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Usdaw and the General Strike

March 24, 2013 2 comments
A month from now the TUC general council will meet with plans for a 24 hour general strike high on the agenda. At last year’s TUC congress in Brighton a majority backed the Prison Officer’s Association who demanded that the TUC consider the practicalities of a general strike.
But plans for such action have yet to materialise mainly because of opposition from some unions to strike action and the specific demand of a general strike. These include my own union, Usdaw, the shop workers union.
Whereas a large proportion of the trade union movement in Britain, led by militant unions such as the RMT and PCS, believe the fightback against austerity should now move onto the industrial plane with organised strike action being called, some other unions have raised objections or declared outright opposition. Along with Usdaw, Prospect and Community are two others who are dragging their heels.
They put forward two main reasons against strike action. Firstly that strike action would prove a distraction or give the government a stick with which to beat the unions with. Well quite frankly, this allegation can be countered by simply saying the government are already beating us and its hurting very much! The second excuse they use is that their members would not be willing to take general strike action. As a shop steward and somebody who works alongside members every day unlike John Hannett, the general secretary of Usdaw, I can confirm there is immense willingness to take strike action as a means of stopping austerity and fighting back against employers.
Usdaw members looked in envy at public sector workers in November 2011 when they took part in one of the largest strikes in British history. The strike was mainly in defence of pensions, whilst in contrast Usdaw meekly accepted a worsening pension deal from Tesco for its workers without even consulting their members, all we had was a letter through the door telling us that the union backs the change which means workers work for longer and get less at the end.
I am frequently asked if we will take strike action in my workplace and comments like “I think we should all just go on strike”, are not uncommon either. It is true that the confidence of the working class isn’t at its highest and people are fearing for their jobs but when the demand for a 24 hour general strike is explained to members and the need for such action to defend workers against government and employer attacks then members are willing to forfeit a days pay as if things continue they will lose a lot more in the long term.
Tesco drivers in Doncaster who went on strike last year after their contracts were transferred to Eddie Stobart, who offered them a stark choice between redundancy or taking new jobs with terms and conditions, showed the way as they went on an all out strike and won improved redundancy terms. The lesson is that action works, if you try you might win concessions, if you don’t then you automatically lose. We need to follow those drivers and our brothers and sisters in the PCS and teaching unions who are taking strike action to fight back against austerity and defend services and jobs such as Tesco distribution centres which are under threat of closure.
Our unions should be leading the fightback against attacks on working class people and raising the conciousness of their members in how and why to change society, I hope in April at the TUC general council meeting that the RMT and their allies who  have declared that a general strike call is a “golden opportunity to reach out to working people”, win the argument and that Usdaw and other strike nay sayers listen to their members and join the fightback in earnest!

Action Needed to Oppose Tesco Distribution Centre Closures

March 13, 2013 Leave a comment

We respond to an e-mail received on distribution centres closures

Hi Activist

Thanks for sending Robbie Segal’s pamphlet. Massive shame that Hannett never read her words on Distribution. Tesco announce attacks on workers at 7 distribution sites. Usdaw issues a press statement. But do nothing.

Robbie said that distribution centres should ‘not be left to be picked off one by one’. That is what seems to have happened. Hannett open your eyes to what is happening, Your ‘partnership’ strategy is failing.

Jack, by email

 

Activist comment: The points you make about Usdaw’s slavish support of partnership with the major retail companies was the reason Robbie and other on Usdaw’s left felt it was essential that John Hannett was challenged for the post of general secretary.

The issue of the attacks against the well organised distribution centres was raised by the Socialist Party supporters back in 2007, when all Tesco distribution sites were circulated with a leaflet calling for coordinated action to defend terms and conditions.

During the 2008 Usdaw general secretary election, the matter was again raised. Robbie’s warnings were ignored.

A recent Usdaw press release, giving the latest number of job loses, illustrates the dangers of Hannett’s passive attitude towards all Tesco’s actions:

1. Closure of Harlow affecting 562 staff

2. Closure of Chesterfield affecting 343 staff

3. Closure of Weybridge affecting 562 staff

4. Reduction in staff numbers at Magor by 146

5. Reduction in staff numbers at Welham Green by 70

Usdaw’s response is to examine ‘the business case for these proposed changes.’ Our members have the right to ask is that all we are going to do. And, surely we already know the business case.

Usdaw’s leaders in 1998 argued for a partnership strategy that declared, ‘It means the union is consulted on a wide range of issues’ and ‘Partnership means proper dialogue with the union before decisions are taken’.

Clearly, Tesco have a long term strategy of weakening our members T&Cs in distribution centres and over the last decade have been slowly implement it, Whereas, Usdaw’s response is to examine the ‘business case’. As the emalier rightly points out ‘Your partnership strategy is failing.’ The Activist considers it is about time the industrial approach of partnership is reassessed by the ADM.

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