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Usdaw and the General Strike

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!
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  1. Jaykay1952
    March 25, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    Whilst I whole hetely support what you are saying, the problem is that some Unions are becoming businesses in my Union, Usdaw, all you hear is recruitment, recruitment, recruitment isnt it about looking after the members you already have? The need to fight this coalition is important and ALL Unions should stand up and be counted including USDAW, a strong Union is an attractive one to join a weak Union is seen as well weak. But when we get shut of this lot who takes over? Labour? Thanks to the Unions who voted for him as leader Milliband is more of a damp squib than a Red Ed. He has the carisma of a used match and personality to match. The Unions need to make the wet labour party get back to its roots and look after the working class of the country and become the Labour Party I joined and loved. To all General Secs someone once said that “I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.” WHO ARE LEADING US, LIONS OR SHEEP?

  2. March 28, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    I am a Tesco worker and have been a member of usdaw for some time. I personally feel betrayed by the union as it sides with Tesco time and time again. All too often do I hear ‘for the needs of business’ when the union should be fighting for the needs of it’s members. Allowing a company to tear up contracted hour’s and turn workers lives upside down with totally altered shift patterns defeats the point of a contract. Rather than treating existing staff with contempt and disrespect expecting us to do two jobs at once, they should adequately man their stores (on proper contracts! the new flexi contracts are an insult. Another issue on which usdaw sold out to tesco) On the national strike issue I would be more than willing to stand side by side with other unions in solidarity against an uncaring tory government. Good luck getting usdaw to actually listen to its members. I don’t hold out much hope.

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