Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/1054/29523

From The Socialist newspaper, 4 September 2019

What strategy can end the retail jobs massacre?

Retail bosses are taking out reduced profits on their workers, photo by fsse8info/CC

Retail bosses are taking out reduced profits on their workers, photo by fsse8info/CC   (Click to enlarge)

Iain Dalton, chair, Usdaw Broad Left

The last few years have seen swathes of closures of shops across the UK as whole chains have collapsed while others close considerable numbers of stores. In 2018, the Centre for Retail Research said that 18,443 stores closed, while 137,719 retail jobs were lost, the worst year since the 2008 economic crash.

The huge scale of this crisis, which looks set to grow in 2019, has forced the shop workers' union Usdaw to launch its Save Our Shops campaign.

The second day of action was at the end of June, in addition to the launch of the union's Industrial Strategy for Retail at parliament, attended by MPs including Labour's shadow chancellor John McDonnell.

The strategy makes numerous suggestions derived from policy passed as Usdaw conferences - many of which socialists fully support. These incorporate the major points of Usdaw's Time for Better Pay campaign, such as changing redundancy law to remove the loophole which allows chains to close stores of less than 20 employees without consultation.

The Save Our Shops campaign itself is summarised in three core demands:

4.5m jobs

Despite the crisis, retail remains an important part of the UK economy. It is the largest employment sector with 3 million people employed and a further 1.5 million jobs directly dependent upon it.

Even with the growth of online retail, most shopping still takes place in stores. The strategy cites statistics showing that online sales accounted for 18.6% of all retail sales in the UK in March 2019.

It also cites Next's annual report for 2019 which pointed out that "every additional order online has increased variable costs, such as warehouse picking and delivery costs... Last year, every pound of Next business that transferred from retail to online cost an additional 6p."

Other interesting facts are that 80% of their online returns come through stores and half of their online orders are delivered to stores.

Online retailing is clearly here to stay. And in some areas, such as music and non-physical media, it may be very significant. But physical stores are still important to many customers.

This is reflected in online giant Amazon's moves to establish physical stores by buying the Whole Foods chain, establishing seven Amazon Go stores in the USA as well as various 'pop-up' shops. Indeed the strategy advocates retail companies establish a 'clicks and mortar' approach.

But online-only companies do benefit from an uneven playing field linked to the question of rents, taxes and business rates.

All retailers require adequate warehousing and a logistics network, but bricks-and-mortar retailers have the additional overhead of a network of shops across the country which accrue additional business rates to online retailers. For example, the strategy cites Tesco paying business rates of 700 million in 2016-17, while Amazon paid 63.4 million.

The report essentially argues for a reorganisation of taxes without coming down on a particular formula.

However, the strategy does quote Tesco CEO Dave Lewis saying: "I believe it's time to consider an online sales levy... 2% would raise 1.5 billion... that could fund a rate cut of 20%, levelling the tax playing fields between physical retailers and their online competitors."

This essentially would equate to a tax cut for the big retailers such as Tesco at the expense of the online retailers, in effect a form of protectionism for the bricks and mortar retailers.

Indeed, as the strategy points out, any cut in business rates would have a big impact on the finances of local government, which is increasingly dependent on this source of income due to government 'reforms' cutting their finances over the last decade.

The strategy also calls for reducing tax avoidance, which we would fully support. Yet it highlights the problem that even the most progressive tax reform will face attempts from retail companies to avoid it, stating "...we know of instances where online retailers are reporting their sales through separate companies registered in countries such as Luxembourg... There is no easy solution on this front."

Profit problem

This is because we are dealing with capitalist corporations driven by the need to maximise profits.

The report is hampered by its failure to recognise this source of the crisis in retail. Numerous points are made in the strategy about the short-term outlook of the retail bosses, but this is not fully drawn out.

It is the very nature of the capitalist system, driving companies by the need to generate profits to meet the demands of shareholders that forces them into this short-term outlook.

While some retailers, and indeed representative bodies such as the British Retail Consortium, may recognise this and even support some reforms, this is not the same as those retailers being prepared to be the first one to put their profits on the line and implement such reforms.

The strategy's approach to trying to win such demands includes "legislation to ensure that workers have guaranteed seats on the boards of large companies, with the same duties and responsibilities as other directors."

But the experience of British Leyland and other companies where such worker representation on boards existed in the past was that this was used to gag those representatives, forcing them as a minority to support the bosses approach. This inherently undermines collective bargaining for workers (which the strategy also supports) as their representative(s) on the board can be seen to be responsible for, or supportive of, employers' attacks on pay, terms and conditions, and other negative policies.

Indeed, retail workers are increasingly fighting the attacks by the bosses with strikes by Usdaw members at Tesco and Sainsbury's distribution centres as well as strikes at Matalan, Wilko and the looming Asda dispute around 'Contract 6'.

The crisis on the high street means that the big supermarkets are all cutting thousands of jobs and imposing worse terms and conditions. Retail trade unions should launch a joint campaign, including future coordinated industrial action, to stop this 'race to the bottom', instead of proposing workers sit on the boards waging these attacks.

Public ownership

The best way to develop the real 'collaborative approach' the strategy talks about is to remove the capitalist profit motive from the equation altogether to allow a genuine collaboration between working people across retail and associated sectors. The only way to do this is to bring the big retail companies into public ownership under democratic workers control and management.

At Usdaw's 2017 conference members passed a motion calling for raising "the question of nationalisation of companies who go into administration or other situations where the jobs of our members and other retail, distributive and allied trades workers are under threat."

The resolution went on to argue: "Bringing such companies into public ownership, would save jobs and stores, while the government could pursue their former owners regarding any alleged irregularities.

"Such nationalisation, should not be of a top down nature, but of one run on a democratic basis [to] allow staff representatives, customers representatives and the wider trade union movement to be involved in the revitalisation of these companies."

Usdaw should be putting forward the ideas from this proposition as the core of its industrial strategy for the sector. It means not bowing to the inevitability of job losses and store closures but fighting to take control of companies out of the hands of (mis)management that have led to such closures and staffing cutbacks.

This is also the most efficient way of making use of "the knowledge and experience of staff" talked about in the report.

This needs to be linked to a wider programme of public ownership including the banks, transport and big manufacturing companies to develop a democratically planned and integrated economy capable of meeting the material needs of ordinary working-class people.

Only such a strategy can save the high street while creating a society capable of delivering for workers.

Donate to the Socialist Party

Coronavirus crisis - Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • Our 'fighting coronavirus workers' charter', outlines a programme to combat the virus and protect workers' living conditions.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our special coronavirus appeal.

Please donate here.

All payments are made through a secure server.

My donation

 

Your message: 

 


In The Socialist 4 September 2019:


What we think

Tories out now - Corbyn in with socialist policies

Marches, blockades, strikes, occupations... How can protests win?


News

Money doesn't make up for cuts - education unions must organise for funding and against Tory attacks

Bury expelled from football league: Boot out the bosses ruining our game

Dozens of protests say Boris must go - Socialist Party policies heard on TV


Climate change

20 September climate action day: Strike to save the planet!

Climate action day - trade union round-up


Wales

Austerity anger feeds movement for Welsh independence


Retail

What strategy can end the retail jobs massacre?

Workplace victory emboldens retail workers to get organised


Workplace news

TUC: name the day for a mass demo

Nottingham college workers plan 15 days of walkouts

Science Museum Group staff strike over pay restraint

DVSA strike: action impacting

South Western Railway guards strike against DOO

London bus workers protest for better hours and conditions


International socialist news and analysis

Hong Kong protests: No let-up in trial of strength


Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Socialist Party Youth and Student national meeting

Priced out of Pride

Bradford demo: Self-determination for Kashmir


Opinion

At 96 I'm more convinced of socialism than ever

The Socialist Inbox


 

Home   |   The Socialist 4 September 2019   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook






Related links:

Retail:

triangleContinue the fight to protect safety

triangleMandatory masks in shops law

triangleSunday trading: Government blinks first

triangleDebenham's protests: Workers must not pay price of Covid-19

triangleResist relaxation of Sunday trading laws

Jobs:

triangleA-level results day 2020: Fight for our future!

triangleCampaign stalls on jobs, pay, NHS and racism

triangleGE Aviation workers march to save jobs

triangleFighting for over 250 jobs that are under threat at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff. Photo M Kamish

Workers:

triangleCuba: Covid-19 and the 60-year-old embargo

triangleOppose BT site closures - national strike ballot needed

triangle80 years since the murder of Leon Trotsky rally

Usdaw:

triangleDebenhams: Fighting closures and redundancies

triangleWorkers need a 'new deal' - at least 12 an hour now!

Tax:

triangleThem & Us

Tesco:

triangleUsdaw shop workers' union activists meet via Zoom

Government:

triangleTories' obesity plans - blaming individuals not the profit system

Public ownership:

triangleCapitalism causes crisis profiteering: fight for workers' oversight and public ownership

Economy:

triangleWorkers and young people need planning for jobs, not handouts for bosses

Amazon:

triangle"Test, trace, isolate, support" - the Tories' scheme fails on all counts

Minimum wage:

triangleUniversal Basic Income: not a solution to insecurity and poverty under capitalism

Asda:

triangleAsda contracts: Vital that GMB mobilises for industrial action

News and socialist analysis

News and socialist analysis

5/8/20

Coronavirus

Tories' obesity plans - blaming individuals not the profit system

5/8/20

Coronavirus

Capitalism's 'vaccine war' shows need for socialist cooperation

5/8/20

Labour Party

Labour payouts: unions must discuss political representation

5/8/20

Coronavirus

NHS pay: 15% for all now

5/8/20

Coronavirus

From first wave to second? Capitalism's Covid failures

5/8/20

Universities

What would socialist universities look like?

22/7/20

China

Huawei: what's behind Johnson's u-turn?

22/7/20

Coronavirus

Fight for our livelihoods... Fight for our lives!

22/7/20

Music

Saving the music industry from pandemic and austerity

22/7/20

Luton

Luton Council sunk by airport investment: fight for funding, not speculation!

22/7/20

The Socialist

Getting the Socialist over the summer

22/7/20

Coronavirus

Fight for the NHS

22/7/20

NHS

Tories using pandemic to privatise NHS more

22/7/20

Them & Us

Them & Us

22/7/20

Steel

Nationalise Tata Steel to save jobs

triangleMore News and socialist analysis articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

LATEST POSTS

CONTACT US

Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777

Email: info@socialistparty.org.uk

Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 079 8202 1969

East Mids: 077 3797 8057

London: 075 4018 9052

North East: 078 4114 4890

North West 079 5437 6096

South West: 077 5979 6478

Southern: 078 3368 1910

Wales: 079 3539 1947

West Mids: 024 7655 5620

Yorkshire: 077 0671 0041

ABOUT US

ARCHIVE

Alphabetical listing


August 2020

July 2020

June 2020

May 2020

April 2020

March 2020

February 2020

January 2020

2019

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999