Asda-Wal-Mart is facing potentially one of the most damaging walkouts ever to hit a supermarket chain after depot workers voted by nearly three to one to take strike action.
Shop stewards belonging to the GMB general union will meet in Manchester today to select dates for industrial action, which could coincide with World Cup matches involving England, to maximise support for stoppages.
The first walkout could last three days, coinciding with the quarter-finals on 1 July. Paul Kenny, the union's general secretary, warned that workers' representatives could opt for an indefinite all-out strike.
The company last night said it would make every effort to ensure that customers "won't notice a thing". The union claims that the only way of avoiding empty shelves would be if the company broke the law and employed agency staff as strike-breakers.
In a turnout of 57 per cent, warehouse workers voted by 2,209 to 771 to walk out in a dispute over pay and union recognition. The vote for action short of strikes was larger - 2,483 to 487.
Mr Kenny said Asda had conducted a "massive campaign" to persuade employees to reject strike action. He said management had used posters, CDs, films, presentations and even allegedly threatened some members of staff. "After all that, our members still voted for strike action. It really is time now that Asda came into the real world."
He said the union had written to 62 employment agencies warning them that they would be in breach of regulations if they supplied the supermarket group with strike-breakers. He repeated his warning that the GMB might resort to mass picketing at the depots if the law is ignored.
The GMB union said it would use surveillance equipment on picket lines to ensure agency workers are not undertaking work normally performed by GMB members.
Mr Kenny conceded that the percentage of GMB membership at the 20 depots varied, but he calculated that some 90 per cent of drivers were in the union.
The GMB already enjoys full collective bargaining rights at nine warehouses and a watered-down version at four others. The union is demanding a national agreement covering all 20. The company said it was still prepared to talk to the union.Reuse content