Morrisons private equity takeover proposals – Usdaw needs to move to a war footing

Morrisonsl, photo Jim Barton/CC, photo Jim Barton/CC

Morrisonsl, photo Jim Barton/CC, photo Jim Barton/CC   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Iain Dalton, Usdaw Broad Left chair (personal capacity)

A bidding war is underway by various private equity firms and their partners for supermarket Morrisons.

The current bidders are led by Fortress private equity fund, including the billionaire Koch family. Its bid is higher than that from rival private equity firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice. A further private equity firm, Apollo, has also appointed advisors ahead of submitting a bid.

On the back of these bids the share price has increased 50% in recent weeks. These developments reinforce the arguments we have made about the strengthened position of the big supermarket companies coming out of the pandemic.

The recently approved takeover of Asda by the Issa brothers, whose first major move since taking over is organising the sale and lease-back of around 25 distribution centres, estimated to raise around £1.2 billion, is an indication of what will be in store for Morrisons workers if any of these possible deals go through.

But there’s nothing holding any other bid, or a future bid by the same consortium, to commitments like retaining the pay rise to £10 an hour. And under capitalism, the main driving force of any business to bring investment returns, profits, to their owners and shareholders. Their attitude towards the interests of their workers and customers are secondary to these considerations.

As the company with the second largest number of Usdaw members after Tesco, with almost 45,000 members at the end of 2020, it is vital that the union shifts onto a war footing in relation to these announcements. Rather than simply asking for a meeting, the union should set out the red lines of opposing attacks on our members’ pay, terms and conditions, as well as the company retaining control of its infrastructure and assets.

Branches of the union covering Morrisons workers should be discussing developments, and emergency mass meetings of Morrisons workers should be held if it becomes clear any attacks on the union’s red lines are taking place. Approaches to Unite, which organises a minority of Morrisons workers, should be made for joint campaigning.

But fundamentally, the profit motive of the employers means squeezing retail, distribution and food manufacturing workers’ wages, terms and conditions is an inevitability under capitalism. That’s why the only real security for decent well-paid jobs in the sector is if the profit motive is removed from the equation.

But’ why should the supply of something so essential as food be a source of such speculation? We believe that as well as defending our members pay and conditions, and job security, Usdaw should be calling for Morrisons, along with the other major supermarkets, to be brought into public ownership, under democratic workers’ control.

Alongside the other key parts of the economy being brought into public ownership, this would create the basis to organise a socialist plan of production and distribution, to meet the needs of all, with pay and conditions that reflect the vital role played in our society by workers in retail, distribution and food manufacturing.