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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain


On and off the road

by New Worker correspondent

ACROSS the retail and related distribution sectors industrial action is in full swing.

At nine Tesco distribution centres and depots from Southampton to Livingston, USDAW is presently balloting until 6th December for industrial action, for a strike which will begin on the 20th.

National Officer Joanne McGuinness said: “Retail distribution workers are key workers who delivered essential services throughout the pandemic, which in turn delivered a 16.5 per cent increase in profit to Tesco for the first half of the year. These workers deserve a decent pay rise as their reward for what they have done and continue to do day in day out; couple that with the rising cost of living and inflation currently running at six per cent, the company needs to do better. The potential of industrial action and possible stock shortages in stores in the week before Christmas can be avoided, if the company comes back to the table with a better offer that is acceptable to our members.”

The response from Tesco has been to offer a four per cent rise, which Management say is “one of the highest one-year offers made in distribution for over 25 years”. But they threaten that it if their staff vote for a strike they would “not be paid for the entire shift(s) in which strike action takes place, even if you work for part of that shift”, adding that staff could lose their “colleague bonus” of an average of £801.

In response, Joanne McGuinness warned Tesco that: “The threats to our members are intended to deter them from voting in favour of industrial action and then participating in such action and, as such, are unlawful.”

One necessarily anonymous driver added that: “People think it’s drivers wanting to go on strike, but it’s the distribution centre as a whole.”

He also noted that: “Lichfield has Tesco’s own drivers, agency drivers on PAYE and sub-contractors who are on £600 per 10-hour shift. That makes me feel like they have the money there. I understand business is business, but I make £128 per 10-hour shift.”

Over at rival chain Morrisons, 1,100 warehouse workers at Northwich in Cheshire and Wakefield in Yorkshire have called off a threatened strike when the bosses belatedly improved a tiny 2–3 per cent pay offer, which in real terms would only be a pay freeze.

Responding to an improved offer of five per cent backdated to August, Unite’s general secretary Sharon Graham noted that her “members have worked throughout the pandemic to ensure Morrisons shelves remained fully stocked. They simply were never going to accept a pitiful pay deal”.

She added that: “Unite does exactly what it says on the trade union tin: fight to defend our members’ jobs, pay and conditions. This pay rise at Morrisons, as well as similar victories at other workplaces across the country, shows this approach is paying dividends for Unite members.”

This victory comes just after a similar one for Unite for the outsourced HGV drivers employed by Wincanton who work on the Morrisons contract, which serves the two distribution centres. The 450 lorry drivers employed by Wincanton on the Morrisons distribution contract covering the north of England and the Midlands have secured a massive increase of between 18–24.4 per cent. Wincanton can well afford this, as it did well from the extra deliveries made during the pandemic.

This came about after workers voted by a massive 98 per cent in favour of strike action, a margin which made the bosses sit up and notice.

The details were that drivers at got an 18 per cent pay increase on basic pay and all allowances for the drivers at Gadbrook and Wakefield, whilst at Stockton-on-Tees drivers got an even better 24.4 per cent in order to bring their pay rates in line with workers on the rest of the contract.

Unite regional officer Mark Jessop said: “By securing such an overwhelming mandate for industrial action, senior management understood that they needed to return to the negotiating table in order to avoid highly disruptive industrial action.”

Wincanton has contracts with many large stores, making profits for Wincanton of £47.2 million during 2020, half year pre-tax profits for 2021 increased by 31.4 per cent.

Workers should reject appeals directed to management and instead turn for support to the working class. If Unite proves incapable of preventing the strike from going ahead it will seek to impose its isolation and wear down resistance.

handsome

At Sainsbury’s, drivers employed by DHL serving their South West of England stores have won a handsome 14 per cent wage increase. This is part of an 18-month deal from last July.

Once again this was in response to the threat of strike action, after 140 drivers had started began balloting for industrial action earlier this month after receiving a totally unacceptable pay offer.

Sharon Graham said: “Unite always fights to defend our members’ jobs, pay and conditions. The inflation busting pay rise at DHL, as well as similar victories at other workplaces across the country, demonstrates our approach is paying dividends for Unite members.” It remains to be seen if that is indeed the case, but such victories auger well for the future