We all reap the benefit of the struggles that trade unions have successfully waged against mean-fisted bosses and governments for well over a hundred years. No one would argue that things are anywhere near perfect at present, but this is nothing that collective organising cannot serve to remedy.
The popularity of socialist ideas, like those promoted by the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and unions, continue to be detested and misrepresented by the conservative media and by the leaders of big business. But this anti-worker hostility makes it all the more important to demand the right to collective bargaining in all workplaces.
A good example of such conservatism is provided by the executives running the highly profitable Leicestershire-based business Samworth Brothers, whose workers continue to work tirelessly to manufacture famous household brands, such as Ginsters and Soreen. Samworth management act like workhouse bosses from the 19th century, and are engaged in a protracted propaganda war against the Bakers Union.
When the Conservative government introduced their ‘living wage’ in April 2016, “Samworth Brothers decided to dodge the minor pay increase for those over the age of twenty-five by making their workforce fund it themselves.” Ian Hodson, the president of the Bakers Union, explains “paid break-times, overtime rates and shift premiums” were attacked. “The workers felt that they were being bullied into accepting the changes, with many being fearful about the detrimental effect that the changes would have on their ability to provide for themselves and their families.”
Earlier this year workers began to speak out against these unfair changes, and this resulted in one worker whose was vocal in his support for the Bakers Union being unfairly sacked. Kumaran Bose had worked for Samworth for twelve years, with an unblemished work record, having started working for the company as a shop floor worker, and then going on to become a Team Leader because of his strong work ethic.
Conscious of the concerns of his fellow workers, Kumaran “raised the workers’ concerns and asked searching questions to CEOs, during company briefings. Kumaran outlined the unfairness and the impact of cuts to workers pay, and pointed to the fact that it was only shop floor workers and team leaders who faced cuts to their pay and conditions.”
The problems at Samworth are not unique, but owing to the size of the business the local media decided to report on the evident mistreatment of the Samworth workforce. As Hodson points out:
“The management decided that Kumaran was responsible for the company being ‘named and shamed’, and as they regarded him as the person responsible for organising the Bakers Union [BFAWU] at the site, he was suspended from work. At his first disciplinary hearing, the initial reasons for Kumaran’s suspension were dropped, as they were based on false allegations. However, the company then changed tack by accusing him of a breach of confidentiality, despite there being no convincing evidence to back-up this claim.”
“It’s shameful, that a family man can be sacked for highlighting the unfairness of a multi-million pound business cutting it’s workers’ wages. Even more incredible, is that in 21stcentury Britain, you can face the sack for joining and organising a Trade Union by an employer that claims to have a Christian ethos and states that it acts in it’s employees best interests, yet is afraid of meeting and working with them as a collective entity.”
The fight for trade union recognition at Samworth Brothers continues, as it does at workplaces across the entire world. Kumaran may have been sacked, but the struggle for justice continues. As part of Kumaran’s ongoing efforts to protect workers’ terms and conditions from unscrupulous employers, he will be meeting with a number of MPs (including shadow ministers) on Tuesday December 6, to discuss what actions may be taken to ensure that the introduction of the so-called ‘living wage’ is not used to undermine the incomes of low paid workers across Britain.