Strikers are confident on the Bfawu union picket line

Workers at Allied Bakeries in Liverpool are striking after rejecting a 10 percent pay rise over two years.

Around 100 members of the Bfawu union are holding a 48-hour strike, set to end on Thursday morning. Around 40 workers joined the picket on the first day, many of them first-time strikers.

Bfawu branch chair Jay McNiven told Socialist Worker, “We get excuse after excuse for why we can’t have a pay rise: ‘The cost of wheat has increased, so we can’t give you a pay rise. The cost of sugar has increased, so we can’t give you a pay rise.’ I think now is the time to say to the company, ‘The cost of your workforce has gone up.’”

The energy of the strikers was matched only by their anger at parent company Associated British Foods (ABF). Its results for the first half of the financial year included a 17 percent increase in sales of its overall food business. But it won’t pay a living wage.

There was no lull in spirit on the second morning. John Owens, Bfawu branch secretary and executive council member, captured the mood of the pickets when he said, “ABF’s attitude is, ‘We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.’ Well, we’re at that bridge now.”

Workers kept going through the pandemic because they thought it was important to maintain food production. ABF repaid them with insulting compensation—a £100 voucher for Primark, which is also owned by ABF.

On ABF’s paltry offer and overall exploitation of its workers, John Owens said, “We felt that we were key workers during the pandemic, and we needed to get our product out to feed the nation. And this is the way the company is paying our members back.”

Workers have to do gruelling “continental shifts”, which means they work two 12-hour day shifts, followed by two 12-hour night shifts. Research has shown this negatively impacts physical and mental health as well as family life.

To minimise the impact of the strike, Allied Bakeries scrapped their routine Monday cleaning and demanded that workers put out more product to cover the anticipated diminished supply.

The site produces goods such as crumpets and pancakes for the Kingsmill brand as well as supermarket own labels.     

Solidarity visitors to the picket included Labour MPs Ian Byrne, Mick Whitley and Kim Johnson as well as Bfawu general secretary Sarah Woolley and national president Ian Hodson.

If talks don’t produce the deal that workers want, they are set to discuss their next action at a branch meeting in mid-June.

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