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Argos: aggressive bosses met by determined strike
1,400 Unite members at regional warehouses across the UK are out on strike for two weeks. Proving that the Trade Union Act will not stop workers exercising the right to strike, 85% voted for strike action with a 73% turnout. The company's attempt to get an injunction against the union was thrown out by the High Court on technicalities.
The company (bought in November for £1.4 billion by Sainsbury's - slogan: "Living better for less") is pursuing an aggressive line against its workers. The plan that sparked this action involves transferring 500 workers from the Argos facility at Magna Park, Lutterworth to the logistics firm Wincanton, 25 miles away in Kettering, which would undermine the union's ability to take legal strike action across the company, and threatens terms and conditions for the workers involved. It also points the way for further contracting out of jobs as a strategy for the company to further reduce labour costs.
When Socialist Party members from Leicester visited the picket line at the huge Argos warehouse in Magna Park, Lutterworth, we were greeted with dozens of red Unite the Union flags and a union gazebo. For the two-week strike they are maintaining a busy 24-hour picket line; you could sense the solidarity and strength of the workers.
Paresh Patel, Unite regional coordinating officer, said:
"The support shown by the workforce has been superb and everyone is in good spirits. There is 100% solidarity. Argos are transferring the workforce of 500 at Magna Park to another company - Wincanton in Kettering, 25 miles away. We are disappointed with Argos' stance around the payment of redundancy. The union wants to talk but Argos are not prepared to. This is why there is action here at Magna Park and across the five centres in the national forum."
Terms and conditions in a transfer are meant to be guaranteed under TUPE regulations. But Unite's website points out: "Argos has refused to give guarantees at all its distribution sites that workers' terms and conditions will be safeguarded in the future" and "members have concerns about being offered alternative employment on potentially inferior terms, if they are unwilling to travel to a new site."
Workers fear a "contracting out culture" and have asked for "guarantees about terms and conditions and voluntary redundancy if a site moves and they cannot transfer." Last year Socialist Party members supported picket lines at the same site when they took strike action over the transfer of drivers to Eddie Stobarts.
One picket told me that it would cost him and many of the workers thousands of pounds a year extra to get to work if they were transferred. Doesn't that have the same effect as a pay cut?
The management, having failed to block the strike by legal action once, could try again.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 19 May 2017 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.