Doncaster ex-Tesco drivers, outsourced to and then sacked by Eddie Stobarts, today voted by 150-19 to accept an improved redundancy offer and end their strike.
This package, whilst still only £650 for each years service, was 50% better than that drivers had been notified of only a day earlier in their redundancy letters.
This climbdown by Stobarts/Tescos was forced on them by the most effective picketing that I have seen for years, which for 50 hours, round the clock, had lorries parked up unable to move, as many as 120 wagons at one point.
Such was the strikers’ sense of empowerment that yesterday one picket said “I don’t want this settling, I want to be doing this next week, Christmas week, and see how they (the bosses) like that.”
Unite national officer Adrian Jones said in the strike meeting that the drivers’ action had been “an inspiration”. He said that in the talks, Stobarts, an anti-union firm, had admitted that this was the first time they had ever been “hurt” by industrial action.
The union branch committee reluctantly recommended acceptance of the deal. They thought it was the best that could be got under the circumstances. Even those that voted against did so more as a gesture of defiance than challenging the shop stewards who have shown real leadership.
This is because whilst the talks were going on yesterday, the pendulum swung away from the strikers on the picket line. Up to then, the police had been unusually accomodating, allowing pickets to stop lorries and talk to drivers for 5, 10, sometimes even 20 minutes or more, causing even more tail-backs. But around midday, more senior officers demanded a more robust attitude to limiting the picket numbers and together with Stobart and Tesco managers, more or less forced drivers through. This meant that by mid-afternoon the back-log of waggons had more or less been cleared.
So, you can’t call 183 redundancies and the redundancy package a victory, but the mood of the drivers at the mass meeting was one of pride that they had stood up to the biggest private sector employer in the country (Tesco) and the most notorious anti-union haulier (Stobarts), and given them both a bloody nose.
None of the drivers involved will ever forget the experience of the last three days and their action leaves an inspiring example that other drivers and workers will follow in the near future.