Unions pledge support for industrial action at Tesco retail giant
Tesco workers in Poland, in Czestochowa and Tychy, have been forced to take strike action against their management. Earning just the equivalent of one pound sterling, an hour (700 zloties is worth around 200 euro), and with no pay rise since for nine years, workers in ‘Tesco Poland’ are fed-up with their working conditions.
In a Guardian article (London, 4 February 2008) Iwona Mandat, the leader of Poland’s newest union, Work Confederation, stated: "I want talks to solve everything, but if they fail, a strike will be the only option…some people are calling for a strike as soon as possible."
On the 21 February, Tesco workers in Tychy took strike actions for two hours (see report below). The militant union, August 80, which also organizes Tesco workers, and has good contacts with the Work Confederation, released a press statement about the two hour warning-strike:
“The free trade union August 80, which organises employees of Tesco Polska, states, that on 20 February, between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m, there will be a two-hour warning strike of Tesco employees in the store in Tychy.
“August 80” demands a wage rise from 1 January 2008 of 700 zloties (140 pounds). We also demand an improvement in working conditions, and health and safety, as well as collective bargaining for all employees. So far, talks between the management of Tesco Polska and the Free Trade Union “August 80” ended with no results. Instead of conducting talks on the subject of wage rises, the management of Tesco is trying to terrorise Tesco employees and to prevent the strike from going ahead. Such actions of the Tesco Polska management are unacceptable and will only mean that if the warning strike on 20 February does not result in a change of attitude of the management, then more protests in other stores of the Tesco network will take place.”
Last year, Tesco made a profit of around 2.7 billion pounds sterling. Because of its powerful hold in the retail market, Tesco is powerful enough to drive down the income of farmers, both in Britain and overseas, by cutting the prices at which their products are sold. This allows Tesco to sell some products for less than in their stores.
International Socialist Resistance (ISR) in England and Wales started a solidarity campaign to support the Polish Tesco workers. UK Tesco workers are also badly, as Tesco bosses drive down ‘costs’ to get as much profit as possible out of their workers.
‘Tesco Polska’ hit by strike
On 20 February, a two hour strike took place at the Tesco store in the Silesian town of Tychy, between 3 -5 pm. This was the first ever strike in a supermarket in Poland.
About 15 minutes before the strike started, management threatened to sack anyone who took strike action. The employees just shrugged theirs shoulders. At three, when the strike started, management spoke through a megaphone, telling staff that left their posts to get back to the cash checkout tills and not to cause difficulties for the customers. After these words, the union’s flag appeared at all the tills. Management tried to use agency workers to work the tills during the strike, but the protesters blocked the tills, with the help of fellow union members who came to give support, including miners from the Budryk mine, who recently won a 46-day strike and underground occupation of the mine.
Leader of the strike, Krzysztof Labadz, gave encouragement to the striking women and told them that the miners are with them. From the crowd, someone shouted "steel workers are also with you". A few minutes after the strike started, management gave in and hung notices on the entrance of the store informing customers that the store is closed for 2 hours. A mass meeting of all Tesco employees was held for the duration of the strike. Not only did the members of the union August 80 strike, but all the staff took action, with the exception of management. Even those on other shifts came to take part in the protest.
Rumours were spread that a member of the board of Tesco had come from England due to the strike. Protesters shouted that they want to talk to Tychy management, but representatives of the company came to speak to them. After 50 minutes of the strike, the last customers left the shop without any shopping goods. They told news reporters how they had intended to hamper management’s plans to use agency staff by paying with big banknotes for small purchases, until all the change had disappeared from the tills!
As the strike came to an end, the mood of the women was still militant. There was talk of organising an occupation of the store. The striking women showed great courage and determination. They hit the front page of all the newspapers and were the main news item on TV that day. There was overwhelming support for their strike amongst the public.
Since the strike, employees from other Tesco stores have contacted the union. August 80 has declared that it intends to organise strikes in all the Tesco stores in Poland.
Now there are plans for pickets and leafleting of Tesco stores throughout the country and more strikes can be expected soon.