Capitalism’s bread and circuses no joy for Tip Top Bakeries’ Newcastle Workers
Bread has been a staple food for working people in Australia since British colonial invasion in 1788. Even in periods of capitalist depression, bakeries needed workers to provide subsistence food levels for impoverished workers and their families to prevent large scale revolt by workers. In more recent years, with mass production workers' jobs disappearing at a rapid rate, food manufacturing jobs such as bakeries became the great hope of the capitalist class for manufacturing industry with the appearance of some level of job security for workers.
Hundreds of thousands of workers have been employed in the production and distribution of bread and related products over the years. However in more recent times the industry in Australia has been dominated by two multinational companies, George Weston Foods who own Tip Top Bakeries and Goodman Fielder who used to trade as Quality Bakers and Buttercup.
Both have benefitted from 'vertical integration" with George Weston Foods owning its own agricultural land for grain crops and its own flour mills. Goodman Fielder owns margarine production plants and vegetable oil plantations and processing plants in Southern Asia.
Despite their strangle hold on the mass produced bread market in Australia, there has been a decline in sales due to people attracted to locally owned artisan bakeries in search of better quality bread and the large retailers Coles and Woolworths producing their own bread products in their in-house retail bakery stores. Hot bread bakeries like Bakers Delight and Brumbies have also reduced the big two's market share. Bread as a staple has also been challenged by people's attraction to greater variety in their diets.
However, the biggest impact on jobs of workers employed by Tip Top and Goodman Fielder has been the fierce competition and collusion between the two and the demands of supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths on both to reduce their wholesale bread prices. In the 1980s both Tip Top and Goodman Fielder started closing their suburban bakeries in capital cities and centralised production in large bread factories with semi-automated andfully-automated baking processes. Then in the 1990s and early 2000s they extended the role of automation and computerisation to the packaging sections of the business. They also cut back on driver deliveries to small grocery and snack bars and delicatessens and purchased larger delivery vehicles to deliver to only the larger supermarket chains. In some states
both Tip Top and Goodman Fielder sacked delivery drivers and sub contracted the driving to so-called 'independent contractors' all in the name of efficiency and productivity.
Over the last decade, both Tip Top and Goodman Fielder have closed bakeries outside of capital cities. Tip Top's closure of Newcastle is the latest one.
In Western Australia, Goodman Fielder last year closed its bread production plant in Perth and entered into a deal whereby Tip Top's bread production plant produces Goodman Fielder labelled bread for the WA market! This resulted in the loss of about 60 jobs.
Large bread production factories are generally speaking well unionised and organised workplaces with workers winning good wages and conditions. Each time one of these workplaces is closed by one of the two giant corporations, the organised strength of the working class at the point of production is weakened, not to mention the pain and heartache for families directly effected by the closures. Small scale production bread bakeries are poorly organised and offer fewer better paid full time permanent jobs.
The revolutionising of the production process of bread over the last fifty years in the large bakeries has been driven by competition between capitalists and the maximisation of profit motive. In the hands and control of the working class, these plants could produce a healthy product for millions of Australians and decent full time jobs.
This will only occur when workers in Australia win independence from the multinational corporations and production is organised based on people's needs, not maximisation of profits.