TUC prepares for high street battle

High street brands are to be targeted by unions now the new legislation on union recognition is in place.

The TUC denies there is a “hit list” of employer scalps to be nailed. But a spokeswoman said that brand names that have been billed as “anti-union” would “be near the top of most people’s minds”.

She added, “There is no hit list of target employers. But I suppose you could say the usual suspects will be on everybody’s minds – McDonald’s, Gap, Borders, Dixons, Marks & Spencer – – you know who I mean.”

The firms were being tight-lipped about their industrial strategy. McDonald’s, the John Lewis Partnership, Dixons and Gap all refused to comment.

A spokeswoman for Marks & Spencer reiterated the firm’s traditional stance. “We try and maintain good communications with our workforce without the assistance of third parties. That is the position we hope to continue.”

The union most concerned with these high-profile names – shopworkers’ union USDAW – said that while preferring voluntary agreements, the legislation represented no panacea. “The significant problem that every union is going to face is that to achieve 50 per cent in membership at a non-union employer is very hard,” said Barry Allen, the union’s national officer. “The huge turnover of staff at a lot of these companies makes that much more difficult.”

John Knell, head of research at the Industrial Society, said that unions were unlikely to look for automatic use of the legislation if they saw the voluntary spirit of the Employment Relations Act bearing fruit.

“The less they see merit in the voluntary route, the more likely they are to go for compulsory recognition,” he said.

Knell suggested unions were likely to categorise employers and tailor their strategy to fit different characteristics. “There are those employers who know they are going to have to recognise and need a push and those that are absolutely opposed. There are tactical considerations.”

Linda Dickens, professor of industrial relations at Warwick Business School, added, “Some recognition issues have been around for some time now and if the unions wanted to act quickly, they could. But we are meant to be the last resort and if unions get what they want without coming before us, they won’t come.”

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