Striking Hovis workers have stepped up the pressure on Premier Foods’ bosses, using mass pickets to disrupt delivery vans in Wigan this week.
The 220 machine operatives and cleaners struck for a week earlier this month—and won permanent, full time contracts for workers that bosses wanted to bring in on “zero hours contracts”.
They then went out for a second week-long strike to stop bosses using agency workers to drive down pay and conditions. A third strike is planned to start on Wednesday of next week.
“Management asked us to go back to work and negotiate,” said one striker. “We’re not doing it—not after all the times we asked to talk and they wouldn’t. They’re just bullies.”
Bosses at Hovis had agreed that agency workers were emergency cover. But in crumpet production 30 percent of staff have been agency workers since last February. Around 300 strikers and supporters marched through central Wigan last Saturday.
The strikers, who are members of the Bfawu bakers’ union, were joined by Blackpool UCU, Manchester NUT and Unison, Rochdale Unison, Greater Manchester FBU as well as Unite and Usdaw unions.
And around 80 strikers and supporters blocked the lane from the factory to the main road in the early hours of Monday morning—despite a heavy police presence.
The first van took an hour to get out and then drivers refused to cross the picket line, with one parking his lorry in the road.
By 5am managers had only managed to drive four vans out, instead of the usual 15 or 20. They had already missed delivery slots at supermarkets and distribution centres.
“This was the most effective picket line,” said one striker. “Any disruption is piling pressure on the directors. If the lorries are late, stores will refuse delivery. The product will have to come back and be scrapped.”
Another said, “This morning was uplifting. We’ve had so much support from other trade unionists who’ve done this before. It’s been an inspiration and education.”
Police arrested three supporters on the picket line. One striker called the arrests “absolutely diabolical”, and workers agreed to chip in for their fines totalling £250.
Pickets and supporters were set to welcome the strikers on their march back into work after the second strike on Wednesday morning.
And in the middle of the third strike workers plan to join the march on the Tory party conference in Manchester on Sunday 29 September. They will march in a block with their own T-shirts.
Strikers are angry about scabs shipped in from Birmingham who were made redundant from Hovis three months ago. “You’d think they’d understand what we’re going through after it happened to them,” said one striker.
But the strikers’ stand against agencies and zero hours contracts has struck a chord with workers across Britain who are sick of seeing their workplace rights eroded away.
Sean Vernell, joint secretary of Unite the Resistance and a member of the UCU union executive, invited strikers to London to speak at colleges.
He said, “You will get a fantastic response because we understand. In my college 40 percent of the staff are on hourly contracts.”
A striker said, “We’re getting loads of support. We’ve spoken at hospitals and fire stations in Manchester, and we’re going to Sheffield and Liverpool.”
Council worker Dave Lowe told strikers at the rally last Saturday, “Care service workers are also fighting zero hour contracts. You have restored our faith in the ability to fight back.”