Morrisonsl, photo Jim Barton/CC, credit: Jim Barton/CC (uploaded 22/05/2019)
Morrisonsl, photo Jim Barton/CC, credit: Jim Barton/CC (uploaded 22/05/2019)

Socialist Party members in USDAW

The post-Covid employers’ offensive is well and truly in progress. After being forced to offer improvements in sick pay and one-off bonuses during the Covid-19 pandemic, the supermarkets and other retail bosses are now determined to put us back in our place at the bottom of the pile.

The pay offer from Morrisons bosses of just 2%, when RPI inflation has reached over 11%, is an insult and has been rightly rejected by workers.

Morrisons shareholders aren’t strapped for cash! In the last half-yearly report to investors, Morrisons reported that it expected profit before tax to be higher than the year before. Bosses “remain confident of a year of meaningful profit growth.”

Last year, when Tesco distribution workers were offered 4%, they rejected it and successfully balloted for strike action – forcing the company to increase their offer to a total pay rise of 6%. Even the threat of action can be enough to win improved offers.

If Morrisons management is allowed to get away with a pay offer far below inflation, then it’s likely that other retail companies will attempt the same.

It is vital for Usdaw to mount a strong challenge to this pay insult. The rejection of the pay offer is a great start. But that is only the beginning, not the end, of what will be necessary. No trust should be put in Acas, which last time a pay offer was rejected sided with Morrisons bosses.

Instead, Usdaw should be organising members’ meetings, either in-person or via Zoom if necessary, to discuss what action would be needed to force the company back.

The union leadership could mobilise members to join protests outside of Morrisons head offices or outside key stores. If such steps do not convince Morrisons to up the offer, then the question of a strike ballot is posed.

While there are practical difficulties given the dispersed nature of retail and lack of traditions of strike action, we should take inspiration from the successful strikes of retail workers at Lidl in Belgium and Stop and Shop in the USA in recent years.

A disaggregated ballot could enable those manufacturing sites, distribution centres and stores which reach the Tory-imposed 50% turnout threshold, to take action as a step towards building wider action.