By Lukasz Bemska, Bakers’ Union Leicester
Inside the factories that churn out Ginsters’ famous pasties, conditions are dire. As a trade unionist I deal every day with workers who can’t afford to live, who are victimised for speaking up, and who are forced into work while sick in spite of the coronavirus crisis.
Samworth Brothers is Leicester’s biggest employer and turns profits in the millions every year. It depends on our city to exist. And because of its size, it sets the standard for how other employers behave. At the moment, Samworth is driving standards down, offering Leicester little reward for the profits we have delivered it.
The workers I represent are not asking for much. They want a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work – a living wage that enables them to afford to eat and pay their bills.
And in the midst of a pandemic, they want proper sick pay so that they do not have to choose between going hungry and going in sick.
Finally, they want to be able to join a union that is recognised and dealt with in good faith by their bosses.
These are the basics of a workplace in any civilised society, let alone an advanced economy. But corporations like Samworth Brothers have been getting away with mistreating workers for years, and in the pandemic recession will use the threat of layoffs to get away with even more.
The only way to stop them is for workers at the plant to organise. But they need support from the outside; since those who do stand up are routinely harassed and sacked. Migrant workers are misled about their rights, and there are efforts to divide them from domestic workers. If Leicester’s community make clear that they won’t tolerate thousands of our workers enduring poverty pay to drive up their bosses’ profits, it will increase pressure on Samworth Brothers to do the right thing.
That’s why the Bakers’ Union (BFAWU) are working with local supporters of Jeremy Corbyn’s Peace and Justice Project on a two-pronged campaign. We are unionising Samworth Brothers workers directly, and we are also campaigning – starting with a petition and online organising, and moving to physical campaigning when it is safe to do so – to draw wider attention to pay and conditions at Leicester’s biggest employer.
The Peace and Justice Project’s pandemic solidarity campaign is right to bring together direct support like mutual aid and food banks with backing trade unions. We cannot simply dispense charity without dealing with the conditions that cause people to need it, and nor can we ignore the role our movement can play in giving people direct material aid – as trade unions have always done.
In Leicester, our message is simple: Samworth Brothers would not be a billion-pound company without our city and its workers who make their sandwiches and pastries. It’s time to give them a fair slice of the pie.