Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Tesco targeted by EuroMayday flash mob

They were dancing in the isles at Tesco in Hackney on May Day, but it wasn't over half-price donuts. Up to 200 activists temporarily occupied the store as part of the EuroMayday 'precarity' actions, highlighting insecure working conditions and what protesters say is 'the tyranny of 24/7 constantly on-call work regimes'.

May 1, 2005
3 min read


Alex NunnsAlex Nunns is Red Pepper's political correspondent @alexnunns


  share     tweet  

Shoppers stood in amazement when demonstrators entered the shop accompanied by the Rhythms of Resistance samba band. With the crack of drums echoing around the building, activists unfurled a huge banner spanning the checkouts saying ‘All we have to lose is our chainstores.’

According to Fermin Fernandez, one of the Precarity Network organisers, ‘the reaction of the workers and customers was good, and they enjoyed the samba band. The fact that it was in Hackney, one of London’s most deprived areas, meant that people were responsive to our message. We were saying that people in precarious situations need to be responsible for changing their own situation through action.’

The Community Support Officers on the scene were initially powerless to act, but reinforcements soon arrived and the demonstrators were surrounded, removed from the store and, after two hours, escorted to London Fields, amid accusations of heavy-handed policing. Nine people were arrested. A statement from the Metropolitan Police claimed they had ‘thwarted’ the protest.

This was the first UK May Day event to be organised as a ‘flash mob’ demonstration. Details were announced by text to protesters’ mobile phones an hour before the event, in order to avoid the meticulously planned police operations of previous May Days. In the run up to this year’s action, 750 mobile numbers had been collected by the Precarity Network, but on the morning of 1 May the SMS email account to be used to distribute the information was mysteriously frozen. Nevertheless, activists managed to contact over 500 people.

Tesco was specifically targeted as a symbol of ‘precarity’ at work. Activists accuse the company of exploitative working practices, including paying new employees less than the minimum wage, cutting Sunday pay and ending sick pay. They point to reports of Tesco using immigrant labour under gangmasters to pack its food, and of appalling conditions on Tesco-accredited farms in South Africa. In April Tesco became the first UK retailer to announce profits of over £2 billion. It is thought that the chain takes one in every eight pounds spent in Britain’s shops.

The Hackney action marks a significant change of tactics for the anti-capitalist movement. Previous demonstrations have involved set-piece events in the commercial centre of London. According to activist Bob Black, ‘This action wasn’t about smashing up Tesco and leaving broken glass behind us. There has been a valid critique of the anti-capitalist movement, saying that just smashing-up McDonalds won’t challenge capitalism. We were attacking Tesco from a different angle. To stop this company we look for the issues that unite the workers and the activists, and it comes together around working conditions. This is a progressive development.’

Although the new approach may have attracted less media coverage, Black believes it was a success: ‘There is a perception that the only purpose of May Day is to get in the press. But it’s really about communicating issues. A week after May Day we went back to Hackney and handed out leaflets. We had conversations with workers and shoppers and explained our actions. We showed that we weren’t just an anarchist mob that had come to attack Tesco.’Bob Black and Fermin Fernandez are aliases used to protect the speakers’ identities

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Alex NunnsAlex Nunns is Red Pepper's political correspondent @alexnunns


Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook

‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali

Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.

Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent

Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art

Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs

Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced

India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya

North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero