News that supermarket giant Tesco is to close forty-three of its UK stores will come as a devastating blow for the staff in the affected shops when the locations are revealed.
The announcement that the retailer will not be proceeding with 49 other planned stores will also be badly received by communities who were hoping to get the construction and in-shop jobs to help them survive at a time when inflation is outstripping wage increases.
Tesco is not doing badly by ordinary measures of success. The announcement came because the overall group’s business profits will “not exceed” £1.4 billion, instead of £2.4 billion it had projected to make.
Just imagine how many houses for the homeless, nurses or teachers that profit could pay for if it was used for something socially useful, instead of lining the pockets of fat cats.
Dave Lewis, Tesco’s chief operating officer, declared it was with “a heavy heart” that he made the decision.
But he cannot even begin to fathom the impact that decision will have on the lives of hundreds, or maybe thousands, of workers.
The knock-on implications are also worrying. It is relatively unusual to hear of a supermarket closing down — they are usually the ones moving into other closed down sites, and if a giant like Tesco can make such a decision will it lead others to do the same.
Most worrying, however, is that the affected staff will not have a lot of support.
Retail workers’ union Usdaw, which has a sweetheart deal with Tesco which gives it sole recognition in return for being in Tesco’s pocket, has a poor track record for defending its members.
A joint statement issued immediately after the announcement could maybe — just maybe — be forgiven for calling for more time to go through the proposals in detail.
But the absence of any explicit call for the company to reverse its decision and avoid job cuts is outrageous from a union.
Now, over the next few months as Tesco unveils more details about its cuts, is the time to fight for real workers’ organisation in the supermarket industry and either revolutionise Usdaw from the inside — unlikely and difficult — or struggle for potentially new, alternative, grassroots and democratic unions to take up the battle.
The working class needs to gain power in this sector.