Asda workers demonstrating in Leeds
Around four hundred asda workers and members of the GMB union marched defiant through Leeds on 16th October, angry at the company’s plans to sack staff members that hadn’t signed up to contract six by 2nd November.
Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party
This third demo passing Asda house in Leeds was smaller than the previous one back in August, reflecting that many workers had signed the contract feeling that the alternative of losing their job was far worse.
This reflects that although the GMB has done more to mobilise its members in Asda than other unions in retail have done when companies have been attempting to impose contract changes, much of this has been too little, too late.
Whilst GMB General Secretary Tim Roache made fiery announcements that GMB would never accept workers being transferred onto contract six and that, following security being beefed up around Asda House for this protest, that he was prepared to be arrested, other parts of his speech told a different story.
He explained how he’d personally agreed to “Your Choice” the forerunner to Contract 6 being introduced on the basis of it being voluntary for staff to move onto it, i.e. in effect that the collective bargaining of the union had been abandoned for each member to fend for themselves. Given how multi-tier contract situations elsewhere in retail have ended up with workers eventually forced onto the worst one by companies, did he really expect Asda would act any different?
He said GMB would fight through legal channels for those who couldn’t sign the new contract, but did that mean he saw no alternative way to stop the sackings?
He also raised the idea thst this isn’t the of the campaign and that GMB starting “phase 2” of their campaign driving to get union density up to 50%. But the best way to achieve this is to prove the union is prepared to fight, but the failure to escalate action beyond protests to preparing for strike action, will mean many workers questioning the unions resolve to stand up to Asda management.
On the demo Socialist Party members distributed a leaflet trying to argue for a strategy to build for such action, even at this late stage.
Socialist Party members from across Yorkshire joined the demo in support of Asda workers
Workers agreed with us that this would be the only way forward, especially when we raised the question of disagregatting the ballot, which could mean that some of the more densely unionized stores, some of which still have 80% of affected staff refusing to sign up to the new contract, could take action which would shake Asda management.
If this was tied to demands that could draw in those workers who had already signed up to Contract 6 under pressure, or new starters who start on it, such as a £12 an hour wage, then it could draw them into the struggle.
If, on the other hand, the struggle isn’t escalated and the sackings take place following the November deadline, then this will not be the end, but Asda management will pursue further attacks in the future.
Already the chants from the previous demo outside Asda House of ‘You’ll be next’ are coming true, with redundancies being announced there.
Either way, union reps and workers in Asda need to learn the lessons of this struggle, particularly the need for a serious strategy to mobilise for industrial action as the best way to defeat such attacks.