March 2017        

Solidarity with the Tesco workers!

Jimmy Doran

Mandate and its members are under attack from Tesco, the most profitable retailer in the country. The company has declared that pre-1996 employee contracts are outdated and wants to cut the pay and working conditions of these workers, despite a Labour Court recommendation being rejected by 97 per cent of the workers.
     Tesco makes a profit of €250 million a year in Ireland. If the 250 pre-1996 workers who remain in the company’s employment were to accept the cuts to pay and conditions proposed by the company, it would increase its profits by something in the region of €300,000 to €400,000 per year.
     The company has already paid €90 million in redundancy packages to the 900 workers in this grade who were encouraged and cajoled into leaving on “voluntary severance packages.” On the first day of the strike, Tesco paid tens of thousands for full-page advertisements in most of the national newspapers to put forward its position, and this is continuing.
     The youngest of the 250 remaining workers are over forty years of age and will retire naturally over the coming years. This raises the question, Why would Tesco spend all this money—and attract all the bad publicity to its business—to increase its profit by a relatively tiny amount?
     There’s a lot more to this strike than meets the eye. It can’t just be greed. There is obviously another reason why the pre-1996 workers are the battleground Tesco has picked.
     The real target is the union.
     Tesco wants to break the tradition of union membership. If it achieves this, the pay and conditions of the remaining workers will come under attack. Without union support, the workers would be completely vulnerable. It would mean an end to full-time contracts. They would become minimum-hours contracts, and pay rates would go through the floor. It would be back to the days of the hiring-fair, with the workers at the beck and call of the employer for every hour of work allocated in a week.
     Tesco says the pre-1996 contracts are “old-fashioned.” They were negotiated by the union, which always tries for the best deal for the members, the traditional “fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.” If Tesco wants to change that to the greatest amount of work for the smallest amount of pay, in order to maximise profits, to enable bosses and shareholders to live a life of luxury on the backs of the workers—well, that really is old-fashioned. Mediaeval, in fact.
     The days when workers can be bullied into accepting cuts to pay and conditions are quickly disappearing as workers awaken to the corporate scam that was “austerity.” Cuts to pay and conditions will not be facilitated by retail workers, transport workers, nurses, teachers or gardaí so as to expand corporate profits or to contribute to the servicing of private banking debt.
     Tesco is not allowing strikers to picket the entrances to their shops, so picketers are forced outside to the main shopping-centre entrances. Obviously this is damaging the small businesses that share the premises. And there’s no doubt that Tesco will be all too happy to pounce on the opportunity to swallow these small businesses into its own if they fail, and then try to blame the strikers. That’s what corporations do.
     The cutting of pay for many of these workers will result in them being paid by the taxpayer, as many of them will qualify for family income support, because they fall through the threshold. And meanwhile the profits of Tesco soar.
     Solidarity with the shop workers! Once again they have shown their bravery against the odds, as the Dunne’s Stores workers did in the 1980s when they stood up against apartheid in South Africa.
     Tesco has underestimated the bravery and determination of its workers. It needs to remember the words of Terence MacSwiney, that it’s not those who can inflict the most but those who can suffer the most who will be victorious.

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