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27 October 2005

Morrison's supermarkets:

Defending trade union rights

SUPERMARKET COMPANY Morrison's have issued two of the TGWU stewards at their massive Gadbrook Park distribution depot, Northwich, Cheshire, with disciplinary notices, effectively de-recognising them. A depot worker spoke to the socialist.

"Under the recognition agreement, if you've got a warning you can't stand in the elections for the depot stewards. The elections are due in November, so they won't be able to stand.

"Morrison's say that one of the reps spoke to union members, urging them to vote against the company's pay offer, which the TGWU nationally is recommending. And the other guy has been put on final written warning for reporting a safety matter to the Health and Safety Executive. He's the union Health and Safety rep!"

The company's nonsensical and bizarre reasons give the strong impression that these disciplinary procedures are more like an attempt to influence the elections than anything else.

It is only a matter of weeks since Morrison's were forced to concede national negotiations with their workforce, under threat of a national strike by TGWU and GMB members.

City analysts at the time warned that 'heads would roll' if the strike went ahead, and the company had to concede basic consultation rights with the unions.

Now it would appear that they are looking to insidiously chip away at the foundations of the unions in the company by seeking to influence union elections and interfere in the democratic rights of union stewards.

The employment rights of Gadbrook Park's Polish workers (see the socialist 29 September 2005) seem to count as lightly as the union rights of TGWU activists.

"The Poles have been finished. We came in and they just weren't there. Business has been pretty flat and they seem to have just let them go. Morrison's put profit in front of everything. It's gone really terrible", I was told.

Morrison's chase for profits is proving remarkably unsuccessful. They have just revealed a half-year loss of 121 million, compared with a 73 million profit for the same period last year as the company struggles to digest Safeway, for which they paid 3 billion. The Morrison's board seem determined to solve the problems they have created at the expense of their workforce - closing depots, clamping down on pay, and employing then sacking migrant workers.

The only thing that stands in their way is effective trade union organisation.

Morrison's woes have released a boardroom battle. The Deputy Chairman, David Jones, who clashed with Sir Ken Morrison on how to recover from the Safeway merger, has just been removed, leaving the 74 year old "dictatorial and abrasive professional Yorkshireman" (the Guardian 9 June 2005) with the job of finding a new successor, a task the Guardian estimated will take up to five years. The old Chief Executive, Bob Stott, is to go only a month after Sir Ken told the Financial Times he would be there till 2007.

A new Finance Director, Richard Pennycook, has got until next March to come up with an optimisation plan "to deliver profit and get back on track" (Financial Times 21/10/2005).

The optimisation plan does not sound optimum for Morrison's workforce - he aims to "drive out dual running costs, re-engineer the supply chain and drive margins" (Financial Times 21/10/2005). The GMB and TGWU and especially their reps are going to have their work cut out.

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