Opinion Former Article

BFAWU: If David Cameron is attacking unions, we must be doing something right

If David Cameron is attacking unions, we must be doing something right 

by Ian Hodson, national president, Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

It’s a shame that David Cameron doesn’t rush to the defence of the ‘hard working people’ that he claims to represent as quickly as he rushes to the defence of Conservative Party donor and tax-avoiding purveyor of banality, Gary Barlow. On the contrary, when it comes to hard working union members, Cameron believes that taxpaying workers should be denied the right to fight for their jobs.

Cameron believes that unions should be stopped from taking any form of industrial action. These are people who don’t want to become a further burden on the taxpayer by being unemployed. Yet trade unions and other activists fighting for fair play are a major obstacle for David Cameron and his government, as they represent a troublesome pebble in the shoe of their agenda - the agenda being a mass pool of easy to exploit, low paid labour for big businesses, underpinned by a culture of fear and insecurity. 

What happened to governments actually representing the electorate? What is it about Conservative ideology that makes them so determined to turn British people into the slaves of corporations who refuse to pay their taxes and refuse to pay their workers a decent wage? It’s completely beyond the pale. 

In the US, workers have decided to take direct action against their employers and go on strike in order to demand better pay and conditions. This is proving to be a very effective way of increasing wages, with some states now conceding to their demands and raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Contrast that with the UK, where workers are facing attacks on their terms and conditions on an almost daily basis.

We are made redundant and replaced by cheap labour and in many cases, are forced onto zero hours contracts. If proof was ever needed about the current balance of power, then zero hours contracts are just that. They offer the perfect insight into the power of corporations and the total control that they have over people’s lives, their futures and their financial stability. 

Our ‘Fast-food Rights: Hungry for Justice’ campaign has highlighted the abuses that workers in the fast-food industry are facing. The abuses include people having to compete with other workers for the few hours available and zero hours being used as a punishment to teach certain employees a lesson. We’ve been told stories about workers being disciplined for ‘not smiling’ and pregnant workers being forced to work long shifts without regular rest breaks.

In 2013, the BFAWU took on the Hovis bakery in Wigan after they not only replaced well-paid jobs with zero hours contracts and agency labour, but did so a mere forty-eight hours after they made the redundancies. Thankfully, the will of our members at Hovis, in addition to the groundswell of outrage expressed by various groups of people up and down the country, along with some crucial support from the local MP helped secure an historic victory for our union.

The recent dispute at SOAS has resulted in workers getting better holidays and better sick pay. The ongoing Doncaster care workers dispute is showing that people are prepared to fight hard to save our NHS from the profiteers.

Without this direct action, these terrible changes would have gone unchallenged and pay for our members at Hovis would now be worse than they’ve ever been. The taxpayer would be footing the bill for SOAS workers when they are sick. If the Doncaster care workers fail, it will be taxpayer subsidies that are needed to top up low pay. 

Strikes are the consequence of poor management and happen as a result of a government that has put too much power in the hands of tax dodgers and unscrupulous employers who are bleeding the workforce dry and pocketing the profits. In a so-called civilised society, disputes will never be resolved by standing on people’s necks and removing what little rights they have left. 

It’s time for the entire labour movement to stand as one and reclaim what those at the top have stripped away from us: if we need more strikes to do it then so be it. If it means having to grow a thicker skin, step over the line and cross the odd Rubicon or two, I say bring it on.

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