Socialist Worker

Action in supermarkets

Issue No. 1963

Challenging anti-union practices at Asda and Wal-Mart

A major dispute at Asda’s distribution centre in Washington, north east England, has highlighted anti-union practices that echo those of the supermarket chain’s US owner, Wal-Mart.

Workers at the Washington site were meeting on Tuesday of this week to discuss the next move in their pay dispute.

Last week 538 workers, represented by the GMB union, struck for three days. “Management were shocked by the number of workers involved in the strike,” GMB regional organiser Michael Hopper told Socialist Worker. “But there have been no moves from them to resolve the dispute.”

Workers at the Washington site say Asda wants to drive out the union, and that pay is kept low so that the company can claim strong union organisation drives down wages.

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, owns over 3,600 stores in the US. Not a single one is unionised.

Wal-Mart facilities in Canada and the US where workers have voted to unionise have been closed down.

Similar tactics were threatened at the Washington site, where redundancy notices were handed out to many workers in the run-up to the ballot. Most of these notices were later withdrawn.

Asda also sacked union steward Gary Belshaw at the Ince site in Wigan following an unofficial walkout. They later had to back down when workers threatened strike action. But Asda still refuses to recognise the workers’ choice of steward.

Dave worked as a driver at Asda’s Skelmersdale depot in Lancashire for two years.

He told Socialist Worker, “When I started I thought a big company like Asda would treat you better than a small one—but I was wrong.

“They are totally determined to break the unions. I was recently sacked for allegedly swearing at a manager, but really it was for my activities trying to build a union at the site.

“Asda tried to bring in new rosters that involved workers working three out of four weekends.

“Drivers met off site for a union meeting, and they all sent grievances to management. Managers started phoning drivers on their mobiles to get them to withdraw the grievances.

“In the end management had to amend the new rosters. But they will come back to Skelmersdale when they’ve dealt with other disputes.”

Strike ballot at Morrisons

Over 8,000 drivers, warehouse and support staff in Morrisons are to ballot for strike action.

The dispute, which involves both the T&G and GMB unions, is a result of Morrisons’ failure to agree national bargaining in the wake of the company’s merger with the Safeway chain.

The result of the ballot is expected by the end of August.

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Sat 13 Aug 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1963
Share this article


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.