Last June, a few months prior to Jeremy Corbyn’s unexpected but welcome election to the Labour Party’s leadership, John McDonnell sponsored a parliamentary motion in support of workers employed by 2 Sisters Food Group — a group whose chairman Lord Allen, was, at the time, also the chair of the “executive board” of the Labour Party.
But unfortunately, Lord Allen’s work for the Labour Party did not seem to suffer because of his anti-union activism, or when 2 Sisters took measures to replace paid workers with volunteer workfare placements.
The parliamentary motion in question (EDM 191), whose signatories included Jeremy Corbyn and just 16 other Labour MPs (none from Leicester), read:
“That this House notes that management at Gunstones Bakery, near Sheffield, having recently made over 400 redundancies, is now trying to impose a pay freeze on the remaining workforce… deplores the exploitative business model that has seen attacks on jobs, pay and conditions across the 2 Sisters Group; highlights the goodwill previously shown by Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) officials and members in offering to suspend pay negotiations whilst the redundancy process was conducted; believes that the company management is now being unreasonable in insisting that any increase in pay would need to be financed via reductions in existing terms and conditions of BFAWU members; recognises that BFAWU members have been obliged to take industrial action to protect their pay and conditions; and calls on their employers to enter into meaningful negotiations to resolve the dispute.”
A second 48-hour strike was due to commence on August 6, but was called off when the bosses at 2 Sisters backed-down as a result of the determined fightback shown by their workers.
Now in the wake of the implementation of a slightly increased living wage, 2 Sisters are attacking their workers in Sheffield again. This time the firm has told staff, at its Pennine Foods site in Sheffield and at the Fox’s Biscuit factory in Batley, that it wants to cut back on premium payments for working unsocial hours.
John Higgins, a spokesman for the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union, has said that some workers set to lose up to £2,000 a year from the latest attacks on his members livelihoods (see “Timeline of 2 Sisters’ Recent Attacks on Workers”).
Furthermore, the announcement just the other month that 2 Sisters had appointed “scrooge employer,” Eurest, to cater for their workers is also problematic. Eurest is owned by the Compass Group, a multinational at which Lord Allen has strong ties, as he previously ran their operations in the not so distant past. The Compass Group are also be a major abuser of zero-hour contracts at sports venues across the UK.
As the battle between 2 Sisters and their employees hots up again, it remains to be seen what support Labour’s new leadership can now show for all workers, including those who are employed by companies enjoying exceedingly close ties to the Labour Party itself.