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From The Socialist newspaper, 29 September 2005

Morrison's join the 'race to the bottom'

SUPERMARKET CHAIN Morrison's was a company in crisis, even before they started antagonising their workforce. Head hunters are apparently looking for a replacement for Bob Stott, the 62 year-old Chief Executive, as the company's performance continues to decline.

Andy Ford

Analysts Morgan Stanley issued a note on 10 June stating that Stott and his management team had over-estimated the savings to be had from merging Safeway and Morrison's to the tune of 100 million.

And Sir Ken Morrison, the 'dictatorial and abrasive professional Yorkshireman', (Guardian, 9 June) who arrogantly told a mass meeting of Safeway staff: "This is not a merger; this is a takeover", has come under fire as well.

His niece mysteriously sold 9.8 million of shares 15 hours before a profits warning sent the share price tumbling.

Luckily his niece is based in Jersey not Yorkshire, so she shouldn't be too inconvenienced with tax. Sir Ken was forced to buy 10 million-worth of shares to show that he at least has faith in the company.

Meanwhile profits are predicted to fall from 320 million to 150 million or even as low as 50 million. Around a million customers have deserted the ex-Safeway stores and the company was forced to admit that they had little idea of how much they were making or losing - because the finance department had made too many Safeway staff redundant!

A Morrisons shop steward speaks to the socialist

MORRISON'S DISTRIBUTION workers have balloted in favour of a series of strikes to get proper consultation with the company over re-organisation of the depots and many other problems affecting the workforce. The first strike was dropped to allow talks to go ahead, although the company merely used these to announce which three depots they want to close. Another series of strikes are due to begin on 29 September. A TGWU member at Morrison's Northwich depot spoke to the socialist:

"There's a lot of worry about the way Morrison's are using Polish labour. The Poles are there when we get to work and they're there when we leave. They're put into digs in Crewe, charged for rent, 'cleaning' and transport to work. We reckon they're taking home about 50 a week."

There is some prejudice against the Polish workers for under-cutting the original workforce, but the only way to deal with the situation is to try and recruit the Poles to the union.

Because of the language barrier it is difficult for union activists to get through to the Polish workers, but the union has given some stewards a crash course in 'workplace Polish' so that at least now some of the Poles can ask fellow workers about their pay slips.

"We also think that they're being put on serial probation periods. We can't find out the details because of the language problem. But these immigrant workers are treated like shit."

Never mind the Poles, the rest of the workforce isn't treated a whole lot better. Young English workers also have their probation periods extended. The union has called stewards' meetings, only for the reps to be refused leave to attend. It makes it very difficult to organise or represent members. The company do not allow union meetings on site.

And yet the Morrison's management hardly inspire confidence. There are boardroom battles, profit warnings and operational problems.

"We're running around all day to get the orders picked - high pressure - and it's a dead crowded environment. Morrison's blatantly put profits before health and safety and welfare of their workers.

And there's problems with the systems we have to work with - the electronic order-picking system went down the other week, and Wakefield's too. There was a massive backlog."

In fact, the very future of the company seems to be in doubt due to mistakes at the top. The Observer described how Morrison's has: "Stunned the city by lurching from crisis to crisis since the Safeway deal".

The problem for the workforce is that Morrison's fully intend to solve their problems at the workforce's expense. Along with the possible depot closures this year's pay offer was worth just 22p an hour for an order picker.

And the problem for all retail workers is that the giant supermarket chains are competing with each other to get to the lowest wages and most casualised and insecure workforce.

The industrial action is needed to get some respect from Morrison's.

One worker said: "If we don't go out this Thursday they'll never listen to us!"

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In The Socialist 29 September 2005:

NHS in danger

Labour's great NHS sell-off

Waiting for Gordon

Where are the Lib Dems going?

Anger at occupation of Iraq

Fight for free education

Don't sell off Peabody homes!

Anger grows amongst industrial workers

Morrison's join the 'race to the bottom'

Witch-hunt in Amicus as merger nears

Poland: Right-wing parties win election


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