Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/532/4076
'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.
In The Socialist 7 May 2008:
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party Marxist analysis
May Day Greetings
Socialist Party workplace news