Following weekly virtual meetings of Socialist Party members in Usdaw the shop workers' union to discuss the rapidly changing situation in retail, and producing several special issues of our bulletin, the Activist, we decided to hold a virtual public meeting on 11 April to take these discussions to a wider audience.
Ryan Aldred, Plymouth and District Usdaw branch secretary, introduced the meeting, highlighting some of the key issues from the retail workers' charter drawn up and published in the Activist.
Ryan commented that many workers in 'non-essential' retail will be worried about how long their companies can survive, with Debenhams being one of the big names going into administration. He highlighted how Usdaw should be championing the demand it adopted after the collapse of BHS, that such companies should be brought into public ownership to save jobs.
Usdaw President, Amy Murphy spoke about the varying levels to which local supermarket management have implemented social distancing policy. While some stores are adhering to all measures, and letting only a limited number of people into the store, Amy reported being contacted earlier that day by Tesco workers in a store where the manager had decided to let into the store as many people as possible to boost his sales over Easter.
Amy also reported that Tesco management has tried to bring in screens between checkouts to enable stores to bring all checkouts online, rather than just every other checkout. In her store, agreements have been made jointly with management to stick to just opening every other checkout, due to workers feeling that if screens were installed they would be unsafe because workers would be less than two metres away from each other.
It will be important for Usdaw members and reps to be vigilant that safety measures aren't loosened prematurely.
The meeting was attended by workers from Tesco, Sainsbury, Morrisons, Co-op and B&M Bargains among others. Several people commented on the improved sick pay and hazard pay that companies had been forced to concede, but also stressed the need to ensure we don't go back to the way it was once this emergency is over.
In concluding, Ryan stressed the need to reach out to workers and draw them into the union and help them organise.
His branch will be holding an online meeting in the next few weeks to do this, and he urged attendees to encourage their branches to do the same, so we can discuss the new issues facing retail workers in this crisis.