The Workers Party of Britain deplores the fact that Morrisons workers are being kept in the dark about plans to sell the business to private equity speculators and calls on the board to open the company’s books for inspection by the workforce.
Over a thousand workers employed by Morrisons at the 497 stores in its supermarket chain are being blindsided about the company’s future ownership and direction, as private equity vultures circle overhead.
Plummeting share prices across the supermarket sector, blamed on covid and Brexit but having deeper roots in the overproduction crisis of capitalism, have attracted the attention of private equity outfits scenting blood and out to make a speculative buck, buying cheap while share prices flag. The most recent such buyout was the takeover of Asda by TDR Capital. Now it is Morrisons turn.
In June the Morrisons board declined an offer from private equity group CDR to buy the business at 230p a share, valuing equity at £5.5bn. This offer was rejected. Then along came another outfit called Fortress, raising the offer to 252p a share, valuing Morrisons equity at £6.3bn. Morrisons board approved this proposal in the first week of July, but the matter is still to be decided, and other vultures are sniffing around, like the American private equity player, Apollo Global Management, which has hired Morgan Stanley to help make a bid of its own.
What makes Morrisons a particularly tasty morsel is the fact that, unusually, it owns the freehold on about 85% of its properties, which makes it easier for asset-strippers to flog them off.
All of these shenanigans have been going on behind closed doors, with the workers, without whose labour there would be no business and nothing to sell, left completely in the dark about the future of the company and of their own livelihoods, with only some flimsy and unenforceable “assurances”about what the future will hold.
If the deal goes through, the new owners of the business will be led by an outfit, Fortress, which the Financial Times tells us “is best known for its work in credit and distressed investing situations” (not for its expertise in the grocery trade). Back in 2019 it hoovered up Majestic Wines (having no particular reputation for advanced vintner skills either). And if we follow the paper chase to its end, we learn that Fortress itself is owned by a Japanese bank, SoftBank (who know a lot about … well, banking).
Meanwhile Morrisons workers, who do know a hell of a lot about running a large and complex grocery business, with its own supply chains running from farm to warehouse, are left out in the dark whilst major decisions are made which will affect all their futures. Unite’s Adrian Jones, pressing for urgent talks with Morrisons about the likely impact on workers’ jobs and conditions, hit the nail on the head when he vowed that “We won’t allow another takeover of a strong UK business see the workers trampled over as the boardroom and shareholders stampede towards their bonanzas.” He went on to say that “Unite will meet urgently with the management team to turn their promises that the workers’ jobs and terms will not be undermined into unbreakable guarantees. Only with such cast-iron guarantees can there be any hope of Unite and our members cooperating with this sale.”
The Workers Party of Britain stands with Morrisons workers in their struggle to protect their jobs, pay and conditions, and demands that the board come clean on what is really at stake in the buyout frenzy.