Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/548/6405
Socialist candidate stuns Usdaw leaders
SOCIALIST PARTY member Robbie Segal shook the entire shopworkers' union Usdaw by gaining 40% of the vote for general secretary, in the ballot result announced on 15 September.
Robbie is a Tesco worker. On shoe-string resources, with a small band of activists in a David and Goliath battle, she faced the entire Usdaw official machine. The whole right-wing union full-time bureaucracy was mobilised to crush her, but she still managed to gain over 18,000 votes, winning the moral victory by far.
Robbie was virtually unknown to most of the members other than those who have known her first-hand as a fighter over the years. The incumbent, John Hannett, had the entire union behind him - except the members. He appears in the union journal and other union publications every month.
As an example of what Robbie faced, three national executive members were flown into the central London branch meeting to argue against one Socialist Party member to secure the nomination of all the London branches for Hannett.
But Robbie's programme clearly appealed to the members by calling for an £8 an hour minimum wage for all, no to 'partnership' between the union and the employers (as there is in Tesco), for democracy within the union, and for an alternative to New Labour - for ordinary people to have a party that genuinely represents them. Robbie also pledged to reject the £100,000 Hannett takes as his general secretary's wage and to continue on her Tesco-level wage.
The result is in no way a ringing endorsement of the current leadership. The low turnout of 13.2% reflected the fact that Hannett did his very best to subdue the issue, by calling a summer election, calling no debates with Robbie and producing no other material other than the ballot paper and a letter to branches demanding their backing.
Hannett's support cannot be seen as a vote of confidence in his performance in the job, in fact quite the opposite.
This result, for a clearly socialist candidate, is testimony to the changing mood in the unions. Usdaw has for many years been the bastion of the right wing, with an avid New Labourite leadership. John Hannett pulled all the stops out to use the union machine in his favour for this election.
Robbie's brave stand, under continual threats from the right wing, has given a voice to the ordinary member. This must be built on for the future.
Usdaw general secretary election result:
Voting papers distributed: 348,278
Ballot papers returned:, 46,002 (13.2%)
John Hannett: 27,320 59.4%
Robbie Segal: 18,673 40.6%
Public meeting for Usdaw members: 'Fighting for a Democratic Usdaw', to discuss union perspectives, election results and plans for future action.
Saturday, 20 September, 12-3pm, Lucas Arms, 245a Gray's Inn Road, London WC1X 8QZ. Nearest station, Kings Cross/ St Pancras.
In The Socialist 17 September 2008:
Socialist Party editorial
Socialist Party campaigns
Labour Party conference protest
Privatisation and closure
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party review