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Belgium: There has never been such a strike at Lidl

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More reports on the ongoing strike at Lidl across Belgium taken from the website fr.socialism.be from 29th April 2018.

Lidl staff stand up against unbearable pressure at work

 

Regular customers can see it every time they visit: the workload is extremely high at Lidl, the staff is very little respected and everything must be the cheapest possible. The problem is common to the whole sector, which has been the subject of negotiations between unions and employers for many years already. With little effect so far: the pace and pressure at work keeps increasing. If we can not hold on, it’s the way out. Competition is intensifying as well as the search for profits by shareholders. These profits are not lacking: Lidl realized an overall profit of 1.5 billion euros in 2015.

By a sector delegate

On April 7, a Lidl store in Oostkamp was shut down for half a day because of the pressure at work. Management has tried to limit the situation to an isolated case. We even laughed with the workload. But some had been engaged. Management promised to reach a negotiated solution, but when another unsuccessful negotiation ended on April 25, a spontaneous wave of strikes began. The staff decided to put pressure on management to find solutions.

The initiative was taken by the grassroots, without an appeal being launched by the unions. The strike spread at high speed, confirming the extent to which the problem of workload is widespread throughout the chain. The staff has enough.

Did management understand the message? It’s debatable. Big boss Dieter Schwarz is the 52nd richest man in the world with $ 20.9 billion in assets, but that’s still not enough for him. This was not offset by a human attitude towards his staff.

During the negotiations, the board proposed that each store be able to deploy an additional 42 hours of work a week, an additional full-time employee. But management wanted to limit this to six months in order to find other solutions in the meantime. Given this short period and the many unfulfilled promises in the past, SETCa did not accept the proposal.

Increasing work pressure is causing problems in a growing number of companies. This drives the workers into action. Think of last year’s actions at Volvo Cars and Volvo Trucks. When unions put the issue on the table, employers do not want to do anything. The government talks a lot about “feasible work,” but its policy makes it easier for employers to make our work impossible. This question will come back more and more often: the increase in workload is a way to increase shareholder profits.

One solution to the problem would, of course, be the recruitment of additional permanent staff so that the work can be distributed. A reduction in working hours to 30 hours per week with salary maintenance and additional recruitment (where current 30-hour contracts would automatically be converted to full-time contracts with associated salaries) is also part of the solution. We must organize the struggle and discuss the demands and tactics needed within the unions and with our colleagues to win victories.

 

[Interview] “There has never been such a strike at Lidl”

 

This Saturday was the fourth day of strike in Lidl. The previous day’s negotiations resulted in a management proposal rejected by SETCa / BBTK. The other two unions want to defend the proposal. Yesterday, more than 100 stores still had closed doors. Among the staff, anger has been raging for some time now. We discussed it yesterday with a local delegate from Lidl in Antwerp.

Interview conducted by Luc (Antwerp)

The day before yesterday, the negotiations failed. What is the situation today ?

“Right now, we are going around all the stores to inform our colleagues. With over 100 stores closed today, it is clear that we will continue. Negotiations are blocked on our request for 42 extra hours a week to be allocated immediately to each store, which is an urgent measure. Management only wants to authorize it for a temporary six-month period and, in the meantime, begin negotiations on a new collective labor agreement (CLC). Without new CTC after 6 months, the extra 42 hours will be lost and we will meet again with nothing. We want these 42 hours per store / week to be permanent. Then, the pressure to conclude a healthy collective labor agreement will be the responsibility of the management, not the unions. In the worst case, we will always have those 42 hours. ”

Lidl’s spokesman said he was “bitter” following the rejection of the deal. He believes the agreement was good and that he even understood more than the unions were asking for.

“They made a lot of promises but, with promises, we are nowhere. Lidl has already promised so much to cope with the pressure of work, but nothing ever happens. Last year, for example, the company sent an e-mail to all employees telling them that after consultations with the unions, it became clear that the workload was a problem and that it would be resolved. Nothing was done. In fact, they promise us things for two years. I have a whole record full of action points and management plans to cope with the workload. But nothing has been done yet. ”

How did the strike start? It seems to have developed largely spontaneously?

“A few weeks ago, a strike broke out in an Oostkamp store after the dismissal of a sales manager. The problem of the workload was also asked. The CSC issued a strike notice for the entire Lidl group. Consultations took place last Wednesday, but once again, the management has not gone further than promises to tackle the workload. To top it off, the management also wanted to talk about extending opening and opening hours on Sunday.

“At that time, a number of stores went on strike almost immediately. Some stores were well prepared and went on strike immediately after the consultation. Staff from many other sites joined the movement spontaneously. It is also the strength of the strike. We have seen where the unions are more present, but in many places, the strike started spontaneously from the bottom up, without the union delegation having much control over it.

“In the Antwerp region where I work, it’s sometimes more difficult because of the rotation and the composition of the staff. Sometimes I have to start by explaining what a union is. But I also get calls from colleagues who ask me if they can close their branch. Considering that the directors of the subsidiary company and the management spread a lot of lies and that threats of sanctions exist, one realizes that this wave of strikes is really strong.

“This strike is already historic. Never before had Lidl gone on strike on such a scale. In many stores, colleagues spontaneously took the initiative to join the strike movement. However, there is a lot of pressure from the management and directors of the subsidiary. Locally, there are threats of dismissal, relocation, etc. Yesterday, in some subsidiaries, it was said that we should not go on strike because negotiations were in progress. This has been officially contradicted, but it is clear that there is a strategy behind these allegations. For many colleagues, it’s not easy to oppose their direction, but they do. ”

What are the next steps ?

“At the moment, it’s rather chaotic. Today, we inform as many colleagues as possible about the state of play. Some confusion exists and sometimes doubts, because the union leaders are not of the same opinion. Some people think that it would be better to accept the proposal of management because it is something concrete to have and that otherwise we run the risk of finding ourselves empty handed. At the same time, the realization that this is not a real solution is growing.

“The challenge now is, first and foremost, to make Monday a great day of action where as many stores as possible will remain closed. Not all stores may be on strike, but the actions will expand. ”

Competition in the distribution sector is fierce. Late last year, there was the announcement of a restructuring at Carrefour, and this was the case at Delhaize. How do you situate this problem in its context?

“Yes, Lidl wants to compete with Delhaize, Carrefour, …. Lidl has gone from a hard discounter to stores with a wider range: with brands, its own bakery, a larger fresh aisle … Everything requires more time, but we have to do it all with the same amount of colleagues, or even less. We must work more and more intensively to receive less money.

“At the moment, Aldi is experiencing strong growth. There is a good chance that Lidl will be caught or exceeded in the contest. In this way, we are dealing with an infernal spiral where the pressure keeps increasing on our shoulders to protect the profits. It is important to deal with it.

I imagine government measures like the Peeters Act are not particularly helpful either.

“We are already working extremely flexibly. A large part of the measures introduced by Peters had already been in force for some time. A particular problem for us is the extension of flexible jobs to trade and the facilitation of night work for e-commerce. Electronic commerce is currently very limited at Lidl, but it can have a huge impact on our working conditions. Not to mention pensions. Almost no one at Lidl has a full-time contract. The consequences for our pensions will be disastrous if the government’s projects are actually implemented.

How do you think progress can be made?

“First of all, it’s important that we win this battle and, in the short term, win those 42 hours permanently. This will only be possible if we are able to extend the shares on Monday. In fact, I had hoped that other brands joined the fight, but this is unfortunately not the case. But if we want to thwart the current competition in the retail sector, this will be the way forward and we need to extend the fight to the whole sector. “

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Stormy final ADM for outgoing USDAW leadership

The left is making steps forward while the right-wing bureaucracy continues trying to hold back struggle at Usdaw’s annual delegate meeting (ADM). The 22-25 April national conference of the retail and distribution union is still underway at the time of writing.

Ryan Aldred (ADM delegate – personal capacity)

The union leadership opposed affiliation to the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) – a rank-and-file body established by transport union RMT and supported by nine national unions.

Every contribution to the debate supported the motion. The leadership admitted its opposition was because Socialist Party members play a leading role in the NSSN.

The vote was clearly 50/50 on a show of hands. But outgoing president Jeff Broome refused a card vote – despite numerous calls and general uproar. About 50 delegates walked out to complain about blatant breaking of the rules.

The protests made to standing orders forced a re-run of the vote. The final result was declared as 42% for, 58% against – a close defeat at the hands of a hostile and cavalier leadership, and clearly justifying the card vote.

The ADM did pass an emergency motion calling on the union’s executive council to support workers at Shop Direct. Three distribution sites in Greater Manchester face relocation to an automated site – which could result in the loss of over 2,000 jobs.

The members are preparing for industrial action and were emboldened by the level of support. Socialist Party members called for no relocation, and a shorter working week with no loss of pay.

Usdaw has committed to a campaign to ban zero-hour contracts in favour of minimum 16-hour contracts, except for those who specifically request less. Socialist Party members pressed the importance of not just committing in words but seriously preparing a campaign.

I spoke in support of reintroducing the original, socialist ‘Clause IV’ into Labour’s constitution, which the leadership opposed and defeated. But the ADM did pass a maximum income policy, on a card vote, after the leadership opposed it.

A number of important motions – including supporting the Refugee Rights Campaign – have yet to be decided at the time of writing.

It’s apparent Socialist Party member Amy Murphy’s election as next Usdaw president has emboldened the left in the union. Iain Dalton of the Socialist Party has also been elected chair of Usdaw’s Broad Left, which continues to grow.

At the time of writing, we have sold over 70 copies of the Socialist. Full report to follow – but it’s clear support for socialist ideas is rising in Britain’s fifth-largest union.

Retail sector crunch: nationalise to save jobs

December 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Toys R Us plans to close a third of its stores. Asda wants to downgrade hundreds of shopfloor supervisors. Britain’s largest tobacco distributor Palmer & Harvey has gone into administration.

These recent announcements will ring alarm bells for retail workers worried for their futures amid signs that consumer spending in general is slowing down.

The closure of at least 26 Toys R Us outlets threatens 800 jobs. Asda’s pay cut would affect 842 ‘section leaders’. And the administrators have already made 2,500 Palmer & Harvey staff redundant, with a further 900 threatened.

The Toys R Us closures are partly due to large store sizes becoming less competitive after the rise of online shopping. But both Toys R Us and Palmer & Harvey have had problems with suppliers.

The tobacco distributor struggled to receive payments in time to pay down debt obligations. And some of the toy shop’s suppliers were unable to get ‘credit insurance’ for providing goods on account.

Consumer spending fell 2% this October compared to last, according to Visa. That’s the fifth monthly drop in the last six months, and included a 5% drop in high street spending. This reduced income will affect most those companies which are heavily indebted.

Like the run-up to last year’s collapse of department store BHS, a management buyout of Palmer & Harvey left a wake of suspicious dealings. The 2008 takeover was leveraged with debt which reached a net amount of £48.6 million in April 2016.

Yet since the buyout, the Guardian estimates there has been around £70 million in shareholder payouts. Former chairman Christoper Etherington and his wife will have received about £2.5 million in dividends since 2009 alone.

Usdaw

The BHS collapse meant the loss of a high street icon, and the jobs of many members of retail and distribution union Usdaw. So the 2017 Usdaw conference passed a resolution to call on the government to bring companies in a similar situation into public ownership.

The union has made two statements on Palmer & Harvey on its website so far. But nowhere in either does it call for nationalisation. Instead the administrator, financial services giant PwC, has been allowed to sack 2,500 workers unanswered.

Paddy Lillis Becomes General Secretary Unopposed – Lack of Election Highlights Democratic Deficit in Usdaw

November 16, 2017 Leave a comment

Most active members of Usdaw will be unsurprised to see the announcement that Paddy Lillis will be Usdaw’s next General Secretary. With the high nominations threshold of 25, raised after a grassroots challenger, the late Socialist Party member Robbie Segal, won 40% of the vote in the last election in 2008, it was unlikely anyone would be able to challenge Lillis who is the current Deputy General Secretary of the union.

This election also highlights a democratic deficit in the union – as ordinary members have been denied a debate around the policies put forward by the person in the most powerful position in Usdaw since 2008. Not only that, but as Lillis was elected by a branch vote for his current position of Deputy General Secretary this means he has never faced a national vote by the full membership.

High nomination thresholds are a tool of the right wing to subvert members democratic rights – the right in Usdaw opposed the recent rule changed moved by an Activist supporter at this year’s ADM, which attracted the support of around 20% of delegates, because it would have opened up the possibility of a contested election instead of a coronation, just like the Blairite MPs tried to keep Jeremy Corbyn off the ballot paper via such a threshold in the 2016 Labour leadership election and John McDonnell had been kept off in 2008.

The Activist believes that future ADM should reduce the nominations threshold for General Secretary down to five which would allow Usdaw members to debate the direction they want the leading figures of the union to take us in.

Many members will be glad to see the impending retirement of John Hannett, whose leadership was closely linked with support for the Blairite wing of the Labour Party against those around Jeremy Corbyn including speaking on the platforms of right-wing Labour organisations such as Progress and Labour Friends of Israel. Industrially, members have seen pay decline in real terms, increasingly insecure hours of work and terms and conditions surrendered without a real fight.

It is welcome that at speeches at Usdaw divisional conferences and other meetings Paddy Lillis has been much more positive towards Jeremy Corbyn and the radical policies that were in the most recent Labour election manifesto – many of which have been passed as policy at Usdaw ADMs in the recent period. However, Lillis was also chair of the Labour NEC during the 2016 leadership election that went to court to deny many Labour Party members a vote in that election. Therefore many Usdaw members will be waiting to see how much he distances himself from Hannett’s legacy once this election period is over.

The best way to advance the union in a new direction is to elect a fighting EC in the coming elections to work alongside Paddy Lillis. There are a number of Broad Left candidates standing in the election for EC seats around the country, as well as Broad Left supporter Amy Murphy standing for President. In 2015 with 10 nominations, Amy won 45% of the vote, but with several times that many nominations for the forthcoming elections, many Usdaw members will be working for a victory for Amy and the defeat of the right-wing candidate Barbara Wilson.

Ahead of even an announcement of the election of a new Deputy General Secretary a number of candidates have put their name forward – the Activist will comment further as the various candidates and their policies emerge.

Tesco’s 10% pay increase accompanied by cuts and job losses

July 14, 2017 1 comment

The headline figure in the result of the latest Tesco pay negotiations is a pay rise of 10.57% to £8.42, in Tesco’s own words its “biggest ever pay award”. And it is far higher than the pay rises of 2% or less that I received when I used to work for Tesco.

Scott Jones, Usdaw East London C026 branch chair (personal capacity)

But in the detail below the headlines it’s revealed that this rise will take place over the course of the next two years, straight away meaning that the increase is actually just over 5% a year. And this increase comes after small or no increases in the last couple of years.

Another blow will be the decrease in Sunday and bank holiday pay from time and a half to time and a quarter, which in Usdaw’s Network magazine for August is flippantly brushed aside with the justification that most companies already pay a flat rate for bank holiday working. And inflation is currently running at around 3%.

So while a pay increase of 5% is welcome, against a backdrop of cuts in terms and conditions, now and previously, this is merely playing catch-up. And while Usdaw members will have different opinions over the pay deal, the fact that yet again Tesco workers don’t get a vote on it means there is no accountability.

And as one Tesco worker commented to me, with the estimated 1,100 potential job losses at its call centre in Cardiff and possibly more at head office, Tesco is moving money around the company as opposed to making a large investment in this offer. An investment it could afford to do, with a rise in operating profit and a £3.7 billion takeover of cash-and-carry group Booker on the cards.

There is no excuse to close the call centre in Cardiff which will be devastating for those 1,100 workers and the local area. Usdaw and the Welsh government should put as much pressure on Tesco as possible. The union in particular should ballot for strike action over this and future attacks on terms and conditions.

The Mandate trade union in Ireland brought Tesco workers out on strike earlier this year after Tesco tried to change contracts and force workers to take redundancy.

Their strike, which was extended and spread with brilliant picket lines throughout the dispute, was an inspiration to workers here and shows what’s possible. Usdaw should look to this as an example in the fight to save jobs, terms and conditions and to secure a £10 an hour real living wage for all.

Solidarity with Tesco Ireland Valentine’s Day strike

February 8, 2017 Leave a comment
Poster produced by the Activist for use in solidarity selfies with the Tesco workers strike in Ireland

Poster produced by the Activist for use in solidarity selfies with the Tesco workers strike in Ireland

Up to 15 Tesco stores in Ireland will face strike action on Valentine’s Day 14 February after members of the trade union Mandate, which represents more than 10,000 workers at the company, voted 78% in favour of a walkout over contract changes.

Scott Jones, Usdaw East London Retail branch chair (personal capacity)

The changes Tesco Ireland are attempting to force through without agreement affect approximately 250 workers employed before 1996. The new contracts would result in some workers experiencing reduced incomes of up to 15% along with increased ‘flexibility’.

Tesco began their attack on pre-1996 staff more than one year ago when they intimidated and bullied more than 900 workers out of their jobs through a redundancy programme and strike action was narrowly avoided then.

The remaining 250 workers want to stay in the company on the contracts they have but the company is insisting they accept reduced terms and conditions.

This followed moves at Tesco in the UK to drive down terms and conditions last year when hundreds of staff lost out as a result of the pay deal which caused pay cuts in overtime, weekend and night premiums. Meanwhile Tesco CEO Dave Lewis received £4.1 million in his first six months as boss in 2015 and Tesco reported that it had its best sales growth at the end of last year’s quarter for over five years. This profit was further boosted by the Christmas sales meaning that Tesco is on course to deliver a profit of “at least” £1.2 billion for 2016-17.

As one Tesco worker said then: “I’d rather have a living wage than support the lifestyles of shareholders.”

We support Tesco workers in Ireland and their trade union Mandate for taking this action against Tesco’s attempt to implement increasingly low-paid, part-time precarious work in its stores. And we call on Usdaw, the shop workers’ union in Britain, to raise solidarity and discuss industrial action so that the strength of the 160,000 Usdaw members in Tesco is used to fight against low pay and attacks on conditions.

We would encourage all Usdaw reps and other labour movement activists who wish to support the strike to send solidarity messages to the workers via their website (https://tescoworkers.com/contact-us/) and also send copies to usdawactivist@gmail.com. We have produced a poster (see image above) that can be printed out to take ‘solidarity selfies’ and photos with to be shared on social media, tag @MandateTU on Twitter

Usdaw and the EU referendum

April 21, 2016 Leave a comment

This is an expanded version of the article in the 2016 ADM special of the Activist (no 61)

Delegates to ADM will be debating a statement from the Executive Council setting out the leaderships’ case for remaining part of the EU.

This contrasts sharply with the position of Usdaw in the 1975 referendum, where Usdaw, along with a majority of the Labour Party (including Jeremy Corbyn), campaigned to leave the then EEC.

Today, because of the vacation of opposition to the EU by the workers movement, then the most prominent opponents of the EU (aided by exaggerated publicity in the mainstream media) are Ukip and the Tories, who have put forward a series of false arguments, often on a xenophobic basis, around migration.

Whilst the document explains the false basis of these myths, this is not sufficient. Such arguments play upon real fears of lack of jobs, housing and public services experienced by working class people as a result of policies of austerity and privatisation carried out by successive Labour and Tory governments. Alternative policies such as a mass council house building programme, scrapping the rip-off PFI contracts in the NHS and other public services, renationalisation of the privatised utilities to name but a few, are needed to counter such arguments fully. Yet these won’t be expressed by big business on either side of the referendum, and points to the need for our movement to mount its own campaign independent of the right and starting from a principled basis based on our members interests.

Document suggests that Usdaw changed its mind as a result of the ‘Social Chapter’ ushered in by then EU president Jaques Delors. Yet the Social Chapter is in reality fairly weak – Tory governments for years opted out of implementing it altogether, and even when Blair implemented it key parts such as the Working Time Directive were not fully implemented, and that are other aspects such as TUPE are disregarded by employers, as Tesco drivers in Doncaster found out to their cost a few years ago.

There has been much confusion about the two EU courts, one part of the EU and the other separate to it. The European Court of Human Rights was created by the European Convention on Human Rights, the statutes of which are incorporated into the Human Rights Act. Many trade unionists will undoubtedly want to defend the provisions of this legislation which has become a bête-noir of the right-wing press and which the Tory right wish to replace with a ‘British Bill of Rights’. But whilst the EC statement tries to conflate this with the EU, it is a separate institution which leaving the EU would not affect membership of.

The EU’s court, on the other hand, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has passed down many vicious anti-worker judgements including the Viking and Laval cases which undermine trade union rights among ferry workers. In this case the issue was compounded by the European Commission, giving the decision the status of statutory regulation rather than case law, which directs national courts to enforce ‘business freedom’ where it conflicts with collective agreements and union rights.

Closer to home for Usdaw members, as reported in the 2015 Annual Report, it was the ECJ who decided that to support the UK government in restricting the need for redundancy consultation for Ethel Austin and Woolworths workers in stores under 20 staff. This was after Usdaw had won a victory in an Employment Appeal Tribunal here in the UK.

The reality is such concessions as the Social Chapter have been wrested out of the governments in Europe by workers struggles. It was the weakness and inability to lead such struggles of many trade union ‘leaders’, compounded by the defeat of the miners in 1984-85, which saw British union ’leaders’ turn to the EU as their salvation.

This is reflected in the question of the government’s new anti-union laws. Instead of leading a serious struggle against the TU bill, the EC statement on that subject makes no mention of following the call supported at the TUC to support any union finding itself outside the law in resisting it.

In reality the EU is a series of treaties to allow European capitalists to create the biggest market possible to maximise their profits. The establishment of the Euro, as a common currency for many EU countries is a natural extension of this, and has in fact allowed the wealthier capitalists in countries such as Germany to take advantage of lower-wage economies in the euro-zone depressing the euro’s value to boost its exports.

This is reflected in the structures of the EU, which are split up into 3 main bodies – the European Council, European Commission and European Parliament. The latter is the one that we elect every five years, which the statement euphemistically says ‘plays a key part in agreeing European Union laws and Directives’. The reality is that is merely a rubber-stamping body with incredibly limited power. The real decision making is made by the other two bodies – with the appointed, not elected European Commission as the statement says ‘[carrying] out much of the European Union’s day-to-day work.’

The European Council (and subordinate Councils of Ministers) ultimately makes the major decisions of the EU. This body is made up of the heads of governments of each EU states, and any fundamental pro-worker reform of the EU – as advocated by most left and trade union, would need to be passed through this body.

Any left-led government coming to power in Britain would be impeded by the EU from carrying out popular policies like renationalising the railways, as the Tsipras government was ’waterboarded’ at the European Council to drop its fight against austerity in Greece. If multiple left governments were to come to power, enacting anti-austerity and socialist policies then why be restrained by the neo-liberal EU when they could instead take practical steps towards establishing the beginning of a real Socialist Federation of Europe.

The EU bosses’ club should be rejected, a Europe in workers interests will not come through it.

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