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Activist: Paper of Socialist Party members in Usdaw
Number 25, September 2011
Usdaw and the Riots
This weekend I received the latest issue of Arena, the USDAW membership magazine. The editorial by the General Secretary, John Hannett, discusses the impact of the recent riots on shop workers.
As Hannett points out many shop workers will have had their workplaces destroyed, looted or burnt down and correctly criticises companies who when they have closed early have failed to pay staff their contracted hours (including some who are now demanding that staff make up the hours).
Deplorable though the destruction was that the rioting wreaked on ordinary working people's lives, Hannett makes no attempt to explain or understand it, indeed in a quote on a story on the next page of the magazine he repeats the line of the Tories and the rest of establishment on the riots "There can be no excuse for it". What is not put across and explained in the article is that it is the same cuts and attacks that are threatening the living standards of the 400,000+ members of USDAW, which have created the conditions for these riots to occur.
Instead of just deploring the violence, USDAW should take a leaf from the book of Youth Fight for Jobs and take up the issues affecting young people to help draw them closer to the trade union movement, after all, many young people work in shops that will be affected by the government's attacks on education, housing and other issues.
President and Executive Council elections
This month the process to elect a President and Executive Council gets underway. Many of the problems we raised at the last election still exist, like the squeeze on pay, increased workload on existing workers, increase in minimum hour contracts and the list goes on.
The Activist calls upon the members to support the candidates who will fight the domination of the EC by John Hannett and his supporters.
In the next issue we have asked Robbie Segal to explain what has changed in the years since she won 44% of the vote in the general secretary election.
She will compare the actions of Hannett and the EC to the policies advocated by her in the articles in the Activist and the Socialist.
Letters to the Activist
After the distribution of a letter dealing with the ADM to our readers, the Activist has received a number of other letters and in this issue we will publish the emails received over the past month.
Unemployed working for free
What is Usdaw doing? Unemployed workers are forced to work for free at our place. If they decline this generous offer to be exploited by one of the biggest retailers in the country then they can lose their benefit for three months and six months if the transgression is repeated.
Surely our union should make representations to the Low Pay Commission, so they can do something about it.
Yours in solidarity, Usdaw activist
Stretching the ever decreasing number of workers
The one thing that all the members of my night shift are constantly complaining is the workload. Over the past few years it seems that no full-time employees are replaced when they leave.
Often there are never enough of us to complete all the night's work and our line manager is always shouting.
The pressure on him is ever increasing and you can see the stress in his face. We are all being stretched to our limits and sooner or later we will snap.
What it will take for us to react to the pressure I am not sure. What we need is a national coordinated response but will our present leaders ever be willing to lead.
In the recent copy of Arena John Hannett states, 'These looters have destroyed homes, jobs, and livelihoods . . . '.
On the same page there is an article on the closure of T J Hughes with the loss of 2,200 jobs, and on other pages it details other job loses.
One in seven high street shops are now empty. Who are the looters in these cases? Who have destroyed these jobs and livelihoods?
Editor's note: The Activist does not condone the actions of the looters, like the smashing up of local shops which doesn't solve anything.
However we understand the causes that lead many of the youth onto the streets of London and other cities and that the lack of decently paid jobs is one of the main problems facing society today.
What is needed is an organised mass movement of unemployed youth and the trade unions to highlight the plight of young people rotting on the scrapheap of the dole.
We also call for a 24 hour strike to pull together public sector workers and send a clear message against cuts and job losses.
Part time workers and the great job con
With very few full-time jobs available, more and more workers are being forced to take part-time work.
The latest employment figures show 1.26 million people work part-time - the highest since records began.
The bosses are using part-time jobs to control the workforce and reduce wage bills. Workers so far have taken a lot on this front for fear of losing their job in a recession with unemployment figures continually on the rise.
But this situation won't last, with the economy going into what looks like a possible second dip many are getting very angry that the bosses don't seem to be feeling the squeeze like the rest of us.
The problem faced by many part time workers is well explained by the following email received by the Activist.
Just over a year ago, I took a job with one of the giants in retail. I was offered a short hour contact of seven hours.
But I regularly worked over 30 hours a week - not a great wage but at least I got by. I was annoyed when full-time workers left and they were replaced by other workers on similar contracts to me. What can one person do?
However there was a catch. When I took my holiday, I was paid for only seven hours rather than an average of the hours I worked each week.
Now I have been informed that the store's budget has been cut and the hours I worked are no longer available - now I can't get by.
Surely what is happening to us part-time workers is wrong. But when I ask at work what the union is doing about it - no one knows.
As a union we should be opposing this new exploitation and there are thousands who would join the union if there was a real fight.
Greetings, a retail worker
If you want further information about our work in Usdaw and the campaign against short hour contracts and reduced holiday pay then contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
The next issue of the Activist will be published in October.