In 2013 the Bakers Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU), along with Youth Fight for Jobs and others, initiated the Fast Food Rights campaign to fight for decent pay, terms and conditions for fast food workers. This came after the union’s successful strike against zero-hour contracts at the Hovis Factory in Wigan.
In the run up to the union’s annual national conference on 8 to 12 June BFAWU president Ian Hodson spoke to Claire Laker-Mansfield from Youth Fight for Jobs.
Why did BFAWU initiate Fast Food Rights?
It was the issue of zero-hour contracts and the success we had at Hovis. The bosses see McDonalds, Subway, etc, as a great testing ground for the type of working conditions our members have been subject to in bread factories and sweet factories. All of those practices that have been in place for a long time in fast food are filtering through into everyday employment practices in our organised workplaces.
We saw this as an opportunity to help people who aren’t currently involved with a trade union, who don’t believe they have any rights. By joining together with the different elements – not just a trade union campaign but a community campaign and a political campaign – we can stop this race to the bottom.
Research shows that 80% of people who go into a workplace that has never been organised by a trade union will never join a trade union. We’re hoping this campaign will bring an understanding to people who work in this industry that there is an alternative to what they get told on a day-to-day basis. By doing the campaign we’re going to places we’ve never been – we normally organise outside factories, we don’t normally go on the high streets.
What were the lessons from the Hovis dispute?
It demonstrated that if people stand and fight together, they can win. The company tried all sorts of tactics – threats of closure, £1,000 to cross the picket line, bringing people in to intimidate the pickets.
But the workers said no, we’re not going to be intimidated, we’re not going to take the cash, we’re going to stand here until you recognise people should be treated fairly.
How have you been able to win people to the union in places like Greggs?
The first thing we did was organise the bakeries and then through our negotiations with the company we said we want access to the shops as well.
We’ve been able to represent a number of shop workers and demonstrate that by being in a union they can get better terms and conditions – they get a pay increase each year, they’re not on minimum wage, they don’t have to put up with zero-hour contracts, or accept that they’re not entitled to holiday pay.
What sort of demands should Fast Food Rights be making of politicians and the government?
Legislation that allows an employer to treat people like second class citizens or like they’re not important needs to be changed.
It can’t be right that politicians sit in the Houses of Parliament and debate about improving employment by making people more vulnerable, more insecure and worse paid. Politicians have a duty to actually start serving the electorate, not just the people who buy their dinners.
Since BFAWU’s founding in 1847 we’ve had a commitment to a living wage. One of the things this campaign has highlighted to me is that the youth rate needs to be scrapped.
What has inspired you to develop the campaign?
Something that’s really inspired me is what’s happening in places where people have been brave enough to actually put a figure on the minimum wage – like $15 in the US. We don’t currently have a figure as a trade union but I’m going to try and put one at our upcoming conference.
I think we need to give working class people a clear understanding of what our trade union is fighting for – a £10 figure, why shouldn’t working people get £10 an hour?
Even if they get the current living wage, it would still only give them enough to maybe afford to throw their children a party and maybe afford to pay for a holiday. I don’t want people to ‘maybe’ afford, I want them to be able to.
I went over and attended the International Union of Foodworkers conference in New York and listened to some of the McDonalds workers about why they decided to take action. One of them was a single mother, the other was a 22 year old young woman. I asked her what she would say to other young people about why they should join a union or take action.
She said: “because it’s all been given away and we’ve got to take it back. If we’re going to get out of the poverty we’re living in, so that I don’t have to make a choice between whether I catch a bus to work or I’m able to eat, then the only way to do it is to organise”. It was so inspiring!