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From The Socialist newspaper, 7 May 2008

'Raising the roof' at Usdaw conference

Shopworkers' union Usdaw's annual conference took place against the background of the credit crunch crises and just before Labour's election debacle.

Robbie Segal, delegate, personal capacity

Socialist Party members received a good response to two editions of the 'Retail and Distribution Activist' - one delegate donated 20 after reading it.

Many delegates exist on wages just above the national minimum wage. The majority in retail work part time, working anything from two hours upwards.

We heard a lot about what New Labour had achieved for us. But we still do not get paid a decent living wage, don't get paid for parental leave or the first three days of sick since New Labour withdrew sick pay. Housing is at a premium and we cannot get dental care or hospital treatment when we need it.

The conference debated the issue of 'absence from work' policies and domestic violence. The conference raised the roof when we won the call for the reintroduction of health and safety committees at both Tesco stores and warehouse/distribution depots as a matter of urgency.

The debate calling for a change in the law to allow for one GP's signature of consent for an abortion was contentious. Some delegates said that the whole question needed to be looked at again. This is a warning signal of the need to defend abortion rights.

Conference agreed that equal pay for women had been demanded for over 100 years and we still did not have it. Usdaw should be campaigning against low pay and for a decent minimum wage of at least 8 an hour.

The whole conference was tightly controlled by the president who made light of calling for propositions to be formally seconded rather than encouraging delegates to speak.

We had the pleasure of a talk from Hazel Blears, secretary of state for communities and local government. There was a resolution to instruct Usdaw-sponsored MPs to call for a change in the government's policy on housing.

This called for local authorities to improve council stock and build enough new council homes to end the housing crisis. This promoted a good debate and was supported with qualifications.

Jackie Smith, home secretary, was also invited. Delegates could only guess that this was for prestige purposes or to get us to vote Labour.

One delegate managed to ask her how come the government had enough money to give to Northern Rock but not to pay public-sector workers a decent wage? Jackie Smith replied: "You wouldn't want to see a bank fail".

The international debate included propositions calling for the UK to distance itself from America's confrontational foreign policy and an end to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. These were opposed vigorously by the leadership.

Suddenly delegates could not speak if they had spoken previously, handpicked speakers opposing propositions were brought in and delegates were interrupted during their summing up.

This was a contrast to the dull conferences of previous years. No wonder that it's rumoured that John Hannett, the general secretary, will be standing for re-election later this year before his term ends.

  • We sold 70 copies of The Socialist at the conference and raised 533 for the Socialist Party Fighting Fund.
  • Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.

    In The Socialist 7 May 2008:

    Coventry: Socialist election success shows the way forward

    Meltdown for Brown - but he won't change course

    Elections round-up and results

    Election victories for class fighters

    Racist BNP have no solutions!

    Socialist Party news and analysis

    Grangemouth refinery: Oil strike wins concessions

    May Day marches

    Defend abortion rights

    TUC attacks Labour on working poverty

    Bangor Socialist Students fight tuition fees

    Obituary: Ray Apps

    Album review: The Bright Lights of America

    Socialist Party Marxist analysis

    France 1968: Capitalism brought to its knees

    How workers and youth are building a Left alternative in France

    Sri Lanka: 25 years of war and conflict

    May Day Greetings

    May Day Greetings 2008 in The Socialist (p4)

    May Day Greetings 2008, The Socialist (p6)

    May Day Greetings 2008, The Socialist (p7)

    May Day Greetings 2008, The Socialist (p9)

    May Day Greetings 2008, The Socialist (p10)

    May Day Greetings 2008, The Socialist (p11)

    May Day Greetings 2008, The Socialist (p15)

    Socialist Party workplace news

    Unison witch-hunt: Defend the four, come to the lobby!

    Mark Thomas condemns witch-hunt

    'Raising the roof' at Usdaw conference

    Support Shelter workers

    National Shop Stewards Network second conference

    Come to the 2008 Campaign for a New Workers' Party conference


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