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Reject the mega-supermarket merger: nationalise to save jobs
Iain Dalton, chair, Usdaw Broad Left (personal capacity)
Workers in Sainsbury's and Asda were shocked to hear on Saturday 28 April that their employers were at an advanced level of merger talks, confirmed as a deal agreed on the morning of 30 April.
They would have been especially angered by the incredible behaviour of Sainsbury's chief executive Mike Coupe. ITV News published a video of him singing "we're in the money" to himself between TV interviews announcing the merger!
No consultation has taken place with workers in any of the three recognised unions in the two companies. Retail and distribution union Usdaw organises in Sainsbury's throughout the UK and Asda in Northern Ireland. Unite the Union also organises in Sainsbury's, and general union GMB organises in Asda in England, Wales and Scotland.
Clearly, this move follows the stagnation of the UK retail sector, as well as buyouts such as wholesaler Booker by Tesco and Argos by Sainsbury's. As the discounters have eaten into the retail share of the 'big four' - Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and Morrisons - bosses are seeking 'efficiencies' by combining resources.
This is despite both companies being profitable, with Sainsbury posting its best Christmas results ever and Asda recording successive quarters of sales growth, despite the recent retail squeeze.
The companies have pledged no store closures. This seems unlikely. The Competition and Market Authority which regulates mergers will probably require some store disposals to prevent local monopolies.
The deal talks about 'supply chain efficiencies'. Shopfloor representatives are rightly demanding no job losses.
But Usdaw's outgoing right-wing general secretary John Hannett has only promised "monitoring" and "clarification." The unions must demand no cuts to jobs or pay, and back it up with the threat of industrial action.
Sainsbury's is currently trying to force workers to sign new contracts which raise the basic rate but cut important pay elements. Unite has rightly demanded management halt this at least until the merger.
This once again highlights the question of why the supply of food, a necessity of life, is left in the hands of capitalism's profit motive.
Asda is owned by the notoriously anti-union US giant Walmart. Sainsbury's largest shareholder is the Qatari sovereign wealth fund.
The priorities of both are their bottom lines, rather than shop workers and supermarket customers. The free market delivers some of the lowest wages in the economy for retail workers while also squeezing suppliers.
Instead of leaving such a key sector to the whims of big business, the big supermarket chains and their distribution networks should be brought into public ownership, under democratic workers' control and management. This, as part of a socialist plan of production, is the only way to guarantee retail workers' jobs in the long term.
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