Union-busting at Tesco

By Robert Cosgrave

Tesco, one of the largest private sector employers in Ireland, is continuing their campaign to undermine Mandate – the trade union organising Tesco workers. They are refusing to engage with the Labour Court, and attempting to deny their workers union representation. This is another phase in the ongoing campaign by Tesco, over the last few years, to attack workers’ pay and conditions, and most importantly, to get Mandate out of Tesco.

“Project Black”

During the strike at Tesco in 2017, information emerged about ‘Project Black’ – Tesco’s plan to strong arm longer-term workers, who were the most likely to be active in Mandate, into accepting “voluntary redundancy packages”, through outright hostility and by undermining their old conditions. This is part of a long term plan to turn Tesco into an open shop, for which they have employed the services of union-busting legal firm Eversheds Sutherland since 2015. In December last year, workers at shops in Carrick-on-Shannon and Sligo went on strike as Tesco attempted to de-recognise the union outright. The recent refusal of Tesco to engage with the state’s industrial relations apparatus – which, it should be noted, exists to favour employers over workers – is the latest step in their prolonged anti-union offensive.

A warning to workers

The struggle between Tesco and Mandate should serve as a warning to the trade union movement; employers, even where they recognise a union, will consciously work to undercut their ability to effectively represent workers. If Tesco are successful, it will give the green light to the capitalist class generally to engage in similar attacks. There is only one way that workers can defend themselves against this.  In contrast to relying on the Labour Court – which has proven time and again to  facilitate the bosses’ anti-union agendas – militant, struggle-based trade unions need to be rebuilt, which will not let themselves be bound by legal confines such as the 1990 Industrial Relations Act. We need  a union movement which is prepared to answer any offensive from the bosses with their own fightback. At the recent ICTU Biennial Delegate Conference in Dublin, Mandate general secretary john Douglas correctly made the point that we have turned out in our thousands for marriage equality, for repeal and that we should now do the same for workers’ rights. The union movement as a whole should weigh in behind this call and mobilise our huge power to win a legal right to collective bargaining and union recognition, something that is absent from current legislation.