Quiet aisles in Tesco as striking staff keep their resolve

‘This is a strong community and I think that is why so few people are crossing the picket’

 Trade unionist Arthur Scargill  on picket duty with Tesco workers in Artane, Dublin.  Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Trade unionist Arthur Scargill on picket duty with Tesco workers in Artane, Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

As the Tesco strike entered its second week there was no sign of staff resolve weakening. While management continued to stress that all stores remained open over the weekend, it was anything but business as usual in shops being picketed.

There were only a handful of cars in the car park outside the Tesco on Prussia St in Stoneybatter, Dublin, on Sunday afternoon and, at what would normally be one of the busiest times of the week, the number of shoppers walking up and down the aisles could be counted on one hand.

“We have been getting a great response from people who live locally,” one of those manning the picket said. “This is a very strong community and I think that is why so few people are crossing the picket here and why so few people are even coming in to the shopping centre.

“And we’ve been learning the Spanish and Polish for ‘We’re on Strike’ so we can communicate with even more people,” she added.

The message appears to be getting through and she said many of those who have been coming into the centre but not into Tesco have been showing solidarity with the workers in a sweet fashion. “A lot of people are buying us cakes and buns from Thunders Cafe.”

The strike centres around what the Mandate union says is an attempt by Tesco management to enforce contract changes which will see the wages of staff recruited before 1996 fall by more than 15 per cent.

Retail environment

Tesco has repeatedly denied this and says it needs to make changes to contracts to reflect an altered retail environment which now includes late-night and online shopping as well as Sunday openings. It says only a very small number of staff will see contract changes and promised that they will not lose out financially.

The staff on the picket outside the Tesco branch in Phibsborough, Dublin, remained certain management will ultimately target all unionised staff and they expressed such fears as they asked would-be shoppers to show solidarity by taking their business elsewhere.

Their message was getting through to around 20 per cent of those who approached the doors. While some passed the picket with their heads held high others looked mortified as they went into the shop.

Then there were those who changed their shopping plans after seeing the strikers. “I’ll go without my cup of tea today,” one local man told the strikers. “I have principles and I didn’t know the strike was on or I wouldn’t have come down”. Staff directed him to a shop nearby where he could buy his tea instead.

Tesco remained bullish on Sunday evening and when asked if business had been affected by the strike, a spokeswoman said that “trade was good this weekend in all stores especially in stores subject to this irresponsible strike by Mandate and their continuing calls for people to shop at non-union competitors. On Saturday we served nearly 25,000 customers in the 16 stores alone on strike.”

When asked how that figure compared to a normal Saturday a spokeswoman for Tesco said it was “slightly down”.