Rotten to the Greencore

Manny Thain

Pay workers a living wage! That is the urgent demand in the fight against the relentless driving down of living standards in Britain’s low-wage economy.

A case in point is Greencore, whose workers make 430 million sandwiches a year and three million Christmas cakes for the likes of Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Tesco and Asda – in factories in Northampton and Hull.

The company sold £1.2 billion-worth last year, an operating profit of £76.5 million. The boss, Patrick Coveney, was paid £1.3 million. Many of his workers subsist on the £6.50 an hour minimum wage.

Reports in the Mirror and Guardian describe how agency staff arrive 20 minutes before the 6am start time to enter the daily hiring lottery. Those who lose must leave. The winners are too scared to refuse overtime in case they are not picked again.

Workers can be moved in the same shift from a near-freezing 5°C to the sweltering baking area operating huge ovens. Supervisors stalk the lines, shouting at workers to speed up.

Greencore hit the news last week when a Daily Mail headline shrieked: ‘Is there no one left in Britain who can make a sandwich?’ The Mail moaned that the company recruited some workers from Hungary.

Unsurprisingly, Ukip cynically jumped on the bandwagon. Rose Gibbins, its candidate for Northampton South, said that Greencore is “upsetting people here. It is an insult and a fallacy that people don’t want to work.” Tory candidate, David Mackintosh, hypocritically warned of increased pressure on public services if more people come from Hungary (Guardian, 14 November).

Of course, none of them called on Greencore to pay a living wage to the workers who make the sandwiches and profits. These parties and their media backers aggressively promote the ‘right’ of British bosses to exploit all workers in Britain, and the ‘right’ to cut to the bone all public services.

It’s about time these vicious representatives of big business were shown the door. A determined trade union-led campaign for a £10 minimum wage, and for an end to government and council cut-backs, could mobilise a massive movement to end sweatshop labour – and this divisive ‘race to the bottom’.