Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/561/6738
No festive joy for shop workers
CHRISTMAS IS finally staggering to a close at the lingerie company I work for. After 23 December, I was able to take four days off for Christmas. To be allowed this luxury I worked almost continuously for the previous six weeks, between 8.5 and 10 hours a day, having taken only one day off.
We were informed that on the first two work days after Christmas (Saturday 27 and Sunday 28 December), we would be required to work 12 hour shifts, to make up for lost time. For all staff, including Christmas temps, this is technically overtime, although the consequence of refusal would be a straight dismissal for temps.
For permanent staff the punishment for refusing to do overtime is consignment to making boxes for a couple of days, general harassment and threats of disciplinary action.
Of course, Christmas is the busiest time for retail workers and no unskilled worker will complain about the offer of overtime during the period when extra money is most needed.
What we have every right to complain about, however, is being bullied into doing overtime, being bullied and threatened into working harder than is reasonable (or even, in some cases, than is humanly possible); being forced to work in near freezing temperatures because the company is too cheap to heat the warehouse (despite grossing over £500,000 a week, for six weeks); for the temps having to accept the poverty wage of between £5.50 and £6.00 an hour, depending on their agency and being made to feel ashamed of the human weakness of illness. Sick days are not paid, nor are breaks.
What the workers at this workplace need is a trade union, and that is exactly what Socialist Party members who work there are building. We are aiming to achieve the 51% membership (out of 30 permanent staff) that is required to force the company to recognise Usdaw as our union. Having built a core of five activists we feel ready to begin a more general recruitment policy in order to get recognition before the end of the January sales.
The majority of the young workers are angry, and starting to realise what a life of unskilled work will mean. The older workers are starting to see that this company has no great intention to look after them.
We are recruiting union members with the following programme:
- An end to bullying management. An end to mandatory overtime.
- An end to discrimination against temporary workers. For the same conditions and pay levels for temporary workers. For protection against dismissal for sickness or lateness. For full training of temps.
- For paid breaks. For extra breaks for those working overtime, an extra 15 minutes every two hours
- For measures to be taken to protect workers from the cold during winter.
- For a guarantee of job security, and for permanent jobs to be made available to a proportion of temps. For a 35-hour week with no loss of pay, which could be accomplished by paying breaks.
We are confident that in the first quarter of 2009 we will achieve recognition. Workers are sick and tired of accepting poverty wages to line pockets of certain rich 'Dragons'. We will continue to build the union, and with it the Socialist Party.
A retail worker
In The Socialist 7 January 2009:
Socialist Party Marxist analysis
Socialist Party youth and students
Socialist Party campaigns
Celebrity Big Brother
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
Environment and socialism