I’m hearing they’ve gone quiet on the importance of restoring sectoral collective bargaining, or repealing anti-union legislation beyond the Trade Union Act. Will they even ban zero hours contracts?

This is not just a matter for Labour members. If Labour is going to form the next government, and they might judging by the polls, the whole labour movement needs answers to these questions.

It looks to me like Starmer expects to win the election not by offering anything positive to speak of, but just because people want to see the back of the Tories. That’s a risky strategy. If you don’t give people anything to vote for, or promise more of the same, they’ll stay at home or find somewhere else to go.

We need so much better than what’s on offer from either front bench at the moment. So whether you’re inside the Labour Party or outside we’ve got to build pressure for a radical alternative that delivers for our communities. 

LISTEN: What’s In & Out of Labour’s Agenda? National Policy Forum Report-back.

Featured image: Sarah Woolley joins the Arriva bus drivers strike on June 23rd, 2022 image: Photo credit Sarah Woolley

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