Organising From Scratch In Retail

The following article first appeared in The Anvil, Vol 13, No 2, published 30 March 2024.

Like many retail workers, I worked in a store with no union presence and a laundry list of issues. We face abusive customers (and management), low wages, hazardous manual handling practises, and dangerously hot working conditions in the summer. We were forced to work through COVID with minimal protection in 2020, and things have not gotten better since. Workers in my store used to feel that the only way to change things was to find another job.

In mid-2023 we started organising. We called afterwork meetings in a nearby bar, and what started off as venting about work, quickly turned into analysing our working conditions and developing a plan to change things.

We joined the union and worked out how to get our co-workers involved. Importantly, we didn’t just limit our discussions to one store. Our store is one in a chain, and change will require organising across the chain. We started a workplace bulletin about the issues we face, distributed it to nearby stores, and started started talking to contacts across the company. These conversation showed us that there is a lack of safety culture across the whole company, and staff are frustrated.

We have a long fight ahead of us, but our rank-and-file organising is already changing things. We now all refuse to do manual labour when it gets too hot in store, citing health and safety concerns. Alongside this, we are collectively negotiating getting Health and Safety Reps elected and trained in our store. We hope that this will begin to set a standard across the sector and make it clear that we won’t accept unsafe working conditions anymore.

When we organise, retail workers can win.

From a MACG member organising within the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union

Featured Photo: Retail and Fastfood Workers Union