Critical Food Workers Rewarded as True Working-class Heroes

Throughout this pandemic our critical food workers have acted as true working-class heroes. In an exhausting industry where bullying Tory bosses like to treat their employees as dispensable resources, food workers have continued to risk their lives to feed our nation. Greencore Food Group represents one of Britain’s many highly profitable companies that wrings immense profits from their low-paid workforce. Yet from the very start of this pandemic Greencore’s workers have been raising health and safety concerns with their bosses, which the latter have done their best to ignore.

Then in early August Greencore made the national news when a huge covid outspread took root amongst the workers at their Northampton site (although notably the outbreak could be traced to management actions). But as you might have expected Greencore’s managers were quick to blame the workers themselves for spreading the virus. This was of course utter nonsense as the opposite was true, as it was only through the determined organising of the Baker’s Union and their members on the shop floor that conditions were eventually improved at their factory.

So last week, the union and their members were pleased to finally receive some public recognition for their hard work when the Bakers Union branch at the Greencore site won an award as part of Northamptonshire County Council’s ‘Unsung Heroes of Northamptonshire’ initiative. The Council explained:

“We are writing to you today to extend our congratulations as we are delighted to say that Bakers, Food and allied Workers Union Branch 357 Greencore has been awarded a ‘Rose of Northamptonshire Award’, a recognition of the hard work and determination that you have shown when faced with the unprecedented threat from the Coronavirus outbreak – keeping our communities together and those most at risk safe.”

It is truly ironic that the Tory-run Council was forced to give members of a trade union this award, considering that Tory politicians continue to do everything in their power to undermine the ability of workers to organise collectively in their workplaces. No doubt the Tories were forced reluctantly to give out the award because of the huge public support that the Greencore workers continue to obtain from thankful members of the public.

We should be clear that it is the Tories failure to act in the interest of ordinary workers that means that Boris Johnson’s government is making living conditions far worse for key workers. Like all good capitalists, the Tories privilege the needs of private sector profits before public health, which has resulted in a huge and largely avoidable death toll, mostly effecting those already living in or near poverty.

Tories also seem to have a propensity for breaking lockdown rules. In fact, over the summer while Greencore’s workers were fighting for safer working conditions, one Northampton Tory councillor was named and shamed in the newspapers when he was caught flouting social distancing rules. The councillor in question was Luke Graystone, a man whose other paid work sees him serving as the chief of staff to Andrea Leadsom, the Tory MP for South Northamptonshire who recently served in the government as the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

To this day key workers remain under attack from bullying Tory bosses, whether that be the British Gas workers who are currently taking nationwide strike action against their employer, or members of the Bakers Union based at Greencore who are presently organising against attacks to their pay and conditions. And as always, the primary way that workers can work to counter their exploitation is to get organised within trade unions so they can fight collectively to improve their working conditions.

But workers also need a political voice to represent their voices in Parliament, to amplify the demands they make upon their bosses in their workplaces. More than ever a socialist alternative is needed by all workers, and with the ouster of Jeremy Corbyn from Labour’s leadership the Labour Party seems unable to serve this purpose. Hence it is looking increasingly likely that workers and their unions will have to start working to help create a new democratic and socialist formation that can support their ongoing struggles for better conditions and help us move towards a new type of society where human needs always trump private profits.

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