Two retail outlets and two stories of forcing staff to accept contracts that worsen their working conditions. There’s this: Asda staff who refused to sign new contracts will lose their jobs on 3 November and also this: Wilko contract changes ‘force staff to choose between childcare and livelihoods’. It’s a pretty safe bet that you wouldn’t have to look too far to find other retailers screwing over their workers with new contracts that promote more ‘flexible’ working practices.

Behind the thin veneer of bullshit surrounding the word ‘flexible’, it’s all too obvious that it’s the retailers holding the whip and the workers who have to comply or get out. It matters nothing to the retailers that their workers may have caring responsibilities or other jobs they have to fit into an already complex life. If the workers aren’t prepared to jump as and when ordered by the bosses, regardless of all the other pressures and commitments they may have, they are deemed to be expendable.

The pride that some of the workers may have taken in working for Asda and Wiljko has disappeared as the reality dawns that management see them as flexible and ultimately disposable work units to be discarded if they are insufficiently compliant. The management take the view that there’s a reservoir of people desperate for work who can be taken on to fill the shoes of those who dared to stand up for themselves.

Such is the experience of working in retail in late capitalism. Asda, Wilko and the rest of them aren’t just there to flog us food and household items – they exist to generate a profit for their institutional shareholders who demand a return on their investment regardless. Retail is a complex business and to stay competitive, prices are kept as low as possible. The profit margin on an individual item is pretty thin. Profits only accumulate when sales volumes are high.

Retailers can and do screw both their supply chains and their workers. The ultimate in squeezing their workers is automation – we’ve all seen the push to drive us to use self service checkouts in the supermarkets. Basically, we the customers are asked to do the work of employees who have been or soon will be made redundant.

The question is, how much longer are retail workers going to take this shite from their employers before striking back? Well, you don’t have to look too far to see there’s the start of a new wave of worker militancy. It started with the so called ‘fringe’ unions such as United Voices of the World Union and the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain but it’s spreading with postal workers in the CWU due to take strike action soon. Let’s hope this spreads to the retail sector sooner rather than later…