UPDATE (May 1, 2016): So far Liz Kendall has failed to comment on either social media, or in the local press, on her efforts to support Samworth workers subsequent to this meeting. Therefore it will be important to keep a watch on what happens next, as Kendall is part of the pro-corporate, proudly Blairite wing of the Labour Party, which stands in firm opposition to the socialist politics of Jeremy Corbyn (for example see my earlier article “Kendall’s Nightmare“).
“I am angry beyond belief,” fumed Liz Kendall, the local Labour MP for Leicester West, at a bustling public meeting held earlier tonight at the Tudor Centre in Mowmacre Hill.
The focus of Kendall’s anger tonight was local anti-union employer Samworth Brothers, who just last week were named and shamed in Parliament for attacking the pay and conditions of their workers.
Samworth employs more than 5,000 people across various factories in Leicestershire, and just like Kendall, their workers are angry at their bosses’ lies, and are demanding the right to organise and negotiate collectively within the Bakers union.
As the rain lashed down outside it initially looked like the small circle of chairs in the room would suffice to contain the twenty-something Samworth workers who had braved the weather to let Kendall know why they needed her concrete support in their ongoing dispute.
But as more and more people flooded into the meeting, the room began to heat up as people spilled forth their own stories of injustice, pay cuts, and exploitation from their profit-obsessed bosses.
Not all of the hundred or so workers found time to speak tonight, but systematic bullying was a common theme raised by most of the contributors.
Kendall was evidently moved by the heartfelt stories, as she was by the numbers present, noting that it “was one of the busiest meetings she has ever organised”.
Exasperated workers patiently explained how the so-called pay rises and accompanying cuts to premiums would leave most individuals worse off.
Workers must join a union, Kendall emphasised. “If they pick you off one by one you are weaker than if you are all together.”
“It is completely clear to me,” she continued, “that the company is trying to avoid paying you what you are owed, because they are trying to claw back money because of the increase in the minimum wage.”
“They are trying to confuse people, they are trying to bully people, and when I see them tomorrow I will make this completely clear to them. I will also do everything I can within Parliament and the media because some of these companies have changed their minds because there has been big stuff about them in the press, and that is one way they could be shamed into changing their minds.
“I also want to see them recognise the trade union, because the only way they can make these changes, by picking you off one by one, is because they don’t recognise collective bargaining, and we are stronger when we stand together, and I am angry beyond belief!”
Workers told Kendall how they were often prevented from using the toilet, which Kendall observed was “disgusting and ridiculous”.
It was pointed out how one vocal worker had even been suspended standing up to bullying management. Indeed, the consensus in the room was that if you talked about the Bakers union at the workplace then you would be disciplined.
Another individual told Kendall how up to three times a week his manager had been pressing him into signing up to the companies new contract, being told that if he didn’t sign up he would lose his job. Shocked by this bullying, he rightfully asked for this statement in writing; which of course was not possible.
Kendall is evidently well aware of the lies that the Samworth bosses will try to tell her when she meets them: “I know what will happen at that meeting tomorrow, they will say you are all getting a pay rise.” But she added, “I am clear that what is happening is unfair and wrong. My end goal is for them to withdraw that contract and to recognise the union!”