Ian Hodson: We Demand a Payrise For All

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After years of real-term wage cuts, too many people up and down the country are faced with having to choose between feeding their children or heating their homes in the fifth richest economy on the planet. That isn’t, and shouldn’t be, acceptable.

After years of real-term wage cuts, too many people up and down the country are faced with having to choose between feeding their children or heating their homes in the fifth richest economy on the planet. That isn’t, and shouldn’t be, acceptable.

From nurses and teachers to rail workers and posties as well as our members in the food sector, these past 18 months or so have seen record levels of industrial action across the UK. The government response has not been to address the hardship so many suffer, but to provide scapegoats such as small boat crossings or blame minorities. It has brought forward legislation not to outlaw poverty, but to outlaw people from resisting this decline in living standards through implementing laws that restrict workers from withdrawing their labour and using the threat of dismissal and sequestration of members’ hard-earned cash from their unions.

Everyone has a right to live and work with dignity. We all have a right to withdraw our labour if we are not being treated fairly. As the saying goes: “the difference between a worker and a slave is the right to withdraw your labour.”

I believe not only should we defend our rights and freedoms, but we should be vocal in our support for giving nurses, teachers and public sector workers an above-inflation pay rise, implementing a minimum wage of no less than £15 per hour, banning exploitative zero-hours contracts and reversing cruel benefit sanctions.

“We all deserve to live in a society that values us and provides us with the just rewards for our labour.”
– Ian Hodson

In a recent survey carried out by the BFAWU, our members told us their top concerns and issues that impact their daily lives. They highlighted low pay, poor treatment from management and workplace bullying.

They also spoke in favour of public ownership of utilities transport and the Royal Mail.

They, along with millions of others up and down the country, want to live in communities where adequate council housing is available too. I think most people recognise you cannot solve the problems we face as individuals, unless you are born into wealth or privilege, and they must be fixed collectively.

Whilst talking at disorganised workplaces, poor health and safety is a huge issue. Many at the Samworth Brothers food production sites, where a trade union organising campaign jointly run between BFAWU and the Peace & Justice Project has been in full swing for over a year, are denied the right to join a trade union. When we leaflet at the factory gates, workers tell us about injuries sustained from repetitive work and lack of preventative rotation. Some have even complained of threats to their employment if they raise issues with senior management, as well as a lack of sick pay. This means employees continue working despite injuries and potentially aggravate conditions because of their poor work practices. We often hear reports of a culture of fear and the employer’s repeatedly failing to meet their obligations with regard to workplace health and safety.

Each of us deserves to live in a world of dignity and compassion. In order to bring about economic justice for the many, we must also consider those who are unable to work. The demand for fair pay for workers must be matched by an uprating of benefits payments for those not working, for health reasons or otherwise.

“This is why we can’t sit back and simply hope an employer will do the right thing, or that the government will introduce a real living wage of £15. If we want a better future, we must organise for it.”
– Ian Hodson
Allied Bakeries
BFAWU members taking strike action at Allied Bakeries in 2023 (Credit: Alan Gibbons)

Having been part of the development of both McStrike and SpoonStrike campaigns, I know what a difference organising a workforce can make. Those campaigns secured the biggest ever pay increases, the rolling back of zero-hour contracts at McDonald’s and the introduction of late hour payments, as well as pay rises at J D Wetherspoons pubs.

Now we are seeing incidents of sexual harassment at major employers being exposed by the BBC, demonstrating the importance of giving all people an opportunity to be able to be heard, even if the truth is uncomfortable for the household names employing tens of thousands up and down the country.

I’m really pleased that my union, the Baker’s Union, is being represented at the 5 Demands conference on Saturday 13th April, with our Cornish branch chair speaking on the Payrise for All panel in the morning. This is a demand that the whole labour and trade union movement should get behind, as I hope they will.

As we approach an election, we must organise and make our demands heard. Bringing an end to job insecurity and exploitative practices used by far too many of the UK’s employers must be a priority of this government and the next.

Ian Hodson is President of the Baker's Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU). You can find out more and register for the 5 Demands conference in London on Saturday 13th April here.