600 more retail jobs on the line: workers must not pay for the bosses’ high street crunch!
Iain Dalton, chair, Usdaw Broad Left
Among the latest victims are almost 600 retail workers employed by Calvetron Brands, many in department stores. Hardly a day goes by in 2018 without more news of woes on the high street.
June saw a fall in UK high street spending for the fifth consecutive month, according to consultancy firm BDO.
A number of chains have collapsed completely since the beginning of the year. Others such as Marks & Spencer, House of Fraser and Carpetright have closed some stores as well.
35,000 jobs in the sector have gone or are at risk this year, according to Guardian calculations. Over 10% of high street shops are empty as of 2016, says the British Retail Consortium.
Staff kept on when their employer goes into administration find themselves in the ‘enviable’ position of selling remaining stocks until the administrators decide it’s not profitable enough anymore, and then summary redundancy. Workers in Poundworld have no idea how long it will be before they are thrown on the dole.
Retail workers will be looking to their union, Usdaw, for a lead. In 2017, following the collapse of department store BHS, Usdaw conference passed a resolution calling for nationalisation in future circumstances – but the leadership has yet to really fight for this.
Strikes against the administrators and occupations to keep out the asset strippers can apply the pressure needed to force nationalisation. Usdaw must put the resources in to begin an urgent unionisation drive on our high streets.
Among the various explanations for this year’s retail crisis, groups such as the British Retail Consortium have pinned the blame on business rates. The latest revaluation came into effect this year. The bosses’ organisation reckons that retailers, making up 5% of the economy, pay 25% of all business rates.
This is because business rates are a property tax rather than a revenue or profit tax. Retailers require a comparatively larger town centre floor space than many other businesses. The British Retail Consortium and others argue this puts high street retailers at a competitive disadvantage, particularly to online retailers.
Business rates are becoming one of the main sources of local government finance as central government funding is cut by the Tories. There is a dangerous argument that could develop over councils pitting the jobs of retail workers against those of public sector workers.
Business rates are not a new phenomenon. What has changed most in the past decade has been the cut in corporation tax, which taxes profits. This has shifted the tax burden paid by companies more proportionately onto business rates, as part of a general drive to lower the taxes on big business.
Reversing the Tories’ corporation tax cuts would be a first step to deal with this. Councils must also stop making the Tories’ cuts by using reserves and borrowing, and fight for the necessary funding.
But ultimately, only public ownership and democratic socialist planning can guarantee secure, well-paid jobs for retail workers and the wider working class.