Every little helps show the mood
ANGER WITH Tesco bosses erupted at one of the company's biggest warehouses near Hatfield, Hertfordshire, during the Xmas holidays. Workers' fury was first sparked when they read their Christmas message from management in a national newspaper.
One Tesco worker told Socialist Worker, "Management said they hoped that we would all enjoy our nine day Christmas break. Checkout staff and warehouse workers worked through most of the holiday-we never got nine days holiday. Only management got nine days! Everyone thought the letters were an insult." Tesco workers then got even angrier when they discovered their company millennium gift pen "worth �20" was worth just �5.
In the wake of this Tesco warehouses across the country were suddenly hit by a wave of sickness absences throughout the Christmas holidays. At one depot in the north west nearly 80 percent of workers failed to report into work, and at the Hatfield warehouse 30 percent of workers did not show up for work. On Christmas Eve staff and management from one warehouse had an altercation in a pub at the end of a shift. When warehouse workers in Hatfield reported in for work on Boxing Day they found that the canteen was closed. Management refused to provide hot food. The staff went home.
A key factor behind the guerilla action is workers' frustration over rotten deals between management and union leaders. In 1998 Tesco signed a sweetheart deal with the shop workers' USDAW union. Around 85,000 workers joined the union. But instead of defending the workers' conditions, union leaders have just rubber-stamped management's proposals.
Many workers are increasingly unhappy at this. Last year a campaign was organised by Tesco USDAW union stewards to throw out a below inflation pay offer which workers felt was a pay cut. Management needed the help of USDAW full time officials to push the deal through, but that has fuelled more bitterness. "The rotten deal paid for management to take nine days holiday," said one worker. Another Tesco worker added, "No one is conned by what is going on. Last year I got a cheque for 26 pence in the post. It was the yearly return on my Tesco shares. Do they think 26 pence is going to make me feel part of the company?"
The mood among workers seen at Tesco is not unique. The same feeling exists in workplaces across Britain-it can, and will, explode at some point.