Thousands of Tesco distribution workers could be taking strike action this Christmas, affecting supermarkets across the UK. The fight for decent pay and conditions must be a fight for nationalisation, workers’ control, and socialist planning.
5,000 members of USDAW and 1,200 members of Unite the Union are set to strike in the run up to Christmas, after receiving a disappointing early present from management: a real-terms pay cut.
Tesco offered its distribution workers a 4% pay rise, which workers have rightly deemed as “offensive”. This is well below inflation, which currently stands at 6%, according to the Retail Price Index.
The Tesco workers represented by Unite, including warehouse staff and HGV drivers, are based at sites in Antrim, Belfast, Didcot and Doncaster.
Didcot and Doncaster will see an initial 48-hour stoppage on 16 December, followed by a five day stoppage on 20 December; a 48-hour stoppage on 30 December; and a three-day stoppage on 5 January 2022.
The Antrim and Belfast Tesco distribution centres will go on an all-out continuous strike from 16 December.
Unite members will be joined by Tesco workers organised in USDAW, who voted to take action at sites in Daventry, Goole, Hinckley, Lichfield, Livingston, Peterborough, Southampton, and two sites in Magor in south Wales.
The pay offer is a slap in the face for Tesco workers who are already under the cosh.
“I have colleagues having to claim Universal Credit to make ends meet,” stated one worker at the company. “That’s unacceptable in the 21st century. Especially when you’re working for a multi-million pound company.”
“Our members have gone above and beyond the call of duty to keep Tesco’s shelves filled,” commented Unite general secretary Sharon Graham. “At the very least, the UK’s largest and wealthiest retailer should be making members a decent pay offer.”
Tesco says its paltry pay offer is a ‘fair recognition’ of the hard work of staff. Yet Tesco itself is on course to report profits of £2.6 billion this year – all while supermarket workers have put their health at risk, delivering essentials that society relies upon, in exchange for low pay, long hours, and precarious conditions.
#Usdaw members at nine Tesco distribution centres vote overwhelmingly for industrial action in disputes over pay https://t.co/5X99KF1Rf2
— UsdawUnion (@UsdawUnion) December 6, 2021
Negotiations with management continue; and given the level of disruption that these strikes would cause, it is likely that the bosses could return with a new offer.
Should the strikes proceed, they have the potential to cause massive damage to the bosses’ profits, coming on top of the supply chain issues that have dogged UK (and global) markets this year.
With less than two weeks until Christmas, a shutdown of distribution centres would see empty shelves and shortages during the most high-demand time of the year, increasing the pressure on the company.
Tesco is Britain’s largest supermarket, accounting for 25% of the sector. With a militant strategy and a willingness to hold out for victory, there is no reason why workers must settle for anything less than all their demands and more.
Union leaders must not underestimate the power that these distribution workers have at their fingertips. They have the capacity to paralyse the company and the country.
It is also welcome that USDAW and Unite will be taking action at the same time, increasing the impact of the strike. It is essential that leaderships in both unions actively promote and organise coordinated action.
Both unions must work to involve other layers of their membership in the struggle: to organise and ballot shopfront staff – as well as workers in other supermarkets – over their own demands around pay and conditions.
USDAW’s leadership has a track record of avoiding strikes in favour of rotten compromises and collaboration with the bosses. But they are clearly being pushed into action under pressure from their rank and file.
Whilst this development is welcome, with the union’s leaders taking steps to call workers out on strike, members must be ready to reject dodgy deals, given the potential power they hold.
For workers control!
This is only the latest in a series of industrial disputes across the private sector over pay, triggered by rising inflation.
With more and more workers being drawn into struggle, we are seeing an increasing number of victories – emboldening workers to take further action, which in turn leads to further victories.
We stand in solidarity with Unite and USDAW members, and wish them every success in this dispute. A strong win for thousands of Tesco workers would be a Christmas present to workers everywhere.
But the experience of the last two years has proven that, if the supermarket and distribution sector is left in private hands, shareholders will continue to enrich themselves, while workers’ pay and conditions are ground down.
The anarchy of the capitalist market, meanwhile, will continue to create chaos, inflation, and shortgages for ordinary households.
To safeguard jobs and pay, and run the economy rationally, therefore, the struggle for fair pay must also be a fight for nationalisation of these major monopolies and key industries, under workers’ control, and as part of a socialist plan of production.
Only by having ownership and control over the economy will we – the workers – finally be treated with the respect and dignity we deserve.