Five hundred food processing workers strike in Leicester

19 June Yesterday, 500 workers at RF Brookes factory in Leicester took their third day of concerted strike action to oppose the unjust policies imposed on them by their profit hungry management.

Attacks on the workers at this food processing factory in South Wigston typify capitalist attempts to squeeze every last drop of profit from otherwise successful businesses by punishing their employees.

Until late last year the Leicester factory had been owned by chilled food behemoth, Premier Foods, a company that in its bid to increase short-term profits for shareholders, readily disposed of 200 workers in September 2011.

After a successful takeover bid by Ranjit “Chicken King” Boparan, the factory is now in the process of being ransacked by Boparan and his wife’s Birmingham-based company, 2 Sisters Food Group. A destructive course of action that is no anomaly for the Boparans, as they acted similarly when they took a controlling stake in Northern Foods last year.

At present a further 193 staff at RF Brookes are being coerced into redundancy. But this time round, thanks to the Boparans’ entrepreneurial wizardry, redundancy payoffs are less than half what they were under Premier Foods’ regime.

This was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back, and has seen Boparan’s hardworking employees now threatening to break the Chicken King’s back: letting him know that his much touted efforts to create a £3.5 billion global food empire will not be built upon the devastation of their communities.

With a strong, enthusiastic picket line made up of hundreds of workers – many having spent decades at the factory and never before considered it necessary to take strike action – the fightback against the job-slashing Chicken King is now in full force.

Tony Lewis, from the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), which was called on by its members to support this strike, said:

“Basically this is about stopping the race to the bottom by food manufacturers, who in their quest to maximise profits, are driving workers’ pay and conditions down.

“We need all socialists and progressives to continue with the campaign nationally to fight this trend.”

Tony added that the workers will continue striking for two days every week until mid-July, by when they hope to have obtained support from other workers.

Indeed, union representatives at their sister plant in Rogerstone Park, in south Wales, are currently having discussions with their management which could lead to further industrial action against the 2 Sisters Food Group.

2 Sisters is not alone in this race to the bottom; Marks & Spencer, that currently serves as the sole recipient of RF Brookes’ food produce, is likewise cutting production costs by locating cheaper suppliers.

This of course equates to a search for food suppliers with a low-paid, non-unionised workforce, be they domestic or foreign.

Evidently Boparan and his family’s food conglomerate have set their goals high, and aim to become the main supplier for the British chilled food industry. But to do this they have determined that they must continue their attacks against the very source of their profits, their workers.

The solution to this steadfast attack on workers is therefore, as Tony Lewis clearly states, for workers to unite! And along these lines, workers and union officials from across the country have already sent messages of support to their RF Brookes’ comrades.

For instance, from Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union:

“PCS stands fully behind BFAWU members in their dispute over redundancy pay. These workers are the real wealth creators and the action of RF Brookes’ management is disrespectful to their workforce.

“At a time of high unemployment and economic stagnation, it is vital that employers are deterred from laying off staff, and that those who are made redundant are compensated fairly”.

Both national and international solidarity are essential in this time of open class warfare, waged fiercely upon the poor by the rich.

With renewed energy, workers are defending their class interests, and they are demanding that their unions support them. (By Michael Barker, reposted)