BY Elaine Jones
Following on from three days of strike action in late May, Tesco drivers based in the company’s Livingston depot are out on strike again for a 24-hour strike on 5 June in a dispute over pay, jobs and union recognition.
Last March Tesco announced its plans for a new super depot in Livingston, located just 500 yards away from the current depot. Tesco took the opportunity of the eventual transfer of its staff from one depot to another as an opportunity to propose cuts in the terms and conditions of current and future drivers.
Tesco wanted to slash Saturday and Sunday payments, scrap the bonus for a clean absenteeism record, and cut back on premium payments (by applying them only to contractual hours, not to the hours actually worked).
Overall, some drivers stood to lose between £3,000 and £6,000 a year. And new drivers taken on by the company would be taken on on worse terms and conditions than current employees.
Tesco told the union, Unite, they were not prepared to continue negotiations about the union’s demand for protection of existing wages, and that they would de-recognise the TGWU unless Tesco were given a no-strike deal.
90 day redundancy notices were sent out by taxi to drivers who had rejected the new terms and conditions.
When the 150 drivers at the Livingston depot were ballotted for industrial action, 126 voted in favour of strike action, and just 6 against, in the face of a sustained campaign of management intimidation to try to prevent a “yes” vote.
In preparation for the three-day strike Tesco built seven-foot high fences around the Livingston depot, drafted in extra security, and attempted to use Eddie Stobart drivers to scab on the strike. The latter refused to do so, despite offers of £500 bonus payments. But Yuill and Dodd drivers, repeating the role they play in the miners’ strike of 1984/85, were drafted in instead.
Only 25 per cent of normal truckloads of groceries and supplies were shipped out of Livingston during the three-day strike. And “order picking-down” inside the depot was down by around 70%.
Tesco’s response to the strike’s success was to issue some of the strikers with letters telling them not to come into work for seven days, which it described as a “cooling-off period”.
Tesco made £2.6 billions in profits last year – but now they are after even more. They want to cut wages and jobs, attack working conditions and derecognise the union.
This clearly affects all Tesco workers – if Tesco gets away with this in Scotland, then Tesco workers across the UK will soon face cuts in jobs and pay, and even lose the right to organise in a union.
Ron Webb, national secretary of the TGWU transport section of Unite, has promised a national strike ballot, involving the 5,000 drivers and warehouse staff in Tesco’s six distribution centres in the UK who are members of the TGWU.
According to some recent reports, a national ballot of other drivers is now imminent. On the other hand, the latest update on the TGWU website refers to a shop stewards conference last Saturday being given “an update on progress towards a national strike ballot.”
There have also been calls for a consumer boycott of Tesco. While such a boycott might be a useful way to publicise Tesco’s attacks on its employees, the crucial question now is winning a national ballot on strike action, and then, if necessary, staging national strike action to shut down Tesco’s distribution network.
This dispute is a vital one for the future of organised trade unionism in Tesco (as opposed to partnership trade unionism based on sweetheart deals, which is how USDAW operates amongst Tesco retail staff).
If Tesco management can get away with derecognising the TGWU among Scottish drivers and sacking drivers who refuse to accept a cut in pay and conditions, then that will give them the green light to spread their attack to other Tesco workers.