Solidarity needed!

Local trade unionist Dave Chapple writes in the Morning Star about the “Fire and re-hire” dispute in Street, Somerset.
WORKERS at Clarks boot and shoe warehouse in Street, Somerset, are on strike against the company’s “fire-and-rehire” threat.

The strike is no ordinary industrial dispute — indeed, it would be no exaggeration to claim that the future of this country, and the way its citizens who have to work for a living are treated by those who employ them, is in the balance.

Clarks warehouse workers, who are members of the Community union, face the following threats:

• An average reduction in pay of £1.66 per hour: from the current £11.16 to £9.50

• An increase of 2.5 working hours per week, due to paid 30-minute meal breaks being abolished

• No pay rise for at least four years, despite the union agreeing to help the company through a “difficult financial spell“ by accepting two hours less per week instead of a pay rise on two different occasions and at the company’s proposal

• Drastic cuts in sick pay: from 13 weeks’ full pay to six weeks’ full pay and six weeks’ half-pay; abolition of sick pay for the first day of absence; no sick pay entitlement from day one of employment, only after six months

• The abolition of a daily 10-minute coffee break, brought in at the company’s request to ease warehouse operations

• A drastic reduction in redundancy entitlements: from enhanced double statutory, to statutory, (ie, one week’s wages per year of service), raising fears that the company will get rid of workers, even close the Street distribution centre, just as they are closing their distribution centre in Kendal

• Cuts to overtime rates to time thus giving no chance to increase pay

• No direct cuts to maternity pay or pension entitlements, but with a 15-20 per cent cut in wages, pensions will suffer a drastic fall when taken out

I have personally met four Clarks workers who fear losing their homes due to their potential inability to pay their rent or mortgage, and some even fear losing contact with their children if they are left only able to afford a bedsit or other unsuitable accommodation for children.

Is this the Clarks Quaker family firm that was an iconic part of manufacturing-factory Britain for 200 years?

Is this the Clarks family firm that, even when it closed all of its Somerset factories over a 15-year period, nonetheless treated its remaining street HQ and warehouse workers and their trade unions with respect?

The answer is no. Welcome to the “brave new world” of Clarks’ new owners, Lion Rock Capital.

This is a Hong Kong-based, venture capitalist, hedge-fund capitalist, slash-and-burn capitalist company.

Is this really the future for work in this country: no more decent trade union recognition or collective bargaining negotiations, just industrial dictatorship, “take it or leave it,” “fire and rehire”?