Second seven-day strike at Hovis

Hugh Caffrey and Ian Plumbley

Hundreds of bakers in Wigan, Lancashire, are mounting a second seven-day strike against casualisation. Members of the BFAWU union have been fighting against Hovis management’s attempts to enforce huge pay cuts and make the workforce easy to sack.

On 14 September the strikers and supporters marched through Wigan town centre, bringing the community together in the fight against the employer’s use of the zero-hour contract.

Strikers explained how management had tried to operate the plant on strike days, only to fail as they had no idea how to operate the equipment.

They described how management spy through windows and look down on those on the picket line. And the Dickensian bonus at Christmas is a packet of crumpets and a ticket for a free loaf of bread!

On 16 September there were 60-70 pickets out in the early hours of the morning. Stephen Hall, president of Greater Manchester Association of Trades Union Councils reported: “By 5am only seven of the company’s fleet of over three dozen trucks, all driven by managers, and which have all usually left the bakery by 3am had been able to get out.

“The action of the pickets was only thwarted when police reinforcements, including police dogs were brought in to help break the blockade and three arrests were made.

“Shortly afterwards, however, it was reported that half of the company’s United Road Transport Union member drivers had decided to take the day off in response to the action of the BFAWU pickets.”

The first seven-day strike clearly had a big effect. Management have partially retreated. 24 workers employed on zero-hour contracts have now been given full-time permanent contracts.

This would not have happened without the strike, and shows how trade union action can defeat zero-hour contracts and create real jobs.

A BFAWU spokesperson explained: “The company plan to widen the use of agency labour on site… [and we are] concerned that this will lead to zero hour contracts merely being supplied by a third party.”

Further BFAWU branch meetings are to be held to discuss more action if the management do not remove agency labour from the site.

The next strike runs from 25 September to 2 October.

  • Send messages of support via the BFAWU website or to [email protected]
  • Send donations to the strike fund payable to BFAWU, to BFAWU No.4 Regional Office, 348 Chester Rd, Cornbrook, Manchester, M16 9EZ
  • Visit the picket line at Hovis (Premier Foods) Bakery, Cale Lane, Aspull, Wigan, WN2 1HD

This version of the above article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 18 September 2013 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

Added on 18 September:

Strikers stop lorries

A mass protest at the Hovis bakery in Wigan on 18 September blocked the delivery trucks from leaving the plant for hours, for the second time in three days.

Despite a heavy police presence, the 2am protest delayed the first truck for well over an hour. By 4.30am, one picket explained: “Usually they’d all be out ages ago.

That truck there is at least an hour late, probably more”. Over 30 trucks were due to go out within a few minutes of 3am. Three hours later, and less than a third had left the bakery!

While there was plenty of pushing and shoving by the police, there was no threat to use police dogs, unlike the protest two days earlier.

Another worker told me: “Monday’s protest led to Tescos turning away the delivery lorries. If they did that then, there’s a good chance they’ll do that this morning too.”

Hovis is spending thousands of pounds on a small army of scab managers and scab lorry-drivers. Despite that, the workforce remains resolute and strike action is clearly biting.

The bakers will strike again from 6am on Wednesday 25 September for seven days. Further action is planned beyond that, because as a striker said: “the company isn’t talking to us, and doesn’t seem interested in talking to us”, and so the fight continues.

Further solidarity protests in Wigan and beyond may well be required to back up the bakers’ battle.

Hugh Caffrey

See also:

BFAWU press release