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From The Socialist newspaper, 21 April 2021

Usdaw conference 2021

Retail workers desperately need a fighting and democratic union

A London protest, including Usdaw president Amy Murphy second left

A London protest, including Usdaw president Amy Murphy second left   (Click to enlarge)

The Annual Delegate Meeting (ADM) of Usdaw, the retail and distribution workers' union, takes place on 25-26 April. Socialist Party members in Usdaw take a look at the changes taking place within the union.

Union elections

Although the right wing in Usdaw has made gains in recent union elections, the results do not represent any enthusiasm for them, as shown by the fact that the right wing's preferred candidate for president, Jane Jones, received over 2,000 fewer votes than Socialist Party member and incumbent Amy Murphy when standing three years ago.

The new executive council (EC) is going to be very quickly tested as the current pandemic has churned up a whole number of issues. The Usdaw Broad Left has attracted new membership throughout the election campaign showing that there are members looking to get organised to fight back collectively, frustrated by the lack of lead at the top.

Industrial

The pandemic has seen the accelerating deterioration of the high street with hundreds of stores closing and thousands of workers being made redundant. Union members, and those not yet organised in a trade union, are crying out for a bold campaign to defend jobs and call for nationalisation of struggling retail chains to protect livelihoods. General Secretary Paddy Lillis's 'tripartite' or partnership approach of trying to work constructively with bosses and the Tory government must be abandoned.

Even in Usdaw-recognised Tesco distribution centres, bosses have tried to implement fire and rehire tactics. Likewise, in Sainsbury's/Argos, where Usdaw is recognised, 3,500 job cuts are threatened. They wouldn't be able to get away with this if the membership was mobilised to face down such threats with strike action.

Also, with the massive profits reported in the supermarket sector, Usdaw is well-positioned to demand that workers rather than shareholders should be rewarded for working unflinchingly through three lockdowns. If, instead of piously trying to work with the bosses, the union leadership used the strength of the membership to demand 12 an hour for workers - recognised through this pandemic as key workers - members would gladly back up the demand with a preparedness to take industrial action.

Similarly, trying to work with the Tories is folly when already they have attempted to extend Sunday trading hours, have now allowed shops to open from 7am to 10pm, and have even refused to strengthen legislation protecting shop workers from abuse on the job.

Political

Paddy Lillis and the right-wing majority on the Usdaw EC have consistently led members into a blind alley, backing the Blairite wing in Labour and seem increasingly out of step with the rank-and-file membership politically. Paddy Lillis reportedly resorted to ejecting three Usdaw EC members from a decision meeting to tip the balance in favour of backing Keir Starmer ahead of the 2020 Labour leadership election.

The right wing has also backed millionaire Blairite Anas Sarwar for Labour leader in Scotland, who has a position of ruling out another independence referendum for a lifetime.

Although there are those, even in the Usdaw Broad Left, who at this stage would not be prepared to back the building of a new workers' party, there is certainly growing support for this. One thing that is clear among members is the growing anti-Starmer mood that exists, combined with the record of the Usdaw right wing attacking Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, at a time when many members supported him.

At the very least, Usdaw members should be demanding that Labour candidates commit to policies which support the members or risk having union funding and support withdrawn. Labour councillors can stop implementing cuts and can empower union members by refusing to relax local trading hours without agreement from the workers' trade union representative.

It is vitally important that the developing anti-Starmer mood does not translate into the union being pushed in a direction away from political representation but instead looks to use the strength of the 400,000-strong membership to help any steps towards building a party that will represent the interests of the working class. The news that Amy Murphy, Usdaw president, joined the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) national steering committee, was generally warmly received, which shows the potential that exists for supporting working-class political representation when a lead is given.

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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.
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In The Socialist 21 April 2021:


What we think

Build a Socialist alternative

Capitalism discriminates against us - Disabled people fighting for our rights


Football

Football: no trust in billionaire owners - kick them out and reclaim the game


International

Left candidate, Pedro Castillo - surprise of Peruvian elections

USA: cop killings and the anti-racist movement

Superpowers' tensions continue to ratchet up


Elections

Don't trust the Labour right's empty promises

Fight to stop cuts

Keep Liverpool council's One Stop Shops open

Liverpool hustings - only TUSC has a strategy to take on the Tories

Essex: Why I'm standing for TUSC

Carlisle campaign day success

Socialist Party northern region meeting

With public campaigning back in full swing - now is the time to raise fighting fund


Workplace

Socialist Party members - part of a left challenge for Unison's leadership

Fight back against British Gas bosses' 'fire and rehire' offensive

Retail workers desperately need a fighting and democratic union

CWU BT ballot - time for action now!

Thurrock bin workers solid in strike against pay cuts

Bus workers protest Go-Ahead's 'fire and rehire'

Ballots to defend reps on Woolwich Ferry

PCS leadership ballot underway


News

Long Covid: Fight for jobs, benefits and services

Climate change - Johnson spouts 'greenwash 2.0'

Covid and precarious workers - union organisation vital

News in brief


Campaigns

Housing activists storm rental firm's offices

Protests continue against proposed anti-protest laws


 

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Argos:

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