Bakers’, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU) members are in the middle of a fierce battle against massive pay cuts in a food factory in Sheffield.
Pennine Foods is part of 2 Sisters Group, which has revenue of over £3 billion; its owner Ranjit Singh Boparan has a personal wealth of £190 million. Boparan’s “salami-slicing” of conditions has been going on now for 8 years.
The attempt at imposing a new contract that includes Sunday and Bank-Holiday pay reduced by 33%, overtime pay reduced by 25%, and losing half hour paid breaks on 12 hour shifts, is the last straw for many of these workers.
The Pennine Foods workers’ response has been inspiring. Their first two-day strike saw 100-150 people on the picket line. Their second saw similar numbers and lorries bringing in ingredients and taking out meals turned away.
At times, supporting a picket line can entail a short chat to a couple of strikers. Here, with both pavements outside the factory lined with people, we have blocked the entrance and persuaded drivers to turn around.
On Sunday, Polish workers at the factory managed to persuaded a Polish, agency-employed and non-union driver to not cross the picket line, and in fact to join them there! And on Monday, despite threats of arrest by police and attempts by them to escort lorries off the site, the pickets held firm with no arrests and no lorries moving.
Pennine Foods supplies all its food to Marks & Spencer. Alongside the Bakers Union, Momentum Sheffield has been organising leafletting of local M&S stores to get customers and workers there to pressure that company to force Pennine’s hand. No one should expect M&S’s hands to be clean in this; they will want their supplier to be cheaper, so they won’t act through altruism, but by pressure.
Workers at Pennine Foods stand to lose up to £6000 in this new contract as so much of their wage relies on enhanced pay for unsocial hours, and with the factory seeing a £38 million upgrade some fear long term changes with increasing automation and job losses.
On Monday’s picket line, union members voted to escalate the action to seven days, beginning on Thursday 16 June at 6am. They need maximum support, including money for a hardship fund which will be vital as they ramp up their action. We need trade unionists and Labour members to mobilise people to the picket lines and political pressure from unions, councillors and MPs.
• Keep updated on Facebook: Support the Pennine Strike – Sheffield
• Donate to the hardship fund
• Write to M&S chief executive Steve Rowe
• Tell local MP Clive Betts and Mosborough councillors (and those of the workers living across the city) to act via Write To Them
• Visit the workers when they are on strike at Pennine Foods, Drakehouse Crescent, Waterthorpe, Sheffield S20 7J G.
Train drivers: reject means reject!
In April 2016, after seven months of talks, East Midlands Trains proposed a deal to its train drivers that would guarantee a Sunday service going forward.
Presently, and for many years previous, drivers have not had to work on Sundays but a lot of them are induced in to work, in the main, through individual bargaining with roster clerks; this usually results in enhanced pay above the normal rate for the job.
The company and the Department for Transport (DfT) don’t like this method of covering Sunday work. Unsurprisingly. It is haphazard and if there is a particular event on a particular Sunday that lots of drivers want to attend then the service suffers. They have proposed that in two and a half years time Sundays will become like any other day for working: this will require a lot more drivers. And to achieve that the DfT will be paying to train those extra drivers, whilst extracting a promise from EMT that in the interim the Sunday service is guaranteed to be staffed. This deal is EMT’s attempt to buy that guarantee from drivers. Initially it was put to us by ASLEF but was rejected by 72% in a straw poll. Or, should I say, that was what most drivers thought had happened by dint of the 72% reject vote. In fact after a very slight improvement ASLEF accepted the deal on behalf of EMT drivers but “kindly” gave us the right to opt-in/out of the new Sunday working arrangements. They were called to account on this by motions from branches at the two biggest EMT depots, Nottingham and Derby, demanding a 50%+1 ballot rather than the unprecedented opt-in/out process. Unsure if it could tough out the uproar about its new decision-making process, the union leadership then got an emergency motion through its AAD (AGM) that retrospectively legitimised its power grab against its own members. The motion basically says that no ballot of members is required to accept this kind of deal because drivers are given the choice of whether to opt-in or out of it.
So, that bad process is continuing now and it looks probable that EMT will convince enough drivers to opt in to make the deal viable, helped by the extreme flexibility with which the number of drivers required is calculated.
If it does come in the drivers’ grade will have been significantly weakened, because it will have created a large group of drivers who will not be on the same terms and conditions as the majority. The leadership seems to have forgotten that basic trade union rule, unity is strength. It is harder to maintain unity and thus strength against the employer among a group of workers when one part of them are on different terms and conditions to the other.
The emergency motion at AAD has also set a dangerous precedent for union democracy, in that the leadership may seek further powers to take decision making out of our hands. ASLEF rank and file members should get together to discuss how this terrible decision can be reversed.
EMT drivers have until 10 June to return their papers, and a decision on whether the deal can go ahead will be taken by the DfT on 15 June.
• More info here
GTR uses courts to stop strikes
Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) has secured High Court injunctions to prevent drivers in the Aslef union striking on its Gatwick Express and Southern franchises.
Aslef had balloted its members for strikes against the extension of “Driver Only Operation”, with the ballots returning majorities of over 80% for strikes.
GTR claimed that as Aslef had previously “induced” its members not to drive new Driver-Only-Operated trains, they could not now take official industrial action against their introduction.
In granting the injunction, Judge Supperstone said: “The potential disruption and inconvenience to the general public and damage likely to be caused by the industrial action significantly outweighs the suggested harm to the union.”
Aslef described the ruling as “oppressive”.
Tube bosses celebrate job cuts
Senior London Underground bosses treated themselves to a celebratory dinner at the Royal Air Force Club in London’s Mayfair recently, to mark the implementation of the “Fit for the Future: Stations” programme.
The scheme has involved the closure of all but a tiny handful of ticket offices at Tube stations and the axing of nearly 1,000 jobs, as well as forced regrading and mass displacements.
The RMT union described the dinner as “obscene”, and demanded to know whether public money had been spent on it.
Meanwhile, three RMT branches on London Underground have called for renewed industrial action against the consequences of “Fit for the Future”, while LU has announced its plans for a similar restructure affecting trains.
Library workers to strike
Library workers in Barnet, north London, will strike for three days on 13, 14 and 15 June.
Workers are striking as part of a long running dispute against library closures, as part of wider cuts at Barnet council. Workers last struck in February.
The council wants to cut 52 full-time equivalent posts in libraries, reducing hours that libraries are staffed by 70%, as well as hand four libraries over to “community groups” and reduce the total library space in those remaining.
John McDonnell, Labour Shadow Chancellor, said:
“I want to pay tribute and send solidarity greetings to Barnet Unison Library workers who are taking three days strike action starting Monday 13 June. They have been fighting an inspirational work place and community campaign with the Save Barnet Libraries campaign. I would like to thank them for their sterling efforts to expose and prevent the proposed widespread decimation of their Library service which will see half the workforce dumped onto the dole queue.
“Barnet Unison has been a fine example of how trade unions and their community can work together in fighting austerity policies which are destroying local public services up and down the country, they have my 100% support.”