In the past 10 years or so Tesco has become one of the world's major retailers; it is the biggest retailer in Britain and in the last financial year announced record profits of £2.6 billion. The spectacular rise to the top has not been without controversy however. Everywhere you look in Britain, towns and villages have been destroyed by the negative social impact of stores like Tesco. On their own website, Tesco paint a rosy picture. "We want to be a good neighbour and run a business that is responsible, honest and fair".
Yet all the evidence proves that their honest desire is hogwash. Tesco have upset a wide range of groups, government departments, local authorities,businesses and their own employees using their warped interpretation of honesty, fairness and responsibility. In Scotland, the company intends to close its 2 distribution plants in Dundee and Livingstone, replacing them with a "super distribution centre" in West Lothian to supply their 100 supermarkets across Scotland. Tesco has a monopoly on over a quarter of the entire market in Scotland. The Competition Commission are currently investigating their practices.
Tesco claim they support local communities and provide jobs, yet on their announcement to open their new single distribution centre, the Transport & General Workers Union (T&G) rightly heard alarm bells. The union discovered that Tesco intended offering their workforce a take it or leave offer: Move to West Lothian or you won't have a job. At the same time, the plans allowed bosses to introduce new contracts, reduced pay deals and launch a vicious assault on conditions. After entering into talks with T&G officials, Tesco released a statement saying they no longer recognised the union. This is illegal and a contravention of the Human Rights Act to which Britain is a signturee. Ron Webb of the T&G said, "Management had no intention of agreeing a deal. We were within an ace of an arrangement on protection of pay and conditions for our members regarding the Livingston site transfer, when, suddenly Tesco announced they are derecognising us. Their behaviour was duplicitous".
Tesco's actions are not just an attack on the T&G or their members who have the misfortune to work for Tesco, they are an attack on every trade unionist and on the trade union movement. In a 95.5% ballot turnout, 92% of members voted for all-out strike action. In a second question on industrial action short of full strike, 94% were in favour. The T&G even involved concilliatory service ACAS in an attempt to make the Tesco bosses behave in a responsible manner to their workforce but without success. Now, the union has set May 29th for the beginning of strike action.
In an MP's Briefing Report the conclusion was that "Tesco needed to be tamed and government action (was) needed". A damning indictment of the company and their methods. The Independent on May 14, reported that Tesco was one of the main users of east European workers who were found packing vegetables by the new government agency, the Agricultural Labour Agency. Even Sir John Nott, ex-Tory minister in Thatcher's government, complained to the Competition Committee calling Tesco's behaviour "predatory" and urging the government to break the company up. Friends of the Earth have maintained a watching brief on Tesco for years and in a damning report to parliament in June 2004 exposed "evidence of the damage Tesco is doing to communities and the environment". There is a massive amount of informtion on the internet about Tesco and how their business practices are highly questionable. They frequently use what the Guardian describes as "A Trojan Horse" tactic when, after securing planning permission to build one of their stoes, Tesco then renage on promises which have a terrible impact on other traders, the local communities and the social and community lives of ordinary people. In Partick, Glasgow, they won a protracted legal battle to force the council to grant them permision to build a 24 hour store. The council sought and were guaranteed assurances that a national heritage building, under the care of the National Trust of Scotland, the old Partick Station ticket office would remain – a much loved attraction and reminder of life in Partick from the last century. It is now a car park.
Last year, Channel 4 broadcast a documentary showing Tesco's involvement in paying workers 5p an hour to manufacture goods that were sold in their supermarkets in Britain. The programme also highlighted the use of children as young as 8 years being used in this work. Despite the glossy, happy-clappy image and the jingle "Every Little Helps", Tesco stand out as a company who abuse their corporate power and despite their highly efficient PR and legal section, they represent everything that is hellish in the capitalist society, rotten to the very core. Socialist Appeal supports the drivers and distribution workers who face misery in the coming months.
This super-exploiter also demonstrates clearly why those of us who must sell our labour power to live MUST join a trade union and get involved in the struggle. Tesco and companies who break the law with impunity and openly disregard the flimsy rights of workers in this country prove that the present Trade Union legislation supposedly designed to create jobs and keep jobs is a non-argument. John McDonnell MP has condemned the present legislation in withering terms and demanded that Labour implement the call from the TUC for the Trade Union Freedom Bill.