Wednesday 8 July 2020

Wetherspoons: stories often have two sides

The impressive North Western JDW pub, Lime Street, Liverpool
I've written a few times, most recently in September last year, about the hostility I've detected among some drinkers against the JD Wetherspoons pub chain. With lockdown, the news that Tim Martin told his staff to go away and get a job in Tesco's has given Spoons-haters the perfect moralistic justification for their antipathy. I've seen many posts on Facebook by indignant drinkers declaring that they will never drink in Spoons again and encouraging others to boycott the pub group. It is stating the obvious to say that no one is obliged to drink in any pub they don't want to enter, but trying to organise a boycott is another matter entirely. Is it the right thing to do?

JDW employs 43,000 staff, and all were paid when they were supposed to be, receiving either their wages or their furlough payments. If a boycott were to succeed even partially, JDW would have to make many of them redundant at a time when tens of thousands (if not more) of other workers are likely to lose their jobs because of CV19. Other jobs - in pubs or elsewhere - will not be so readily available as they were pre-lockdown. I saw on Facebook one boycott advocate declaring that as people will still be drinking, ex-JDW staff will all be able to get jobs elsewhere. This is nonsense:
  • The hospitality industry, including pubs, will be operating at a much lower level of income post-lockdown because some drinkers are still wary of coming out, especially those in vulnerable groups, and because social distancing reduces pub capacity.
  • Lower pub incomes will result in fewer staff employed by pubs.
  • With unemployment predicted to increase, and the incomes of many of those still in work likely to reduce, there will be less disposable income to spend in pubs.
  • Some pubs will never reopen - I already know of one or two around here, and I fully expect to hear of more.
  • As I wrote last September, "CAMRA says that avoiding isolation by going to the pub is a good thing, but without Wetherspoons, many people on low incomes could rarely, if ever, afford to go out for a pint." The number of such customers look set to increase, and it's logical to assume that many of them would be less able to afford the prices in non-JDW pubs.
  • BFAWU, the trade union which represents JDW staff, has urged the public not to boycott the pubs.
In view of the above (and as a trade unionist I find the final bullet point particularly compelling), I see no logic in punishing JDW staff for the 'sins' of their boss.

I was going to leave this article there until I picked up the latest issue of 'Wetherspoon News' on Monday. I do understand that this is an in-house journal and what it says must be viewed in that light. However, Tim Martin has written a spirited defence of his company's actions at the beginning of lockdown, denying the accusations, and blaming the press's tendency to spin stories out of recognition and create pantomime villains. It's interesting that people who'd normally be sceptical, or at least questioning, about what they read or hear in the media (or MSM as some dismissively call it) have uncritically swallowed the anti-JDW story in its entirety. In support of his assertions, Martin has reprinted in the mag seven different press corrections to the story and a right of reply that he was given in a local paper. Newspapers don't like to print corrections, and won't do it on a whim. That they have done so is an admission that what they published contained inaccuracies.

I have no intention of reproducing his defence here - I'm not an apologist for the company which is much bigger and richer than me and, anyway, can speak for itself - but if you believe in seeing two sides to the story, I suggest you look at the mag, which is available free in all branches of Wetherspoons now.


  1. the news that Tim Martin told his staff to go away and get a job in Tesco's has given Spoons-haters the perfect moralistic justification for their antipathy

    "Moralistic"? It's a question of class solidarity, at least as far as I'm concerned - bosses should face some consequences for throwing their workers onto the scrap heap. I'll be interested to hear Martin's version, though.

    1. I agree with class solidarity and as a longstanding active trade unionist myself, I take note what the voice of organised labour in Spoons (BFAWU) says, which is against a boycott. So I stand by my original statement and if you wish to penalise the staff for what you consider the failings of their boss, then I must conclude that you've decided you know better than the relevant union.

    2. Fair point about the BFAWU - particularly as they can take at least part of the credit for Martin's U-turn. I don't think the interests of the workers directly affected by a boycott can always be the first consideration, though - there are hardly any situations where a boycott *won't* hit the workers as well as, or even before, the boss.

    3. I find it interesting that you have moved from class solidarity to acceptable collateral damage.

  2. Spoons is regularly boycotted by people that would never step foot in the place because they consider it down market.

    I don't see it being boycotted by people who go there.

  3. Tim Martin made an ill-considered off-the-cuff remark, but he was never in practice going to sack people, and it's unfortunate that the lie that he actually did was widely circulated by the Spoons-haters.

  4. Excellent read, Nev.

    I'm divided on Spoons, and use a fair few annually as I visit Beer Guide entries. They provide a cheap decent meal for folk on low income and are more lively than given credit for.

    I thought that Tim Martin not paying some suppliers, including small brewers, was unacceptable behaviour though I didnt see the Spoons side of the story.

    Since pubs reopened I've been to four Spoons, all points of the compass, and been impressed with their cleanliness and spaciousness.

    Beer quality remains HIGHLY variable though. Have you had any cask in the Southport branches lately? (it was pretty good in years past).

    1. Thanks, Martin.

      I've been in one Southport Spoons, the Sir Henry Segrave, twice since pubs reopened and the beer quality was good, but then I don't recall ever having a bad pint in either of our two JDW outlets.

      Tim Martin is an opinionated prat, but I suspect that if I knew the views of a lot of bosses of the companies that we all have to deal with, I'd find them unpalatable. However, most bosses realise that wearing their heart on their sleeve isn't a good idea - it doesn't make good business sense to alienate potential customers. Tim Martin's highly public stance on leaving the EU is an example.

      As to those attempting to organise a boycott, I'd say this:



Comments, including disagreements, are welcome.
Abuse and spam are not and will be deleted straight away.
Comment moderation is installed for older posts.