This week in Southport saw the four-day long conference of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU) in Southport. The conference - the 101st of the oldest standing British trade union - was attended by almost 200 delegates, representing factories, shops and restaurants all over the country.
These delegates are all-too-familiar with the savage attacks that the working class faces across industry. As a result, there was no trace of wavering when it came to passing militant motions: from kicking out the vultures profiteering from our NHS, to a bold rejection of all Tory cuts.
Strikes and solidarity
Amongst the highlights of the conference were a unanimous vote to back the call for a general strike to force serious action on climate change, planned for September this year. This makes BFAWU only the second union - along with the UCU (University and College Union) - to support this call for a general strike. If it went ahead, it would the first general strike since 1926.
This is an extremely positive development. The energy, boldness, and large scale of the youth climate strikes would be strengthened enormously were they to link up with workers and the wider labour movement. In this way, the struggle against climate change could be linked to the wider struggle to kick out the Tories and bring a socialist Labour government to power.
Only then can we begin to address the climate crisis as a class issue. As Adele Andrews, a conference delegate from Wigan, stated during the debate, the root of the problem is "capitalism, the system of greed".
Another high point of the conference was an emergency motion that called for solidarity with the Bridgend Ford factory workers, who are currently being balloted for strike action against the planned closure of the car plant.
The motion and its movers called for nationalisation of the factory, under workers’ control and management, with no compensation to the old bosses. This was received with multiple loud rounds of applause, and the motion was passed unanimously.
Many of the delegates also expressed joy at the recent influx of determined young activists into the union. Although the number of 18-24 year olds organised in the trade unions remains at an all-time low, a new layer of young workers have begun to turn things around.
Already the Labour Party has been transformed as a result of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and the energy of young people. The next challenge is to bring a new generation into the unions, in order to turn these into a fighting weapon for fundamental change.
Young workers have taken strike action at Wetherspoons and McDonald’s under BFAWU’s banner. This has been crucial in strengthening the fighting spirit of the union. These delegates gave some of the most radical speeches at the conference, clearly pointing the finger at capitalism as the problem - and socialism as the solution.
With fighting leadership, bold ideas, and grassroots organisation, young workers will be able to rediscover the best traditions of the class struggle in Britain, handed down by past generations.
Bring back Clause IV
BFAWU has also been one of the most passionate union supporters of the Labour4Clause4 campaign, which aims to break with Blairism once and for all, and bring the Labour Party back to its socialist roots by restoring the original Clause IV.
This famous clause pledged to “secure for the workers, by hand or by brain, the full fruits of the industry, through the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”.
These words clearly resonated with delegates, with around 40 attending the Labour4Clause4 campaign fringe meeting at the BFAWU conference - the most popular and energetic fringe meeting of the week.
Speakers included: Ian Hodson, BFAWU President; Mike Hogan, from Liverpool Wavertree CLP; and Maciej Krzymieniecki, a young BFAWU conference delegate.
All spoke passionately about the relevance of Clause IV to today’s crisis-ridden capitalist society, where privatisation and the market have caused nothing but misery for workers and youth. This is why we need to bring in nationalisation and workers’ control over production.
Delegates enthusiastically discussed the need to overthrow this dog-eat-dog profit system, in order to carry out Labour’s radical manifesto and provide working-class communities with quality housing, jobs, and public services.
Setting the tone
The inspiring conference was concluded by a closing address from Ronnie Draper, the general secretary of the union. This was followed by a rousing rendition of the Red Flag.
The bold ideas on show at this week’s conference set the tone for the fights ahead. The militancy of the BFAWU is an example for the rest of the trade union movement to follow.
It is possible we will see Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street before the end of the year. The labour movement will have to organise and mobilise to force a general election and bring in a socialist Labour government. This year’s BFAWU conference showed that workers are ready for this struggle.