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From The Socialist newspaper, 4 November 2020

Lockdown 2 looms: Usdaw needs a fighting leadership

Shop workers deserve a fighting leadership, photo Geoff Williams/CC

Shop workers deserve a fighting leadership, photo Geoff Williams/CC   (Click to enlarge)

Ryan Aldred, Usdaw Executive Council Candidate (personal capacity)

It is vital now more than ever that a fighting programme be put forward in Usdaw, the shopworkers' union, with the announcement of a second lockdown. The upcoming union elections are going to be an important battleground which can shape the union and retail sector in this volatile period.

At a time when workers have been in most need of the union, thousands of reps, totalling a third of all elected Usdaw reps, stepped down, feeling that the union was failing to provide the support that supermarket staff needed to address the many issues that have arisen in quickly changing workplaces.

Back members

With a second lockdown coming into effect, supermarket staff need a union which will back its members rather than leaving them to fend for themselves. But the initial statement by general secretary Paddy Lillis is totally inadequate.

National officers should be negotiating hazard pay for all workers forced to work through dangerous conditions, while also demanding wages more befitting of their status as key workers.

Back in 2016, the union adopted the call for a £10 an hour minimum wage, but with the cost of living rising that demand needs to be revisited. Considering year-on-year inflation measured by the RPI index, £12 an hour would be a comparable position today, a position that Broad Left candidates will be arguing for.

As key workers, supermarket staff are well placed to demand at least £12 an hour, particularly when considering the bumper profits that many of the supermarket chains reported in recent months, exploiting the panic buying initiated by the call for lockdown in March. Why should bosses be the ones to benefit when it's us workers risking our lives?

While supermarket bosses have reaped the profits, on the other side of the coin many non-essential retail bosses have used Covid to cull thousands of jobs, hundreds of stores have been forced to close permanently, and dozens of high street names have vanished forever. With this lockdown taking place during what is usually one of the busiest times of the year in terms of sales for most retailers, a strategy to safeguard jobs and provide a lasting solution to the crisis looming in non-essential retail is needed.

The books of 'struggling' companies should be opened to trade union scrutiny to ensure that workers aren't being needlessly sacrificed for the sake of the shareholders. A determined campaign needs to be developed to protect all retail jobs, with calls and campaigning for nationalisation under workers' control and management of companies such as Debenhams that have failed to maintain workers' livelihoods.

We need an end to zero and low-hour contracts, which is only going to come about through determined union action and a leadership willing to put forward such a strategy. We need to attract the hundreds of thousands of retail, distribution and allied workers who are not yet organised at work, while winning back those who have been let down by Paddy Lillis's failed partnership approach.

Amy Murphy

In contrast, Amy Murphy, Usdaw's president for the last three years has been a breath of fresh air; regularly visiting picket lines and showing support to all workers who take to dispute and fight to better their conditions. Amy has steadfastly supported the membership and this will need to continue if Andrea Watts, the Broad Left's presidential candidate, is elected to continue Amy's fantastic work.

With an election campaign taking place at a time when supermarket staff are once again risking their lives, we can win over determined union activists who are tired of business as usual.

While non-essential workers worry about making ends meet on 80% of our already low wages, a bold campaign to fight for full pay can attract those who are in most desperate need of a union. With a strategy of public ownership to escape the ongoing retail crisis while defending every last job, we can take this fight to the government which has failed just as utterly to retain jobs as it has in containing this virus.

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Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
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In The Socialist 4 November 2020:

What we think

Our lives, our jobs - not safe in Tory hands

Corbyn suspended - Time to fight for a new mass workers' party

Socialism 2020: Mass workers' voice needed


Why the Socialist Party is backing Hugo Pierre for Unison general secretary


A lockdown that doesn't include education?

Spycops inquiry finally opens

Testing is failing - it's a privatised mess

Furloughed worker speaks out: Let down by insecure contracts


Transport for London given funding stop gap

Usdaw needs a fighting leadership

Birmingham NHS porters' 48-hour strike against shift changes

Optare strikers escalate their action

International news

Chile: A defeat for the right!

Poland: Mass protests against abortion ban

US presidential election 2020


Save St Andrews mental health ward

Leeds protesters demand "Buhari must go!"

Building Bangor Socialist Students

Maybe now they will listen - Refund the fees!

Donate now to the Socialism 2020 appeal

Corbyn suspended: Join the fightback, join the socialists

Readers' opinion

The Socialist Inbox


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