Tesco strikers: ‘They won’t undermine us. This is not a game’

Despite ballots in which seven stores voted against strike action, the mood is defiant

A sign in the window of the Tesco store in Drumcondra, Dublin reads “Tesco Ireland 7 Mandate 1”.  “It smacks of triumphalism,” said one man on the picket line.  Photograph: Conor Pope

A sign in the window of the Tesco store in Drumcondra, Dublin reads “Tesco Ireland 7 Mandate 1”. “It smacks of triumphalism,” said one man on the picket line. Photograph: Conor Pope

 

“Last night’s ballot results. Tesco Ireland 7 Mandate 1,” read the sign unevenly taped to the inside of the window of the small Tesco store in Drumcondra, Dublin on Wednesday.

It referred to Tuesday night’s decision by staff in seven stores to vote against joining the picket line. There were eight ballots on Tuesday night but only one store – Sandymount in Dublin – voted in favour of strike action. There are currently pickets on 16 stores with five more set to go on strike from next Monday.

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

Tesco has 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.

Antagonise

“I think putting those posters up and making them to look like a football score was disgusting,” a man on the picket line said. “It is just silly and reduces the whole thing to a game and smacks of triumphalism if you ask me. They are clearly trying to undermine us at a local level and break the strike. But they won’t succeed. And this is not a game.”

As he spoke there were nods of agreement from other members of the picket who had taken a break from handing out fliers and encouraging would-be shoppers to take their business elsewhere, at least until the strike ends.

Their pleas appeared to be heeded by many who passed, and the shop seemed to be much quieter than normal.

“In the beginning the students at St Patrick’s College across the road were killing us,” another worker on the picket said. “In the first few days of the strike they were all just crossing the picket without even looking at us and coming out with arms full of cheap booze.”

Solidarity

“I think the message has got through as we have seen very few students crossing the picket so far today,” the striker said.

The Tesco branch in Phibsboro was even quieter than when The Irish Times last visited on Sunday afternoon, and while the union members admitted to being disheartened by the Tuesday night decision of seven stores not to back the strike action, they said they understood where their colleagues were coming from.

“The vote was a bit disheartening, to be honest,” said one woman, who was an infant when the staff at the centre of the dispute were first employed pre-1996. “But I am not going to blame the people who voted not to go on strike. They have mortgages and car loans to pay and children to feed. It is not an easy decision to take.”

In the Prussia Street Shopping Centre in Stoneybatter it wasn’t only the Tesco branch and its employees who were feeling the strike’s impact. Other shops in the centre – including a butchers and a charity shop – said business was down by at least 30 per cent since the strike started.

Stoic

Shortly before 1pm there were only seven shoppers in the store and almost as many staff. “Things have been getting quieter over the last couple of days,” a young woman on strike said. “There are very few local people coming into the centre now because they know we are on strike. Students from DIT have been crossing the picket, mind you, and we have seen some nurses and some bus drivers going in. That is surprising because they are the kind of people who will be looking for our support in the months ahead.”

She looked through the window at the staff working inside.

“I don’t bear them any ill will,” she said. “They are afraid. They are afraid of losing their jobs. They are on short-term contracts and are frightened that if they support the strike in any way or refuse to work when asked they will be called into the office at some point and told they don’t have a job anymore.”