Bakers Spring Statement

Last week’s spring statement was as cruel, callous and inadequate a financial statement as  I can remember in my lifetime and let’s be honest there is some competition for that prize. Working people and some of our vulnerable citizens have not just been let down over the past few decades, they have seen many of the hard won gains steadily eroded. Social security cuts, health and social care charges, educational inequality, workplace insecurity, and falling wages have entrenched structural inequalities, making Britain one of the most unequal and economically divided societies in the western world.

The past two years of the Covid pandemic has shown the essential contribution key workers make. Food production workers, hospitality staff, delivery drivers, cooks and bakers have been at the forefront, keeping people fed, providing essential supply lines and social solidarity to customers. It is their contribution along with carers, NHS staff, public transport workers and others that enrich our country and keep the wheels turning, not the tax avoiding spivs and speculators.  Just two short years ago during lockdown it seemed that everyone, even Tory politicians, agreed with this. Remember the weekly clap of appreciation for NHS and other key workers? How hollow that sound of clapping seems now.

A few weeks ago BFAWU officials were called on to help support 200 workers who were suddenly out of work as the Dawnfresh food processing plant in Uddingston was closed by administrators. Owned by one Scotland’s richest people, Alastair Salvesen, the gates were shut with the workers owed wages, holiday and sick pay. Families were left without money for up to 12 weeks. 

When this money and redundancy is paid it will not come from Salvasen’s pocket, it will come from the state guaranteed Redundancy Payment Scheme (RPS). This despite Salvesen being promised almost £1million from the Scottish Government just 3 months prior. It is inconceivable that he was unaware of the closure plan when this cash was approved. So concerned was Salvesen for this workforce that as staff were about to be sacked, he was seen the day before filling his car boot with the expensive private art collection that adorned the walls of the plants’ offices. Meanwhile the workers of Dawnfresh were left trying to access crisis grants and food from food banks just to eat.

Sunak and Johnston’s budget did nothing for the Dawnfresh workers but plenty for Salvesen and his ilk. There was nothing to help and support workers facing a crisis to their family finances. Where is that tax on the wealth of  those like Salvesen, who have seen their fortunes rise exponentially during the pandemic? Where are the curbs and penalties on people like him who milk the system and treat workers in this way? 

The answer is nowhere to be seen but what you will see is Sunak, Parliament’s richest MP taking money out of the pockets of ordinary workers and those who rely on Universal Credit and parasites like Salvasen take the public money, avoid their responsibilities to pay the wages they owe, and pass the buck to the state to pick up pieces whilst failing to pay their fair share of taxes.

The consequences of all of this on the working people of this country is frightening. Last year we did a survey of our members on food access and security. The findings are a damning indictment of our economy and a political system that fails to many. The long and short of it is that the people who produce food are struggling to afford the very food they make for the rest of us. Indeed, often they miss meals altogether to ensure their kids can eat and depend on friends and family and at times the local food bank to eat.

That survey was conducted before the huge energy price increases and rising inflation intensified pressure on working people. This is the real and very big crisis affecting families today. Working people and the trade unions movement must respond with action. As we see with the disgraceful actions of P&O and Dawnfresh we are at a critical point – if these companies can get away with treating workers like this, others will follow. It’s time to fight back. It doesn’t have to be this way, there is an alternative society to be built that is fairer, better and humane. We cannot, and should not accept Tory callousness and cruelty. One thing is for sure, the BFAWU will not be walking on the other side.