As of the evening of 25 March, pressure from Wetherspoon workers has forced the company to U-turn on its decision to not pay its staff. Workers will be keeping up the pressure to guarantee no loss of wages and to pay all bonuses still owed. Socialist Alternative congratulates the Wetherspoon workers on this victory and sends solidarity. Below, we share a response written before this announcement was made.
Last Friday, Boris Johnson’s government made the announcement that pubs, restaurants and cafes were to close as a measure to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus epidemic. Alongside this, they were forced to announce new measures to cover 80% of wages for workers affected by these closures. This was an attempt to prevent the mass job losses recently seen in countries such as Ireland, Belgium and the USA where, as a result of workplace closures, millions of workers have been laid off. For many working class people in Britain, who will undoubtedly have seen the scale of unemployment emerging in other countries, this announcement will have come as a relief.
Unfortunately for the more than 40,000 people who work at Wetherspoon pubs across the country, the latest information from boss Tim Martin will provide no such relief. On Tuesday 24th March, the CEO informed workers that wages would only be paid up to the 22nd March. In a video message sent to staff, Martin suggested that staff should apply to work at supermarkets such as Tesco, as the government’s new measures would be slow to come into effect. Until the government funding is received – potentially over a month from now – workers will receive nothing from the company.
This callous announcement from management will have frightening consequences for many of the company’s low-paid staff, who are often already struggling to get by. In recent years, Wetherspoon workers have taken industrial action against the “poverty wages” paid by the pub chain. Although some may be able to find alternative employment, the prospect of a month without even the current meagre amount raises the question of how many of these workers can be expected to pay their rent and bills, or to feed themselves over the next month.
We won’t pay for this crisis
In a statement released the same day, Wetherspoon workers in the Bakers’ Union (BFAWU) called for full pay for staff. Socialist Alternative fully supports this demand. The current crisis has been caused by the capitalists themselves, whose inaction is rooted in their need to put profits first at every stage. Working class people are not the ones that should be made to pay for this.
In response to the outrage of staff and members of the public, Martin has claimed the company “does not have the resources” to pay its staff. In other words, they can’t afford it. But Wetherspoon has an annual turnover of £1.8 billion. To companies pleading poverty, socialists say: prove it! Open up the company’s books to public scrutiny, so that we can see where the money goes.
It is the workers who produce this wealth in the first place. If the bosses cannot be trusted to protect the jobs and wages of their staff, Whetherspoon and other large companies that try to make workers pay for this crisis should be taken into public ownership, under democratic workers’ control to protect conditions.
However the situation faced by Wetherspoon workers also demonstrates the fact that the measures introduced by Johnson’s government are far from sufficient. As a result, staff at other companies across the country will be open to the same treatment. Despite some media commentators describing the “socialism” of Johnson and Sunak’s recent measures, in reality, they are a way to maintain the position of the capitalist class and the stability of their system – not to truly defend the rights of the working class. In order to truly ensure full pay and to protect all jobs for ordinary people, we will need to fight for a socialist society, not the market interventionism currently being employed by capitalist governments racked by crisis.