Solidarity and struggle can win real change – Sarah Woolley, BFAWU #TUC23


“Over the past year, we have been inspired by workers across the economy stepping up collectively to demand change.”

Sarah Woolley, BFAWU

By Sarah Woolley, BFAWU General Secretary

As our trade unions meets at Congress, we must come together to map out a way forward for our movement, including by laying out a set of clear demands – both to the current Government and the Labour Party, which is set to form the next Government – that are urgently required to help working people.

We have now had 13 years of austerity, fuelling the rise of food bank Britain as living costs have continued to soar whilst pay has been cut and the social security safety net dismantled, and we are quite literally at breaking point.

In this context, BFAWU’s recent cost-of-living survey showed clearly the challenges facing our members in the food industry; including the struggle to meet basic needs like eating and heating their homes.

The message from it could not be stronger – workers need a pay rise and in-work poverty must end. To achieve this, means organising the economy differently, and securing more power for workers and trade unions.

In terms of workers’ and trade union rights, our key demands to this end must include that:

  • The anti-trade union laws are repealed, and the right of unions to organise in every workplace recognised;
  • Agency workers shouldn’t be employed on contracts with lower hours or wages and should receive sick pay and holiday entitlement comparable to permanent staff;
  • Zero hours contracts, which are used to exploit so many workers, should be banned;
  • There should be a statutory right of negotiated access to workplaces where individual members seek to speak to the union;
  • The re-introduction of national sectoral collective bargaining structures which would help to maximise the strength of workers and secure fair pay agreements;
  • Improved Health and Safety at work, with much better and stronger enforcement;
  • “day one” rights for all workers and moving to a single employment status – this would help to prevent the exploitation of agency workers and end the bogus self-employment that is becoming such a feature of the gig economy.

Additionally, the BFAWU believes we must call for:

  • A £15 National Minimum Wage (NMW) for all workers regardless of age, which would end in-work poverty;
  • Full sick pay from day one;
  • A statutory right to decent nutritious food for all, with the provision of universal free school meals. 
  • Action to tackle supermarket profiteering, with food prices continuing to soar, alongside price controls on basic essentials.

The continuation of austerity from Sunak and Hunt means the Tories’ friends and donors get richer whilst making life more difficult for the rest of us. We need to argue for an end to austerity and investment in our future – otherwise, more people are going to freeze, starve and die.

The BFAWU 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.

This 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. Then the pot then available for workers’ terms and conditions is squeezed and squeezed, and then 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.

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 – and this could be part of a broader Green New Deal which could help millions.

We know that those hostile to our movement, and those ideologically-committed to never-ending austerity, will ask “where will the money come from?” for the investment that is needed across multiple sectors, but they forget that millions of pounds can be found when needed to bail out the Tories’ corporate pals. Heaven forbid we want workers to be paid a decent days wage or a reduction in utility bills that are literally crippling families!

A good start would be getting the likes of Amazon and Starbucks to pay their taxes, and taxing wealth more generally.

Over the last year, we have been inspired by workers across the economy stepping up collectively to demand change. We must continue to stand in solidarity with workers taking action; with every activist who is working hard to challenge discrimination against disabled people, migrants and refugees; and with the many other campaigns for a better country that are ongoing locally and nationally.

This is the way we can enact change – 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.

  • Sarah Woolley is the General Secretary of the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU). You can follow her on Twitter here; and follow the BFAWU on FacebookTwitter and Instagram
  • TUC Fringe Meeting: Trade Unions and the Law: The Drift to Authoritarianism. Sunday 10 September, close of Congress, in the Love Lane Brewery, 62 Bridgewater Street, Liverpool, L1 0AY. With John Hendy KC & Prof Keith Ewing, Campaign for Trade Union Freedom & Institute of Employment Rights // Mick Lynch, RMT // Daniel Kebede, NEU // Mick Whelan, ASLEF // Prof Lydia Hayes, IER // Tony Wright, Unison NEC // Asad Rehman, War on Want // Neil Todd, Thompsons Solicitors // Sarah Woolley, BFAWU.
Featured image: Sarah Woolley joins the Arriva bus drivers strike on June 23rd, 2022 image: Photo credit Sarah Woolley

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