Socialist Worker

Rolling strike by Argos workers defies management

Issue No. 2113

On the picket line in Heywood, Manchester last week (Pic: Amy Leather)

On the picket line in Heywood, Manchester last week (Pic: Amy Leather)

Warehouse and distribution workers in the Unite union at retail giant Argos took part in rolling four-day strike action from Thursday of last week after dumping an improved pay offer from management.

The workers overwhelmingly voted to continue with their programme of action against below-inflation pay.

The company had offered 4.1 percent immediately, to be followed by 2 percent in December and 2 percent in August next year, after the workers took concerted strike action last month. The original offer was for 3.8 percent.

The strike hit Argos depots in Lutterworth, Basildon, Bridgwater and Heywood.

Jennie Formby, Unite’s national secretary, said, “These members are low paid workers and the offer is completely inadequate. Our members are solid in their action and willing to continue to strike until the company agree to share some of its profits with the workforce.”

Alison Beesley, who was picketing the Argos depot in Basildon, told Socialist Worker, “When we saw the new offer it didn’t look very attractive at all.

“In a two-day workplace ballot we got a very good result on the offer. We were voting on whether to postpone or continue strike action. It was the members who were deciding what we did next.”

Argos responded to the action being resumed with threats and injunctions.

Alison said, “We were told that we can’t have more than six pickets. There have been people constantly filming the picket line. But we had loads of people available for picketing.

“We know the strike is having an impact on the company because it has just had a catalogue launch. The company isn’t as confident as it likes to make out. Within two hours of the ballot result going through we were offered more talks.”

According to Unite rep Mark Barter, “We don’t want to be tied into a two year deal in the current economic climate.

“The company made profits of £435 million last year, the chief executive had a 58 percent pay rise and the finance director got a £471,000 bonus.

“We’re not asking for 10 percent, we just want more than inflation. The strike went really well. The company is trying to talk tough and argue it’s not affecting them but the strike is costing it a fortune in contingency plans alone.”

The workers earn an average of £17,000. Argos is also attempting to bring in monthly pay with vague talk of loans to compensate for loss of earnings.

Workers report that a number of drivers have been threatened with disciplinary action for respecting the picket lines.

At one depot an agency driver didn’t cross the line and then didn’t get work for a week.

If the action continues it could escalate. The site in Castleford hadn’t been included in the dispute as it is set for closure. But workers there have demanded to join the action.

Last weekend saw a number of solidarity actions outside Argos stores with supporters collecting messages of support for the strikers. More strikes are planned if talks on Wednesday of this week don’t produce a better offer.

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Article information

Tue 5 Aug 2008, 17:37 BST
Issue No. 2113
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