Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials, 10 July 2007

10 July 2007

 Kwik Save collapse: welcome to Third World Britain!

Kwik Save was put into administration last Friday. 1,1000 workers lost their jobs and 90 stores were closed. These workers will not get a penny from the administrators, KPMG. Even though nobody has been paid since 21 June.

But hundreds of workers had been working for 6 weeks without any pay, already - waiting for a "rescue" deal to be finalised. They will not be paid their money, while only 56 stores might be rebranded and reopened - via yet more dodgy deals involving the very same people that have presided over Kwik Save's collapse.

Last month 700 staff lost their jobs when the company closed 81 shops. They have been told they will get no redundancy pay.

This is a scandal. Since when, in the 4th richest country in the world, did workers not get paid the wages they worked for? The non-payment of pensions was, and is, outrageous, but this is a step towards turning conditions for workers in Britain into Third World conditions!

Kwik Save had been selling low cost basics to the least well-off for 50 years. But it has been lagging behind the competition for quite a while - ever since Somerfield, which bought it in 1998, made a mess of it. The stores were sold to "Back to the Future" (which sounds like a sick joke) just 16 months ago. And guess what? This is a group of private investors - private equity funds - that had no intention of turning the supermarket around. They were not even attempting to make a success of the business they had bought.

No, the idea was to strip it of all its worth, "refinance" its debt - in other words take out the cash, burden the company with more interest to pay back, and then dump it. But even though this came slightly unstuck, the "private investors" are unlikely to lose a bean, thanks to the way the bankruptcy laws favour shady bosses and dodgy practices.

As for the workforce, they never even figured in these bosses' equation in the first place. And unlike the case of MG Rover, when the government itself stepped in to pay workers' wages, the general election is not just around the corner, so nothing will be done.

As one sacked Kwik Save worker pointed out - "it is immoral". Yes it is. Or rather, this is the "morality" of the capitalist system, exposed for what it is.

 The Humberside floods and Brown's contempt

It took an Archbishop to mention "Katrina" - the hurricane which flooded New Orleans in 2005. He was so shocked by what he saw in Hull after the flooding - raw sewage was floating into houses and schools and old peoples' homes - that this parallel was all he could think of. And all the more so, because it was the poorest people who were affected - and abandoned.

7 people died. A fifth of the Humberside population was touched by these floods. Well over 50,000 people are left homeless, and almost 30,000 of them are in Hull.

Many are now in caravans, but many are also still in community centres, since it is hard to find an affordable house to rent. Landlords have been using this disaster as an opportunity and putting up rents!

Of course, this flood resulted from an act of nature. Of course, it is partly because of freak weather conditions. It was supposedly the wettest June ever. But this is "high tech" Britain. This is booming Britain. So how come so many people were still not getting any help one week into the deluge?

The answer is that PM Brown was busy with far more important things. Like making as much political capital as possible out of the terror attacks which, even if they were potentially lethal, actually killed nobody.

Now he has come up with just £14m in aid to help with the clean-up - when raw sewage has been floating free over 2/3 of Hull? If you work it out, that is £280 per homeless household! How many have insurance to cover their losses? And what about schools, social facilities and... flood defences?

In fact it turns out that 2,000 Environment Agency jobs are to be cut as part of Brown's on-going 100,000 job cuts in the public sector. Yes, in the agency which deals with flood defences.

A lot of the east coast is low-lying and 90% of Hull is below sea level. But if huge housing estates have been built in flood planes, then shouldn't they be rebuilt on higher ground, or shored up with new defences against the consequences of the far worse global warming to come?