15,000 retail workers could lose their jobs, as a string of high-street chains enter administration and look set to close down.
HMV, Jessops, Blockbuster, and Comet have all collapsed in the space of only two months. Since the start of the financial crisis in 2007, other major high-street retailers, including Woolworths and JJB Sports, have gone under.
Blockbuster, the most recent chain to enter administration, is trying to find a buyer for all or part of its business. Lee Manning, from administrator Deloitte, said they were hopeful of keeping more than 50% of stores open, but accepted than “an appreciable proportion” would have to close. The company had an £11.2 million deficit in 2012.
HMV’s British stores have remained open thus far, despite being in administrator, but its Irish stores were closed summarily after its Irish operation was placed in receivership. Workers at two stores, in Limerick, staged a sit-in on Wednesday 16 January after management failed to guarantee that they would be paid wages owing to them.
They ended their action on 19 January after guarantees from administrators that they would be paid all wages due to them.
Irish retail workers have a recent history of such actions. Workers at the lingerie store La Senza held sit-ins to demand backpay after the company announced the closure of three shops.
High-street retailers are almost entirely unionised in Britain. At Woolworths, the one chain that did have union agreements, retail union USDAW played a wretched role and failed to mount even the most minimal fight against closures, limiting itself to advising members on how to get the best redundancy package possible.
Where possible, workers should take direct action against closure, which may at least secure them backpay they are owed.
And unions must immediately launch organising drives in the sector to make sure that the next time a firm announces administration or closure, its staff are ready to fight back.