Bosses demand a prison workforce to keep wages below poverty level

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IT EMERGED yesterday that desperate UK food companies are begging Tory ministers to let them use prisoners to work in meat processing plants as cheap labour.

According to a report in the Guardian newspaper, the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS), which represents abattoirs and processors, is meeting with the Ministry of Justice to ‘explore how its members could recruit more current inmates’ to solve its job crisis.

It is not just the processing plants that the bosses want prisoners to be dragooned into working for.

They are also meeting with HM Prison Service officials this week to demand that they bail out the industry by supplying prisoners to work as lorry and delivery drivers.

It comes as a meat shortage, especially amongst poultry products, hits supplies to high street supermarkets and restaurants.

Last week, the high street chain Nando’s was forced to close 45 restaurants because they ran out of chicken.

That meat processing plants and abattoirs are experiencing a crisis in keeping workers comes as no surprise.

During the coronavirus pandemic these have become the hotspots for Covid infections – not just in the UK but throughout the world.

Unsafe, insanitary working conditions led to an explosion of cases throughout 2020 and was coupled with low wages that barely reach the legal minimum.

Workers are not prepared to put their lives on the line for poverty wages to keep the likes of the big supermarkets and food chains in profit.

Last week, the Unite union national officer for food, Bev Clarkson, commented on the nationwide chicken shortage saying: ‘The terrible pay and working conditions that make the meat processing industry one of the worst places to work in the UK are coming home to roost.’

Clarkson, however, was quick to assure the industry bosses that the union is ready to help when she pledged: ‘Unite is able to help fix the problem by working with meat processors to improve wages and terms and conditions that will lead to long term retention of staff.’

Clearly the meat processing bosses are not interested in sitting down with Unite to negotiate pay increases, instead they are looking for cheap labour from prisoners.

The same plan is being pushed to overcome the crisis in driver shortages. Again, there is no mystery about why drivers are refusing to work to rescue industries and the bosses’ profits.

On Sunday, The Observer newspaper reported on the case of drivers working for the delivery service Ocado.

It was revealed that drivers delivering groceries for the on-line retailer are earning less than the minimum wage despite the enormous increase in demand for home deliveries.

Previously, their hourly wage was fixed at £14 but this was slashed when Ocado, which is half owned by Marks & Spencer, took on a new partner, Ryde, which has assumed responsibility for driver contracts.

Ryde is backed by massive international venture capitalists and high-tech investors.

Under the new management, drivers’ wages have been cut by between 50% and 70% with one driver reporting he only earned £2.91 an hour one week and was forced to survive on Universal Credit.

Meanwhile, Ocado’s company profits have soared – shooting up by nearly £30 million to £73.1 million in February.

Instead of sitting down with the trade union leaders and taking up the offer of ‘help’, the bosses are now turning to prisoners to provide cheap labour. It won’t be long before they demand a return to the old prison gangs where inmates are forced to work for nothing.

These trade union leaders have known what is going on in transport and the meat industry all along, and have done absolutely nothing to defend wages and conditions.

They must be removed and replaced with a new leadership that is not prepared to passively accept this brutal exploitation, but will organise the strength of the working class and its unions in a general strike to kick out the Tories and go forward to a workers’ government that will nationalise the industries placing them under the management of the working class.

Join the WRP today to build up the new revolutionary leadership in the struggle for a workers’ government and socialism.