As Labour City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby correctly points out in Leicester’s 2016 guide to Diwali: “Our Diwali celebrations are some of the biggest in the world outside of India, and we can rightly be proud of them. Each year we celebrate as Belgrave Road is transformed into a spectacle of light and colour, as we mark the victory of good over evil and light over darkness.”
Certainly few would question that Leicester should be proud of our commitment to hosting such joyful celebrations. Nevertheless it is distasteful in the extreme, that Melton-based Samworth Brothers — a company that is currently engaged an acrimonious dispute with the Labour movement — should have been allowed to include their own hypocritical advert inside our city’s Diwali guide.
Samworth Brothers “saw profits jump from £36 million in 2014 to £45.6 million last year” (October 4, Leicester Mercury) but this exploitative family-run company treat their workers with contempt with ongoing speed-ups being enforced on the factory floor, and recently announced cuts to much-deserved premium rates.
When Samworth workers decided they needed to be unionised to promote their collective interests, Samworth bosses responded with intimidation and threats. This eventually resulted in the Samworth management sacking Kumaran Bose, an individual who, after working for the company for 12 years, had decided to join the Bakers Union and had then succeeded in persuading many others to join him.
In response to such attacks upon workers’ rights, in July the Leicester and District Trades Union Council released a statement to the media which concluded “that Samworth’s have a 19th century mentality when it comes to labour relations. The super- rich bosses of this company are squeezing their workers dry in order to ensure that the introduction of the Living Wage does not hit their profits and, more importantly, their dividends.”
Given this recent record of abuse, it is sickening that Samworth bosses were allowed to place an advert in Leicester’s Diwali guide noting their alleged commitment to good relations with their staff. The advert explained: “Samworth Brothers wishes a Happy Diwali, peace and prosperity to all its staff and friends in Leicestershire.”
The Diwali festival is of course meant to be a time to celebrate the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance — all things that the shady managers at Samworth Brothers are doing their best to undermine through their ongoing efforts to refuse to engage in collective bargaining with the Bakers Union.
The Times of India summed up the modern meaning of Diwali as “a reaffirmation of hope, a renewed commitment to friendship and goodwill, and a religiously sanctioned celebration of the simple – and some not so simple – joys of life.” These are not characteristics that many would attribute to Samworth’s less-than-friendly management.
But if Samworth’s management are now ready to end their ignorant bullying ways and make good on a genuine commitment to friendship and goodwill, they should allow their workers their legal entitlement to an anonymous ballot on their right to trade union recognition in their workplace. Now that is not too much to ask, is it?