Usdaw needs a fighting leadership

Socialist Party member Robbie Segal is standing for general secretary of the shop and distribution workers’ union USDAW. The Socialist recently interviewed her.

Why are you standing?

The current general secretary, John Hannett, told the union’s executive council (EC) meeting in May that he was standing for re-election. It was in ‘any other business’, it was not an itemised agenda item. The election is to be held over the summer, when workers are on holiday.

The election will cost the union an enormous amount of extra money. I argued that the election should be held at the same time as the presidential, EC and divisional councillors’ elections later this year. Our low-paid members have just had an increase in their subscriptions. The extra money earned will be squandered on his unnecessary and opportunistic election.

John Hannett’s campaign is engineered to run roughshod over democracy, allowing very little time for other candidates to organise, to get nominated or to raise finance. It shows the real weakness of the bureaucracy at the top. Now the officials will be going round branches and distribution centres to persuade branch officers to nominate John Hannett.

I feel that it is necessary for a candidate on the left to stand up for democracy. Union members in retail need the return of their right to vote on their terms and conditions, rather than having deals done with the bosses over our heads. We need power returned to elected lay members on the executive council.

What do you feel about the union’s ‘partnership’ deal with Tesco?

Our members demand national free collective bargaining rather than partnership that has negated the power of the union. There has to be principled negotiations rather than class collaboration. You have to have that line in the sand that you do not cross over as a negotiator. You must put terms and conditions deals to the whole membership. What in real terms has partnership really done for us? The only one who seems to have benefited from partnership is Tesco.

What is your attitude to the Labour Party now?

Labour’s leaders have abandoned any pretence of representing working-class people. Despite John Hannett’s continued mantra on the achievements of the Labour Party, shop workers are worse off than ever with gas and electric prices going up by 17% and 15% just this year. We work hard stacking shelves and wasting away on checkouts and how are we repaid? By the bosses getting larger pay-rises while ours dwindle!

We need a party that genuinely represents our views and that won’t be afraid to be the voice for our anger. This is why Socialist Party members are involved with the Campaign for a New Workers Party (CNWP).

What will be your initial campaign?

I will launch a campaign to fight for a living minimum wage of £8 per hour for all retail workers from 16 years to retirement age. I will fight to link pensions to earnings. £8 is the European Union poverty threshold below which you are regarded as working poor. Why should we receive benefits from the state and a poverty wage from big business when they are making enormous profits?

I am standing for a general secretary on a workers’ wage. I reject John Hannett’s wage and benefits totalling over £100,000. I will take the wage that I earn as a Tesco worker and all necessary expenses will be open to scrutiny so that any member can check them.

How can you sit on the low pay commission drawing that sort of wage when your own union members in retail earn barely above the national minimum wage?