Picket line at the Hovis Bakery in Wigan
Tuesday October 15th 7.30 pm
The Wellington Bennetts Hill Birmingham
Speaker Steve Hall (Wigan People’s Alliance)
Workers at the Hovis Bakery in Wigan have shown how a determined group of workers can defeat the attempts by employers to cut wages and conditions. Faced by attempts of management to replace permanent workers by agency workers on zero hours contracts and lower pay, they mounted a stoppage with mass pickets to stop deliveries to and from the bakery. In spite of a huge police presence many drivers respected the picket and turned back, and Hovis drivers within the factory who were not part of the dispute also refused to cross. After two weeks management caved in and agreed to all the strikers’ demands. Existing agency workers will be given full time contracts on union agreed rates, and future peaks in demand will be met by working overtime and banking hours for use in troughs in demand.
This stunning victory is in stark contrast to the mood at the annual conference of the Trades Union Congress. Frances O’Grady’s speech was reported as militant in saying that the general strike should be maintained “in the armoury” of the TUC, whereas the reality is that this marked a substantial retreat from last year’s motion that the TUC should seriously investigate the practicalities of a general strike. Several union leaders talked of the need for coordinated actionFrances O’Grady – New Wind(bag?)
on pay, but nothing was decided and this could just become an excuse for individual unions to take no action.
Ed Miliband promised legislation by a new Labour government on zero hours contracts, although he said he thought they were OK for supply teachers and young people! Has he forgotten the fully paid supply teacher pools which local authorities used to have which guaranteed a constant income throughout the year. And the insecurity of zero hours contracts is the biggest factor stopping young people from demanding decent conditions at work, getting secure and decent housing, and making plans for their future. He made it very clear that austerity policies would continue under Labour and made no commitment to end public sector wage freezes or restore local authority services. In spite of this Len McCluskey of UNITE called him a “great leader of our party” whereas only weeks ago he was hinting at a future break with Labour. This new cosy relationship means that the possibility of union leaders taking action over the 15% drop in the buying power of wages, or the cuts in pensions and services is less and less likely before the 2015 election, and even after it.
McCluskey & Miliband – Best mates now
The Labour Party conference has confirmed this trend. Ed Ball’s speech again confirmed that Labour will stick to the coalition’s austerity budgets after the election. Ed Miliband made much of his promises on zero hours contracts and his promise to freeze energy prices for 20 months after the election. But this could not hide his complete commitment to neo-liberal policies in general. There were no promises to renationalise the Post Office let alone the rail industry and telecommunications in spite of constant evidence of the inefficiency and profiteering of the private sector, and solid public support for renationalisation of these vital services. And surely the obvious solution to the profiteering of the cartel that controls the energy sector is to renationalise that too.
On the big issues of privatisation of the health service and its starvation of necessary funds there were no concrete proposals, and no promises on the restoration of local authority spending to levels which enable decent local services to be provided.
But what the Hovis workers have shown is that we don’t have to wait for the TUC or the Labour Party. Workers themselves do have the power to challenge austerity now, and if their leaders won’t lead they can be replaced.