|Volume 50 Number 12, April 4, 2020||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
Five hundred workers for online fashion and retailer ASOS walked out of the company's warehouse in Grimethorpe, South Yorkshire, on Saturday, March 28, over working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic. Workers have complained that it is "impossible" to maintain the recommended two-metre minimum separation between people at the warehouse, where they are sat at half that distance apart in multiple directions, putting them at serious risk of infection. Some at the site have even claimed that they were told not to wear masks at work, "as it was not part of their uniform"!
"The situation at ASOS is disgusting - thousands of people under one roof, not enforcing social distancing. It looks exactly like a hotbed of infection," said GMB Regional Organiser Deanne Ferguson. "ASOS needs to put people before profits and make sure workers are the right distance apart and paid properly if they need to take time off. Anything else is putting unnecessary lives at risk," she added.
"We totally refute these allegations," responded ASOS management. "We are striking the right balance between keeping our warehouse operational for the good of employees and the wider economy, and maintaining the health and safety of staff. An environmental health officer visited and was happy."
Barnsley East MP Stephanie Peacock said: "I have spoken to a number of concerned workers employed at the ASOS warehouse in Grimethorpe who feel that their health is being put before profit in this national crisis. It is imperative that we all do our bit to stop the spread of coronavirus, saving lives. ASOS employs more than 4,000 workers in the UK. They shouldn't have to put them and their family's well-being on the line for a pay cheque." She has has written to the CEO of ASOS expressing these concerns.
The "refutation" notwithstanding, it seems clear that the management, who are the decision-makers on behalf of the retail monopoly, will not organise to keep a safe space between workers in line with official instructions on social distancing. This management, posing the problem as one of "balance", is showing no concern over the health and well-being of employees and by extension the general public. The company is blatantly flouting government guidelines and are operating around loopholes where they can. The retailer refuses to close operations over non-essential work during the crisis and refuses to pay workers who are not available or do not turn up.
Everything is done in order to ensure business remains profitable. Management buy the capacity to work and think that they can do with it whatever they want, when and how they want to utilise that capacity. The needs of capital come first. Workers have been challenging the situation by exercising their right to withdraw that labour.
Workers want to become involved to change the situation regarding the pandemic. They do not like being treated as pawns. Hence the action to withdraw their labour. The reality is the crisis has heightened consciousness above what it was before the outbreak of the disease. More than ever the issue of control over the productive forces in society points towards fighting for something New.