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From The Socialist newspaper, 23 January 2019

John Lewis workers count the cost of the retail crisis

John Lewis calls itself 'employee-owned', photo by EG Focus/CC

John Lewis calls itself 'employee-owned', photo by EG Focus/CC   (Click to enlarge)

A John Lewis worker

As a John Lewis retail worker I was gutted to hear that for the first time in 66 years the John Lewis leadership might suspend the annual staff bonus.

What is even worse is that they admitted they could afford to pay a modest bonus but may choose not to due to "unusual economic circumstances". Brexit and the crisis on the high street were both blamed.

But many of the low-paid staff at John Lewis (and Waitrose which is also part of the partnership) cannot afford not to receive a bonus! Especially since the bonus last year was cut for the fifth year in a row and was only 5% of a worker's annual salary.

This is not very much when you consider that non-management workers start on salaries that are well below the 10 an hour that both the Socialist Party and the shop workers' union Usdaw demand should be the absolute minimum for all workers.

John Lewis's 'employee-owned' partnership model means the company is viewed by some as a fantastic place to work.

However, this is at odds with how many staff feel. Morale is low and we are expected to offer the same high level of service with less and less staff.

Although management likes to emphasise that we are all 'co-owners', employee concerns are usually downplayed or ignored. There is no union recognition which makes it harder to organise with colleagues to fight for improvements.

The company has its own 'democracy structures', which many workers do engage with to try and get their voice heard.

However, many quickly get disillusioned with them as, without the right to strike or collective bargaining that trade unions bring, it means that, in reality, these structures don't have any teeth.

In many ways, working at John Lewis feels like working for any other retailer. Premium pay for Sundays and bank holidays are things of the past. They were scrapped for all new workers several years ago.

It's a very uncertain time for retail workers right now and it feels like almost every week another high street retailer is in trouble. The most recent is M&S, which has announced a further 17 store closures, putting 1,045 jobs at risk.

The Socialist Party argues that these failing retailers should not be allowed to sack workers and should instead be brought into public ownership.

Trade unions need to reach out to retail workers in unorganised workplaces who would be receptive to campaigns such as Usdaw's 'Time for Better Pay' which not only demands a 10-an-hour minimum wage but also an end to zero-hour contracts, which many retail workers are currently on. This campaign must be backed up with a willingness to organise serious action.

All I want is to be able to do my job effectively, with the right resources, and be paid fairly for it.

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Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
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In The Socialist 23 January 2019:


What we think

Corbyn: stand firm for a general election


Socialist Party news and analysis

Nationalise big pharma: end this profit-driven NHS crisis

Duke's car crash: one law for them and another for us

Racist jobs discrimination same for 50 years - unions must fight for jobs for all

Wales is Europe's prisoner capital: capitalist cutters' crimes to blame

Them & Us


Socialist history

Cuban revolution at 60: defend the gains and fight for workers' democracy


Workplace news and analysis

Birmingham: hostile Labour council attacks striking workers

Mass strike wins historic step towards victory in Glasgow equal pay battle

John Lewis workers count the cost of the retail crisis

Unison union higher education conference: a missed opportunity to develop a fighting strategy

Bristol Deliveroo workers walk out

PCS union: re-elect Chris Baugh for assistant general secretary


Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Enfield North CLP backs no-cuts budget - now councillors must act

We need May Day greetings!

Leeds: don't let the far right divide us


International socialist news and analysis

Europe: school students strike against climate change

Poland: thousands mourn death of murdered mayor

International round-up


Opinion

Theatre: Rouse, Ye Women to tell story of 1910 chainmakers' strike

Non-fiction: The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg "reveals the brutal lengths capitalists will go to protect their system"

The Socialist inbox


 

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Related links:

John Lewis:

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triangleHigh street jobs, safety and pay: We have to fight

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Usdaw:

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triangleUsdaw needs a fighting leadership

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