Home > Updates > Usdaw & the Scottish Independence Referendum… Or How Not to Build Working Class Unity

Usdaw & the Scottish Independence Referendum… Or How Not to Build Working Class Unity

Friday morning’s result from the Scottish Independence Referendum will have verberations around Usdaw for some time, and not just as a result of how near the Yes vote seemed to come to triumphing.

A last minute e-mail/letter, signed by John Hannett, urging a No vote, has led to a wave of resignations from Usdaw across Scotland. According to reps, one of the union’s offices reported 6,000 members left in the last week before the referendum. This is out of a membership, which was reported as of December 2013 as 45,683 in the union’s most recent Annual Report. A loss of membership from Usdaw of this scale (13%) should give pause for thought for every member as to why this has happened.

Whilst some criticising Hannett’s letter argue on the grounds that the union shouldn’t be advising members on how to vote, the Activist believes trade unionists should have the right to debate and discuss the best way forward on any issue affecting us. However, this must be done in an engaging manner that engages the widest possible layers of the membership before coming to a decision.

To our knowledge, there have only been two times this issue has been discussed officially by the union – both of which were deeply flawed. The first was at ADM in 2010 – where the only contributions on the subject were the mover (who incorrectly stated that Wales joined the union after Scotland – actually it was annexed by England long before), and Hannett himself replying to the discussion. Although also mentioned in Executive Statements in 2013 and 2014, this cannot seriously be taken as being debated as there are no facilities to amend or oppose such statements at ADM.

The second time was at a Scottish divisional conference in early 2014 where, as we commented at the time in the Activist, the only speaker was Alistair Darling on behalf of Better Together. Whilst that led to an 82% vote in favour, many members abstained in protest at a procedure that was hardly a model of democracy.

An indication of how unrepresentative this was of at least a proportion of members was shown by a debate reported on newsnetscotland.com. A branch representing IKEA workers in Glasgow held a debate with speakers from within the union on both sides – after a democratic debate the meeting took a vote. Not a single person voted No, with 82.5% favouring Yes and the rest being Don’t Knows. This however, was the only debate we are aware of taking place – in these circumstances we have to ask if such debates of these had been organised in the union prior to an official stance taking place would we be seeing such large numbers of members leaving?

It’s all very good for John Hannett in press comments on the result ‘We must now move on together to focus on campaigning to improve workers lives across the whole of the United Kingdom.” If he really wanted workers to move forward together then its was encumbent upon him and the rest of the union’s leadership to have ensured a democratic debate on this crucial issue throughout Usdaw – if we fail to move forward together then the fault can be put at the feet of Hannett and his clique.

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  1. Saracen
    September 22, 2014 at 8:58 pm

    Members enraged , I have spoken to many and 6,000 could just be the tip of the iceberg!

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