Urgent fightback needed against profiteer bosses

Tesco photo Simon Haytack/CC

Tesco photo Simon Haytack/CC   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Iain Dalton, chair, Usdaw Broad Left and Socialist Party

Job losses in the region of 1,600 jobs could go at Tesco. After two years of being praised as front-line key workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, this is how Tesco is repaying the workers, who have earned shareholders bumper profits over that period.

Tesco boss, John Allan, warned of a hike in food prices and outrageously claimed that “we don’t make an awful lot of profit in relation to our sales.” Yet the supermarket made a whopping £2.6 billion in operating profit this financial year.

The job cuts are the result of a number of proposed measures including ending overnight restocking at 85 stores, closing fish, meat and deli counters in 317 stores, and bringing in ‘pay-at-pump only’ overnight in petrol stations at 36 stores.

Tesco will also be shuttering its Jack’s range of discount stores, set up as a competitor to Aldi and Lidl. With Tesco copying their model across all their stores anyway, Jack’s is now deemed unnecessary, with seven closing altogether and six being converted to large Tesco stores.

This is being spun as responding to ‘customer demand’ by putting more people to help customers on the shop floor, but these workers will have to do this alongside their actual job of refilling their shelves. But clearly, such changes are not being driven by the best interest of the customers – closing counters clearly means less choice! Not to mention having to navigate aisles clogged with cages as shelves are refilled during the busier daytime, rather than quieter periods at night.

Allan also seemed to disagree with the Bank of England governor after he told workers not to ask for pay rises. Allan said: “We think our colleagues deserve pay rises.” Yet Tesco basic pay is still less than £10 an hour, and even the promise of a 5% pay rise for shop floor staff, pledged by Allan, is less than constantly rising inflation.

The approach in retail union Usdaw’s press release to “support members throughout the process” is simply not enough. Such weakness in the face of Tesco and other companies’ profit-driven attacks will simply engender more such aggression.

Workers in Tesco distribution demonstrated how, when a lead is given, Usdaw members will respond, with votes for strike action in 13 depots leading to increased pay offers.

We need to mobilise union members in retail (and the wider trade union movement) to defend and improve their pay, terms and conditions. Workers should fight for control over the workplaces and conditions, linked to bringing the major supermarket chains into democratic public ownership, given their pivotal nature to the supply and distribution of food as the pandemic showed.

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