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BFAWU conference 2016: "A council of war"
Rob Williams, Socialist Party industrial organiser
The BFAWU bakers' union conference 12-16 June in Southport felt like a real council of war. This is a union with 20,000 members - that is numerically smaller than others - but huge ambition to defend them at a time when it is under siege from the food employers who want to protect their profits.
The main bulk of BFAWU members are employed in factory bakeries with big companies such as Greggs and 2 Sisters who have been looking either to cut terms and conditions (ironically to make up for the new higher National Living Wage) or close plants and make workers redundant.
The conference took place just as its members in 2 Sisters plants - at Pennine Foods in Sheffield and RF Brookes in Newport - have taken strike action to defend their contracts. Hundreds of workers picketed both plants with tremendous support from fellow trade unionists and socialists, including the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) and the Socialist Party.
Pennine workers have been able to push the company back on their attacks and look to have secured the offer of a 2% pay rise backdated to August 2015. But these fights are bruising as the battle for recognition in Leicester company Samworths demonstrates.
BFAWU member Kumaran Bose has just been sacked and the conference pledged to defend him.
He is from a Tamil background and it was apt that Isai Priya from Tamil Solidarity (TS) was invited to address delegates and committed TS to take the fight for his reinstatement into the Tamil community. Kumaran and BFAWU general secretary Ronnie Draper will both be speaking at the NSSN Conference on 2 July.
Alongside fighting to maintain its membership in the bakeries, BFAWU has been looking to organise fast food workers by launching Fast Food Rights with the NSSN, Youth Fight for Jobs and other organisations.
A number of delegates from this sector were at conference, some for the first time. Taking inspiration from the $15Now campaign in the US and linking up with unions there, BFAWU has really popularised the demands of the scrapping of zero-hour contracts and a £10 minimum wage.
The main political debate of conference was on the EU referendum. BFAWU general secretary Ronnie Draper and president Ian Hodson correctly exposed the class character of the EU and delegates voted to confirm the union's position of Leave on an anti-austerity basis.
Conference also passed motions condemning the Blairites in Labour who are attacking Jeremy Corbyn as well as supporting the junior doctors struggle.
On a motion about MPs who are jailed for misconduct, Ronnie Draper paid tribute to Militant ex-Labour MP Terry Fields who was sent to prison for not paying the poll tax.
The Socialist Party hosted a very successful fringe meeting on the EU referendum with speakers Tony Mulhearn, surcharged anti-cuts Liverpool Labour councillor and Enrico Tortolano from Trade Unionists Against the EU.