Britain: the pandemic vs the precariat - #NameAndShame the bosses

As we have reported previously, the bosses are attempting to get away with murder, refusing to shut down non-essential businesses and keeping construction sites open. This is putting lives at risk - all for the sake of profits.

Those forced to work in vital industries - such as supermarkets - also face fear of infection, with management failing to provide protective equipment or install effective social distancing measures.

At the same time, many workers have been left high and dry by their employers. Despite government promises to subsidise the wages of furloughed workers, many big business owners have attempted to cut their losses and fire workers anyway.

This unscrupulous behaviour has rightly sparked a backlash from workers and ordinary people disgusted by the callous attitude of the bosses.

This can be seen from the reports that have been sent into us anonymously. Below we provide a selection of these - from workers at Wetherspoons, Tesco, Argos, and Greggs, who describe the mood of fear, uncertainty, and enormous anger that is building up amongst workers everywhere.

The scandalous actions of the capitalists will not be forgotten, however. When the dust has settled on this pandemic, workers will take their revenge and fight back.

As the lockdown unfolds, we will continue to publish anonymous stories of bosses putting profit before lives on Facebook and Twitter, in an effort to name and shame the callous capitalists. To send us your story, write to or direct message us on Twitter at @socialist_app.

Wetherspoons workers fight back - and win!

One of the most infamous cases of the unscrupulous attitude of the bosses in recent weeks has been that of Tim Martin, the renowned reactionary owner of the Wetherspoons chain of pubs.

Despite the government pledging to cover the wages of workers who would otherwise be laid off as a result of the pandemic, Martin initially declared that Wetherspoons employees would be left high and dry.

Without a hint of irony, the pub boss announced that he would not pay his workers’ wages until the end of April. And if anyone protested against this injustice, Martin helpfully suggested that they should just “go apply for a job at Tesco”.

Unsurprisingly, these scandalous statements provoked an enormous backlash from workers and the wider public alike. Twitter was soon full of posts naming and shaming Martin for his callous actions. And some branches of the popular drinking chain quickly found their windows graffitied with demands for the exploitative owner to pay his workers their wages.

Thanks to this - and the campaigning efforts of the BFAWU union, which organises Wetherspoons - Martin was soon forced to retreat, promising that there would be no gap in pay. The fight now continues to ensure that workers receive full pay.

We recently spoke to a Wetherspoons worker, just before Tim Martin’s U-turn, about the mood amongst the workforce and the anger towards their boss.

Firstly, thanks for agreeing to speak with us. Can you tell us a little about what work has been like in Wetherspoons during this pandemic, before Tim Martin’s announcement was made?

Well, fewer and fewer people were coming in, even before the lockdown. People were afraid to leave their houses for fear of being infected by the virus. So sales were lacking and hours were cut, with people being sent home early, having shifts cancelled etc - myself included.

It was nice to get the time off, but financially it makes things a lot harder if you don't have many hours. This is the case with a lot of people there, fitting work around other commitments like study and so on. So basically it was pretty slow for everyone concerned, and that affected everyone's pay, one way or another

After that, Martin went and told you all that he wouldn’t be paying wages until April – is that right? How did people react when they heard the news? And what’s the mood amongst the workers right now?

Yes, that's the gist of what he was saying. He obviously tried to spin it in a positive light, and say that it was good news; that we were getting these furlough payments. But he conveniently missed out the fact that he himself isn't going to do anything about it, even though he could quite easily spare the money.

These payments might not be processed until the end of next month, so that leaves us all feeling extremely uncertain. The majority of the workers are really pissed off about the whole thing. Everyone I've spoken to has been exactly the same, and everyone's encouraging me to look for a new job - which is exactly what I intend to do. A lot of people I know have shared it on social media and the reaction has not been positive

Who do the staff feel is to blame for this situation? What are their thoughts on the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, and the way that businesses like Wetherspoons have reacted to it?

By and large, the staff would place the blame solely at the door of Mr Martin himself. There seems to be a real consensus among the typical demographic of Spoons workers - young millenials, many of them working around other commitments - that even though it's a relief to get something, it's really frustrating having to wait around. And, as a result of businesses like Wetherspoons and Sports Direct treating us as disposable, there's a rising sentiment against these companies. This is embodied in the hashtags on Twitter, calling for people to boycott these companies

What, in your opinion, is the next step for Wetherspoons workers affected by this? Ian Hodson, President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union, has called upon workers to unite and fight against this decision. What do you think the prospects are for such action to take place across Wetherspoons pubs?

Once all this blows over and Spoons opens again we should all walk out. I remember the last time Spoons staff took strike action alongside McDonald’s and TGI, for better pay. Not long afterwards, there was an increase in pay for staff, which I believe was a direct result of the action.

It was only really a handful of people mobilising from certain pubs. But I think this goes a lot further than that now, and many more people seem to be sitting up and taking notice. So I've at least some hope that when Spoons opens again, such sentiment will manifest itself in terms of strikes, walkouts, etc.

Given that workplace exploitation of this kind is absolutely everywhere, it’s clear that our class can’t afford to go back to the old ways of doing things, once the immediate crisis of the virus is over.

One idea is that major industries and chains should be managed and operated by their workforces, rather than being left to the mercy of bosses like Tim Martin or Mike Ashley. What are your thoughts on this?

That sounds completely the right way to go. Right now, we haven't much say on things as it is.

Wetherspoons don't even formally recognise any unions, which should set off alarm bells in anyone’s head. I don't feel like we've had much say or power over how things are done currently. And anything that gives us more of a voice is welcome as far as I'm concerned.

Fear and loathing in Tesco

TescoDelivery drivers and shop workers carry out their work without hygienic protection / Image: fair useThere’s an announcement over the tannoy, advising customers to make their way to the tills as the next hour will be dedicated to serving the elderly. People look around confused, then hastily make the most of the remaining time to go on a panic shopping spree.

The announcement is repeated, but the wording has changed. Apparently the shop is now closing to other customers, but will still be open for the elderly – except by the time they come in, the essential items will have gone.

This is a small Tesco store, the only one on the high street. In the heart of the community, and walking distance from the bus stops, the elderly and vulnerable rely on this shop. But there’s a fear among them.

Firstly, the lack of basic necessities like eggs and toilet paper. Secondly, the lack of gloves for the store’s staff. Combining the people who are at the highest risk with those who don’t even have protective gear is a dangerous prospect. But that’s business as usual for this retailer. Just ask the office colleagues who have been asked to step in to help out their stores.

It’s scary enough that delivery drivers and those who work in distribution centres are still expected to carry out their work, even with the lack of hygienic protection. But for our store workers who are on the frontline, protecting their health is of the highest priority. Not to mention the abuse they receive from customers, verbal and physical.

But with the government labelling them key workers, it’s essential for them to remain working in store. With supermarkets having to cope with the extortionate demand from customers, more and more deliveries are being scheduled in – but in order to increase the amount of stock being put out, office colleagues are being drafted in to help.

This completely defeats the purpose of the government’s warning of practising social distancing, especially when people are being told to keep two metres away from people they do not live with.

Office workers are often asked to go into stores to provide extra support during busy periods, such as Christmas, so this wasn’t new to me. But the idea of going into a public place - interacting with people who may have come into contact with covid-19 - when I’ve been given no protective equipment filled me with absolute fear.

I was in a tricky situation: on the one hand, I wanted to help support our incredible stores; but, on the other hand, I was scared of the risks involved. Not to mention potentially putting my partner at risk. It was only after facing increased pressure - and, dare I say it, being guilt tripped by my co-worker - that I went in to help one of the stores.

The first thing that struck me was the lack of social distancing. People were still standing close to each other at the tills, gathering around the same shelves. But because it was a small shop, it was hard to practise keeping a safe distance away from each other.

I asked for gloves, but none were available. And the only hand sanitiser around was at the front of the store. I tried to wash my hands at every opportunity. But with an expectation to be on the shop floor at all times, it was difficult to take these hand-washing breaks.

From handling the cages to stocking the shelves, I was touching shared surfaces with customers and colleagues alike. And being the only supermarket in town, its high footfall meant I must have come across hundreds of people in such a short timeframe.

Some customers wore masks, others wore gloves, and a few made makeshift masks with their gloves. There was confusion over the limit of items customers could take - a miscommunication from store manager to store workers, which then was miscommunicated further to customers.

Signs that would’ve helped inform customers over the number of limited items were in the wrong sections. And with supermarkets struggling to meet the output of essential items, the limit had been changed once again and needed updating.

One old woman looked dazed and frightened. “You haven’t got a nine-pack of the loo roll, have you? It’s just I don’t have enough money, and I need to buy that and a couple of packs of washing powder for my neighbour,” she said.

It was heartbreaking, because just a few minutes before the elderly hour, people rushed in to buy the remaining packs of toilet roll, leaving the shelf empty. The only substitute we had was the 24 pack. But as she had a walking stick, she was unable to carry it, let alone pay for it.

An elderly man asked if we were getting any more eggs in. I shook my head and said no, not until the morning. I advised him to come in first thing, as that’s when the deliveries arrive. But he explained that due to restricted bus timetables, he couldn’t get out until a certain time, by which point he would miss our early morning deliveries.

A couple of care workers came in, asking for pasta. Again, I had to tell them we had run out. But we had the NHS hour to allow them to do their shopping. They explained due to their sporadic timings they couldn’t always get away for the NHS hour. They asked if we could implement a scheme that would allow supermarkets to create a backstock of pasta and tinned items, so that when NHS workers came in, there would be a batch reserved only for them.

Even though I came in to help, it truly felt like my being there was pointless. I couldn’t provide food for customers, let alone reassurance – and that was just eight hours of my time.

Now imagine if that was a full time store worker. You don’t have enough of the essential items. Customers who are vulnerable and elderly are putting their lives at risk to come into your store. And you don’t have any protective gear.

You’re getting mixed messages from management. You’re facing disgruntled customers. And morale is low. But hey, you’re getting a bonus, so that’s got to count for something – right?

The only bonus they can get out of this right now is to stay alive.

Argos workers say: “We need to put lives before profits”

argosArgos management considers the sale of trampolines and jigsaws ‘essential work’ / Image: N ChadwickAfter Boris announced the lockdown, I was told at 10:30pm that same night that I would still be expected to come into work the next day at Argos. Apart from the stand-alone stores on high streets and retail parks that would close, Argos management considers the sale of trampolines and jigsaws ‘essential work’ - so everything else remains open.

I have to drive to work. I’ve asked my manager what I should say if I get stopped by the police, who are enforcing social distancing measures. If I say I’m going to work at Argos, I doubt they’ll consider that ‘essential work’. Does that mean I’ll get fined? Management hadn’t replied to me about this before I had to set out for work today.

All the Argos outlets inside Sainsbury’s stores are staying open, meaning those staff will be exposed to thousands of other people on a daily basis. Hub stores, where most of the stock is kept, are also remaining open. My store’s warehouse remains open, with 40 people working in close proximity to each other. Under these conditions social distancing is non-existent for Argos staff.

Up until recently the company provided us with one 750ml bottle of hand-sanitiser for the entire shop. As of yesterday, they’re providing a bit more. We were banned from wearing gloves until the middle of last week. And last I heard, we’re still banned from wearing facemasks.

Yesterday they had put tape on the floor of the store, which the customers were supposed to keep behind to distance us from them. But no one paid any attention to it and the managers ignored it.

I live with someone who’s vulnerable to this virus, and I’m terrified of infecting them. A lot of my colleagues, including some of the managers, are in tears. No one wants us to stay open. We’re really scared. But they’re forcing us into work.

There have been cases of colleagues following 111 advice and self-isolating, only to find Argos is refusing to pay them, because the government advice was different to what’s coming from the NHS. We don’t want to lose our jobs or our pay. I didn’t sleep last night, because I’m so angry at what they’re doing to us.

Everyone is angry and scared. Sainsbury’s and Argos have an internal social network for their employees on Yammer. It’s been getting more and more heated lately. Since the announcement of the lockdown, it’s been blowing up. The company can delete messages it doesn’t like on Yammer, which it’s been doing a lot lately.

It’s not so much the government people are angry at - it’s the CEO, Mike Coupe. You can be sure he’s ‘working’ from home while he’s sending the rest of us out there. He didn’t even put a statement out about the lockdown until 4am after the announcement.

I’ve been a bit disappointed with my trade union, USDAW. We’ve hardly heard anything from them - although I appreciate they must be extremely busy right now. We got an email statement from them a while ago. I tried calling the other day, but still haven’t heard back. And they haven’t put a statement or an email or anything out about the lockdown yet.

They should close all the Argos stores right now. It’s not essential work. They’ve talked about redeploying us to Sainsbury’s if Argos shuts, which I’m happy to do because they need help over there. But none of us have any training for working in Sainsbury’s.

For those of us who live with or are in regular contact with vulnerable people, we should be allowed to go home on full pay. We need to put lives before profits.

Nationalise Greggs!

GreggsGreggs has worked hard to make the bakery look and sound socially responsible / Image: fair useOver the past few years, Greggs has worked hard to make the bakery look and sound socially responsible, in an attempt to keep up with the millenial dream of not exploiting and abusing people at every turn. From teasing Piers Morgan with a vegan sausage roll, to giving staff small bonuses - the company has been tagged by many as ‘progressive’ and ‘forward thinking’.

Working at Greggs, however, you begin to see the mask slip. The lack of sick pay until you’ve worked for the company for a year, and the ever-changing and unpredictable hours are just two clear examples.

In a recent interview, Roger Whiteside, the company’s CEO, said that Greggs was promising to pay all staff for their contracted hours if they were made to self-isolate. This was an attempt to show that Greggs would put their money where their mouth is, and give staff security and safety in the knowledge they would be paid.

Except, under capitalism this is never the way it works. No company can ever really afford to care for their staff when profit is ranked well above people.

Greggs have kept their stores open for as long as possible, despite the clear proof that keeping them open is spreading covid-19 further and faster. Shops have been kept open on the technicality that Greggs is classed as takeaway food. This is putting the lives of staff and customers at risk.

Greggs have promised customers that they have put measures in place to stop the virus spreading. Every measure is to the detriment of staff, however, who are being made to work harder, faster and more diligently.

As is always the case under capitalism, the burden of stopping the spread of the virus has fallen on the workers. Staff’s hands are raw and bleeding from washing them every five minutes, and from cleaning down everything in the shop every 15 minutes. All of this while queuing customers shout and complain. These pressures take their toll.

Furthermore, the great claim that Whiteside made in the interview - that all staff would be paid contracted hours - has already begun to fall apart. Most staff are on 16 hour a week contracts, despite working up to 40. This precarity means staff could be taking a pay cut of nearly £200 a week if they are made to self isolate.

Also, this only covers staff who isolate for one or two weeks. If you happen to fall into the high risk group and need to self isolate for 12 weeks, you are only paid 80% of your contracted hours - £105 a week. This is only £10 more than the government's statutory sick pay, which many have been up in arms about.

Greggs has spent a great deal of time and money trying to look socially responsible. However, as soon as this threatens to damage their profits, they retreat and act as carelessly and unthinkingly as any other business.

The lesson is clear: ‘social responsibility’ is not possible under capitalism.