First of all, I would like to thank delegates from the BFAWU’s Annual Conference for electing me to attend the Labour Party Conference in Brighton. Although I was happy to be elected at the time, when Jeremy Corbyn was announced as the new leader on 12th September, I was ecstatic about representing our Union at the conference. The BFAWU was the first Union to publicly support Jeremy’s candidacy and in my opinion, his successful election signals a new era for the Labour Party.
I knew before I arrived in Brighton that this Conference was going to be different to the ones I had attended in the past, where the focus then appeared to be nothing much more than appealing to the centre. This year, the mood was different; you could sense an atmosphere of hope and genuine excitement at Labour’s fresh direction. There was no doubt that change was in the air. Taking a left-wing socialist stance didn’t leave you feeling marginalised, or on the fringes of the party as it had in the past. For once, we were no longer a minority. It was a genuine surprise to discover just how many people were of the same mind-set. Unsurprisingly, there are a few who aren’t happy with the direction that the party is going in, but the membership has spoken and Corbyn is the leader. People on all sides have to be mature enough to accept that it’s impossible to please all of the people, all of the time. However, for the good of the party and indeed, if Labour wants to stand a chance in 2020, it’s vital that all factions put aside petty personal differences, take part in debates in a constructive fashion and respect democracy. Any subversion or undermining of Jeremy’s leadership will play into the hands of the Tories and we can forget about winning in five years time.
For me as a delegate, there were four highlights of what was a great Conference. First of all, was shadow chancellor, John McDonnell’s speech on the Monday. I’ve seen John speak on numerous occasions at our Union’s Annual Conference, and he is both engaging and truthful in terms of how he approaches and discusses issues. I was initially concerned that he might have been forced to change his style in order to broaden his appeal within the party. However, those concerns were put to bed when he delivered his speech; it was classic John, just on a bigger stage. Finally, we had a shadow chancellor’s speech that I agreed wholeheartedly with rather than one that left me feeling dismayed. He talked about how Labour would live within its means and how the deficit can be reduced without the need for austerity. He argued that the Tories’ approach on the economy was ideologically driven and highlighted the irony of Tories criticising Jeremy’s idea of rail renationalisation whilst George Osbourne was prostituting himself to the Chinese, selling off just about every remaining British asset to the Chinese state bank.
The second highlight for me was the LRC (Labour Representation Committee) meeting, which I was honoured to be asked to speak at, alongside our National President and many other great speakers from the Labour Movement. This meeting is always my favourite to attend, as it’s full of like-minded people and of course, is chaired by John McDonnell. What surprised me this year was how many people were there. Normally, there’s just enough to fill the room but this year, it was packed with an overspill of people outside! I won’t lie, I was very nervous and that wasn’t made any easier when John appeared just before I was due to speak, which left me with the task of speaking after him which was pretty daunting! My nerves did get the better of me once or twice, but the people there were so lovely and encouraging, which was reassuring! I talked about our fast food campaign and why it’s important for young people to know about Trade Unions and engage with politics. I also spoke about how Jeremy has, and will regain the trust of a whole generation of young voters that the Lib Dems took for granted at the 2010 general election and then tried to exploit throughout their coalition with the Tories. Basically, my point was that if young people see you speaking up for them and putting their issues forward i.e. zero hour contracts and differentials in the minimum wage, then you will regain their trust not to mention, their votes come 2020.
Obviously, one of the main highlights of Conference had to be the leader’s speech. I was like a child at Christmas when Jeremy was elected and I knew that being a delegate; I would be guaranteed a seat in that hall for his first Conference speech as Labour leader. Contrary to mainstream media reports, he certainly didn’t disappoint. He talked about how disgraceful the media can be and his admiration at how Ed Miliband handled endless media attacks, particularly the Daily Mail’s disgusting story about his deceased father. Jeremy went on to discuss his opposition to the renewal of trident, austerity, kinder politics and the refugee crisis, along with how the Saudis have sentenced a young man to crucifixion as punishment for a protest he took part in whilst a teenager. However, one thing that stuck with me was the issue of mental health. I cannot tell you how great it is to see senior political figures taking this issue seriously. It is estimated that one in four people will have mental health issues at some point in their lives, and I’m not afraid of admitting that I’m one of those people. The more this subject is talked about, the more chance we have of helping people who are suffering and finally getting rid of unhelpful stigmas. Just because you can’t physically see it, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.
Predictably, the right wing media had a field day over both of the main Conference speeches. One of the criticisms was that he didn’t have enough policy. Corbyn’s only been the leader for a few weeks as I write this; give the man a chance! Another theme of the Tory press was that he was going to take us all back to the dark days of the 1970s. I can’t comment personally on that period, as I wasn’t yet born, but seen as 3.1 million families are set to lose £1000 per year and with over one million people visiting food banks in 2014-2015, this current decade seems to resemble something from Victorian times. Maybe a return to the 70s would represent some progress! The final highlight of the week was when our own Pauline McCarthy was elected to the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee. This is the first time that a BFAWU member has represented the Union on either the Labour Party or TUC National Committees, so it’s quite an achievement and a little bit of history in the making. This could also be further evidence that the party is taking a significant step to the left and socialism is taking over at long last. Congratulations Pauline, I’m sure you’ll do well!
Rachel Mullen (BFAWU Branch 529; Substitute Young EC Member)
On Monday, September 14th, the government’s anti-Trade Union Bill will get its second reading. The timing of this is not accidental, as it just happens to coincide with the TUC’s Annual Conference. The Tories have also given short notice of this reading in a blatant attempt to curtail any major public opposition.
With this bill, the Conservatives are once again treating working people as the ‘enemy within’, as it seeks to criminalise both workers and their Trade Union Representatives, who may feel that they have no other option but to take industrial action against their employer. No working person ever takes strike action lightly. It is a last resort taken when all other avenues of fair play have been exhausted. The Trade Union Bill will make sure that the basic human right of people to withdraw their labour is taken away. This legislation will basically turn the UK into nothing more than a pariah state that will offer less protection for its workers than any other civilised country in the world. It attacks the freedom of association and expression, along with the ability of any worker to improve pay and safety conditions in the workplace.
This typically ideological Tory bill is quite possibly the most draconian attack on not just the Labour and Trade Union Movement, but also civil and human rights in the UK. The government intends to remove any opposition to its policies and aims to be in a position whereby it can use the full force of the law to stop any form of counter-argument to its agenda of society’s total subservience to a small, but powerful elite.
If working people in this country want to continue to have the right to stand up against unscrupulous employers, to work in safety, to have better pay, holiday entitlement, redundancy pay, maternity leave without being dismissed and the right not to be sacked unfairly, then they need to come together now. Campaigns are springing up all over the country, including a demonstration at 6.00pm on Monday, September 14th at Westminster Green in London.
Make no mistake; David Cameron and his vindictive, uncaring government of ignorance, millionaires and self-interest has once again declared war on the working people of this country. Unless the Labour Movement is prepared to take direct action, then the hard-fought rights that many people have given their lives for, along with the memories of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the Chartists will be lost. Forever.
Ian Hodson (BFAWU National President)
The BFAWU's Learning Services have designed a survey in order to better understand the possible learning needs of those working in the food industry.
The outcomes/results of the survey will allow the Learning Services to plan effectively for the future in terms of organising courses, more relevant and hopefully tailored to food industry workers.
To take part in the survey, click here
The Public Interest Research Unit (a small registered charity) is producing a report for Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) to feed into the House of Lords Equality Act Inquiry. Information on your experiences with reasonable adjustment being made, or not being made, would be very welcome, as would any suggestions you have for improvements to the Equality Act or to employer practice towards disabled workers.
Any information you provide will be anonymised, so as to hide your identity and the identity of the employer. You do not need to give your name. If you do give your name, it will not appear anywhere in the research. The anonymised research findings will be included in a published report.
What is the reasonable adjustments duty? In essence, an employer has a duty to make reasonable adjustments to working arrangements or the working environment when disabled workers (or disabled job applicants) are placed at a substantial disadvantage. The duty is now under the Equality Act and was under the Disability Discrimination Act.
To take part in the survey, click here
David Cameron claims that he wants a high wage, low tax economy. If that’s the case, he has a funny way of showing it. Over the last five years, he has overseen exploitation and a devaluing of labour on an industrial scale, the likes of which haven’t been seen since Victorian times. Don’t just take my word for it; look at the jobs websites for proof. Zero hours contracts, workfare, part-time roles, temporary contracts and apprenticeships offering full-time responsibilities and duties for as little as £2.60 per hour. These working arrangements used to be the exceptions; now they are the norm and this brazen, shameless race to the bottom ideology has spread throughout the labour market like a cancer. If this wasn’t enough, Cameron’s government wants to further punish those on poverty wages by cutting the benefits that they have to claim as a result of the poor pay they receive, all hammered home by the sneering Work and Pensions sociopath, Iain Duncan Smith; a man who has already contributed to a number of people being driven to commit suicide.
The BFAWU believes that workers shouldn't have to rely on benefits. They should be able to plan their lives without constant form filling, in order to prove that they are living in poverty. Cameron could make good on his constant spin by announcing the move from a minimum wage, to a living wage of at least £10 per hour. This would remove the need for people to claim in-work benefits, give the economy a good shot in the arm and show him making good on his up to now laughable claims that the Conservatives are ‘the party of working people’. The reality is that you’re more likely to find a swan and unicorn pasty in your local Greggs shop than see the attitude of Cameron’s government be anything other than sly and vindictive when it comes to people on low incomes.
David Cameron favours the idea of a regional minimum wage. This basically means lower, or higher wages for doing the same work, depending on where you live; a kind of postcode lottery for pay if you like. We need to be extremely cautious over the Scottish National Party’s demand for devolving powers surrounding the minimum wage. This move would bring about an end to the national minimum wage. The break up of a UK wide national minimum wage could see England and Wales which, as we know has an in-built Tory majority, scuppering any attempt to increase it, driving wages down not up with Scottish MPs barred from taking part in debates or votes which don’t affect Scotland. The SNP could actually find themselves enabling David Cameron's nightmarish vision of lower pay in some regions, particularly northern (probably Labour-run) constituencies and in the SouthWest where some health trusts tried to break away from national pay bargaining during the last 5 years. Regional pay would weaken the BFAWU’s ‘Hungry For Justice’ campaign, which is calling for no worker in the UK to be paid less than £10 an hour.
Ian Hodson (BFAWU National President)
On the 16th June 2015, the organisation ‘From Pink to Prevention’ sent an open letter to ‘Breakthrough Breast Cancer’ (recently changed to ‘Breast Cancer Now’); the UK’s largest breast cancer research charity, asking them to review their current literature and acknowledge the environmental and occupational links to breast cancer. Currently these issues are seriously downplayed with no mention at all of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) and the carcinogenic role they play.
‘Endocrine Disruptors’ are chemicals that interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological and immune effects in both humans and wildlife by interfering with hormone actions. What’s worrying though, is that these disruptors are found in so many everyday products – plastic bottles, metal food cans, toys, food, make up and cosmetics, detergents and pesticides.
The World Health Organisation and United Nations Environment Programme both say that EDCs are a threat to health and the environment globally, and need to be resolved sooner rather than later. So what can we do to help?
- Visit the From Pink to Prevention website www.frompinktoprevention.org
- Demand safer alternatives and full disclosure on substances and chemicals both at home, and at work.
- Pay attention to what you buy – avoid PVC and polycarbonates marked with a triangle with a 3 or a 6 in the middle.
- Be your own workplace detective and identify processes and practices of concern and the use of substances and chemicals in your workplace.
These are just four things you can do. There are plenty more on the website, but by visiting it, spreading the word and holding the government, manufacturers, companies and cancer research charities to account for their rather worrying lack of action and acknowledgement of EDCs, we can help stop breast cancer before it starts, rather than concentrating solely on treating it once we have it.
Sarah Woolley (Shop Steward, Greggs Branch 580/Executive Council Member)
First time Annual Conference delegates played a big part this year, especially with BFAWU campaigns surrounding zero hours contracts and rights for workers in the fast-food industry. Lorna and Toni, two members from Branch 500 made a significant impact at Conference with their stories of the conditions that they work in and the attitude of their employers.
Lorna has provided an extensive report of her Conference experience which also offers an insight into her own life as a minimum wage/zero hours worker.
It's well worth a read and can be found by clicking here
Press Release re: Strike Action at Gunstones Bakery, Sheffield
The BFAWU strike at Gunstones (Sheffield) taking place from June 15th 2015 was called following the company’s decision to force through a pay freeze on staff at the site.
BFAWU members and officials had initially agreed with the company to keep any pay negotiations in abeyance due to over four-hundred redundancies being made. However, the company refused to offer staff an increase following the redundancy consultation period, citing the overall cost of the redundancies as a reason for non-movement on pay.
BFAWU members at the site subsequently balloted for industrial action, but gave the company a window of six weeks in order to negotiate further. Five days before the strike was due to take place, Union members at Gunstones met and made a proposal to the company that involved a pay increase of 4% over two years with no back pay.
The company refused this proposal and made it clear to BFAWU members and officials that any movement on pay would have to be ‘self-financing’, meaning that employees at the site may have to sacrifice existing terms and conditions in order to secure any increase. The BFAWU sees this as unacceptable and hopes that the company can review its position to avoid potential bitterness, resentment and the possibility of further action at the site.
For more information, please contact John Higgins Tel: 07739326012; email firstname.lastname@example.org
This year's BFAWU Annual Conference featured some great debates and a plethora of fantastic guest speeches, many of which have been captured for posterity.
For Arthur Scargill's superb address to delegates, click here
For TV and film star, Ricky Tomlinson's return to Conference to speak about the 'Shrewsbury 24' campaign, click here
To watch PCS General Secretary, Mark Serwotka in action, click here
To watch the newly elected MP for Leeds East and member of the BFAWU, Richard Burgon, click here
For staunch BFAWU supporter and MP for Hayes and Harlington, John McDonnell's speech, click here
To watch the address made by Sri Lankan workers' rights activist group, 'Tamil Solidarity', click here
For BFAWU General Secretary, Ronnie Draper's opening address to Conference, click here
Thanks to all who took part and thanks also to Ronnie Irwin for the video footage. Visit the Irwin Video website:
May 15th 2015
CREDIT UNION Update
The BFAWU Credit Union was the first ‘national’ Credit Union set up in 1997 with the ‘common bond’ being membership of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union. The aim was-and remains- to assist members in financial problems, to encourage savings and to keep members out of the hand of money lenders. Thousands of BFAWU members and their families have benefited from this facility. Why not become one of a growing number of Union members that use this benefit?
The Credit Union’s aim also was to assist members in short term financial problems that ordinary Banks would not help as the loans being sort were of small amounts and short term -no money in that for Bankers. Again thousands of your fellow Union members have reaped the benefit from this facility.
Credit Union members save and borrow for many reasons. It may be for that family holiday; for that emergency purchase; for a wedding or funeral expenses and many more. Savings are made at regular-weekly or monthly- periods as are repayments on loans. And, unlike Banks, interest is paid on the reducing repayment figure not on the whole capital borrowed.
So how are we doing? The Table below sets out our record in 2014 and in the first quarter of this year:
Total of 464 Loans in 2014 totalled £526,190.00
Approved loans 149 January to April in 2015 totalled £184,319.00 so far.
The Credit Union is a major benefit for Union members and their families as the table above shows. Savings are protected under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, covering up to £85,000 of savings for each member.
Now is a good time to join the Credit Union and applications are welcome. Why struggle to make ends meet by falling into the hands of loan sharks or by paying high interest rate returns. Why look to discredited Banks for assistance for that one off purchase or holiday? Here are Union members saving and lending to each other. That is what trade unionism is all about. So come and join us. Application forms are available from the Credit Union Head Office, Stanborough House, Great North Road, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire AL8 7YA
Pauline Nazir, Secretary Joe Marino, Chair.
JOIN YOUR CREDIT UNION TODAY
NOTICE-THE CREDIT UNION AGM WILL BE HELD IN THE CONFERENCE HALL, SOUTHPORT ON THE 8 JUNE AT 12.30PM. ALL MEMBERS, AND POTENTIAL MEMBERS INVITED.