Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/1040/29047
Usdaw conference 2019
Tesco: profits for bosses, job cuts for workers - Usdaw union must fight back!
Scott Jones, chair, Usdaw East London Retail Branch C026 (personal capacity)
As delegates arrive in Blackpool for the annual conference of Usdaw, the retail and distribution union, many shop workers are facing job losses and worse pay and conditions as the retail crisis deepens.
At the same time, some bosses are celebrating. In April, Tesco announced a 30% rise in profits to £1.7 billion, with chief executive Dave Lewis saying: "After four years we have met our turnaround goals. I'm very confident that we will complete the journey in 2019-20."
But up to 9,000 Tesco workers won't be around to complete "the journey." Despite the huge profits Tesco announced in January, up to 9,000 jobs could go, as bosses axe many in-store counters and hot food provision in staff canteens.
They would join thousands of other retail workers who have lost their jobs in recent years - the latest being Debenhams workers, after bosses announced the closure of 22 stores, affecting 1,200 jobs.
Shamefully, Tesco workers first heard about the changes in the press. After months of uncertainty, management is now calling those affected into redundancy meetings.
Tesco has talked of 'redeploying' some workers. But with 10,000 jobs already lost through not replacing staff who have left, the retailer can't be trusted.
Usdaw president Amy Murphy, a Tesco worker and member of the Socialist Party, has said: "Staff are angry, shocked and devastated. Particularly by the appalling decision to hold celebratory buffets in stores to celebrate the profits on the same day colleagues were told they were at risk of redundancy.
"Retail is under pressure, but Tesco still makes over a billion in profit, and staff played the crucial role in ensuring a good Christmas for Tesco and the rise in profits. We should fight every job loss and cut."
The bumper profit announcement shows not a single job should be lost, no counters should be scrapped, and no changes should be made to staff canteens. Even though some workers are currently going through the redundancy process, workers' anger demonstrates it's still not too late for Usdaw to fight - to prevent every job loss now, and to build a fightback to defeat future attacks.
Last year saw strikes by McDonald's, TGI Fridays and JD Wetherspoon workers, as well as by Tesco workers in Dagenham and in Ireland. This shows the potential for similarly low-paid supermarket staff across Britain to take action.
Tesco workers could also link up with customers who will be angry at losing in-store services. As well as urgent in-store union meetings, Usdaw should call public meetings to win support for the fight against these cuts.
This year, Usdaw launched its 'Industrial Strategy for Retail'. This includes welcome measures: a £10-an-hour minimum wage, minimum 16-hour contracts, and the right to a contract reflecting regular hours worked.
Also, reducing the gap between chief executive pay and ordinary workers, and measures to stop corporate tax avoidance.
But it falls short of asking the central question behind the retail crisis: under whose control is the retail industry to be developed, and in whose interests?
Usdaw's 2017 conference resolved that failing retail companies should not to be allowed to sack workers and close stores, but be nationalised instead. Usdaw should make this a cornerstone of its industrial strategy for retail, including for profitable companies like Tesco.
Ultimately, only on the basis of public ownership and democratic workers' control can jobs be protected from the pressures of the market. Instead of the bosses running our high streets and supermarkets into the ground, we call for democratically elected committees of shop workers and the local working class to run retail.
Save our jobs! Fight for better pay! Build the 'campaigning union'!
Ryan Aldred Secretary, Usdaw Plymouth and District General Branch (personal capacity)
In the last year, we have seen another increase in the list of shops facing or entering administration. Familiar high-street names have closed their doors, with thousands of workers left with only the promise of poverty and debt from the broken Universal Credit system.
Likewise, we continue to see creeping casualisation in the retail sector, with zero and low-hour contracts on the rise.
But it doesn't have to be this way! Usdaw prides itself on being "the campaigning union," and a serious undertaking to build the 'Time for Better Pay' and 'Save Our Shops' campaigns is needed.
We need to see the union mobilise the full strength of its 430,000 members - organising campaign stalls, building demonstrations, and preparing for strikes if necessary.
Fighting like this for employers and the government to establish a £10-an-hour minimum wage - and scrap zero and low-hour contracts, unless specifically requested by workers and subject to trade union conditions - would start to undo the insecurity and poverty increasingly offered by retail bosses.
We need to place demands on 'struggling' employers to open their books for the scrutiny of trade unions and the workforce - a proposition put forward by Socialist Party members calling for this is on the conference agenda.
If companies can afford overinflated salaries for bosses and dividends for shareholders, they can afford to raise workers' wages. If companies do face administration, we call for their nationalisation.
By demonstrating the strength of the union to combat the bosses and their Tory government, we can expand our membership and truly earn our spurs as a union that campaigns for a better future for workers.
This government is on its knees. With the strength of half a million shop workers, especially if reaching out to other unions for combined action, we could see the poverty conditions created by Tory and Blairite politicians consigned to the dustbin of history.
The Socialist Party says
- Open the books of the big retailers to inspection by workers and trade union representatives - to see where the profits have gone
- Raise the minimum wage to at least £10 an hour, end zero-hour and short-hour contracts
- Fight for a shorter working week, of no more than 35 hours, without loss of pay
- Nationalise big business in retail and distribution under democratic workers' control and management, as part of a democratic, socialist plan of production
Come to the Usdaw Activist (Socialist Party members in Usdaw) conference fringe meeting at the Almeria Hotel, 61 Hornby Road, Blackpool FY1 4QJ at 6pm, Sunday 5 May - speakers include union president Amy Murphy
In The Socialist 1 May 2019:
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