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Militant tactics deliver results at Hovis

A strike by 220 machine operatives and cleaners at the Hovis factory in Wigan shows that determined action backed by militant tactics and labour movement solidarity can beat the bosses.

Members of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) voted for three weeks of discontinuous action to stop bosses using agency staff to undermine terms and conditions.

After the first week-long strike workers won permanent full-time contracts for 24 agency staff employed on zero-hour contracts.

Workers this morning marched back to work after a second week of strike action which saw mass pickets of strikers and supporters disrupt deliveries, hitting the bosses where it hurts – in the pocket.

Although workers agreed to a pay cut and shorter hours in order to save jobs, bosses refused to negotiate on the issue of using agency workers.

Premier Foods, the company that owns Hovis, has demanded arbitration through ACAS – but insists workers must end their strike before negotiations begin.

But workers who have seen management use every trick in the book to break their strike are in no mood to compromise.

Hovis bosses have drafted in managers from as far afield as Belfast and brought in workers – recently sacked by Hovis in Birmingham – to scab. Strikers have been offered £2,000 a week to go back to work. Police turned up to an early morning picket on Tuesday and escorted lorries driven by managers through the pickets. Just to make clear which side they’re on the police then arrested three picketers, including a Unite organiser.

The pickets have seen impressive displays of solidarity. Postal workers and delivery drivers refused to cross picket lines, supporters have organised workplace collections contributing hundreds of pounds to the strike fund. With mass pickets of strikers being joined by union banners from NUT, Unison, GMB, Unite and others, workers are confident of victory. And they know better than anyone the impact the strike is having on the company’s profits.

During the first strike the factory made just 10,000 loaves. The largest machine in the factory – which scab managers can’t operate – usually makes 10,000 loaves an hour.

BFAWU members organising for an overtime ban at Hovis factories in Bradford, Belfast and Leicester to stop processing Wigan orders could be the decisive blow which forces bosses to stop exploiting agency workers and agree decent employment terms and conditions with their employees.

The methods used by strikers at Hovis show the methods that deliver results. Strikes lasting more than 24 or 48 hours mobilise the real economic power of the workers – they hit profit rates which can’t be recouped by simply speeding up work or using overtime when the strike ends.

Organised solidarity from the labour movement and supporters, including mass picketing shows the bosses that they are fighting a bigger force than the employees on strike.

The last fortnight in Wigan shows that we can not only stop bosses using agency labour – but can win decent jobs and conditions for those on zero-hours contracts. This kind of action is the way to reach out to the one million workers currently employed on these terms.

But encouraging unorganised workers to join unions will only work if the unions themselves are prepared to back militant action that can achieve results and stop victimisation. We need to spread awareness of the experience of the Hovis strikers and be prepared to use similar tactics wherever possible.

Unite the Resistance has called Day of Action on 28th September.

The next strike will begin at 6am next Wednesday 25th September

What you can do to back the strikers

  • Send the workers a solidarity message at region4@bfawu.org
  • Visit the picket line – Hovis main gate, Cale Lane, Wigan WN2 1HD
  • Invite them to speak at campaign, workplace and union meetings. Contact geoff.atkinson@bfawu.org
  • Raise money for the strike fund. Download a collection sheet here bit.ly/188royf

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