Monday, 2 November 2009

USDAW Activist 22

Bulletin of Socialist Party members working in retail and distribution
October 2009

General Secretary’s wages on the up!

In the December 2007 issue of the Activist, we reported on the wages of the general secretary. The recent edition of Arena reported on the progress of the general secretary’s income and other benefits. Below is his income.

Income or benefit 2007 2009
Salary £78,050 £85,812
National insurance £10,053 £10,295
Superannuation £15,172 £17,247
Car £5,494 £10,097
TOTAL £108,769 £123,451

During the general secretary election, Robbie Segal challenged the idea that the general secretary should earn nearly £110,000 more than then many of the members who pay his wages. Robbie certainly had a point.

La Senza workers take another step towards recognition

Readers of Activist may remember that last year I wrote an article outlining the situation for workers in La Senza’s mail order department, and the prospects unionising the work force. Rather optimistically, I predicted that recognition would be achieved by the first quarter of 2009. However, due to the hard (and covert) work of USDAW activists and Socialist Party members, I am now pleased to report that recognition is now a real possibility for La Senza workers!
Over the last year, La Senza workers have continued to put up the usual bullying, pettiness and degradation that is usual for unskilled workers. The company tells us that ‘we all have to pull together’ to get through this difficult time. What they mean, of course, is that profits must be not only maintained, but increased, to benefit the hedge fund, Lion Capital, that ultimately owns La Senza. La Senza has therefore used the recession as cover to attack workers conditions, by freezing wages at the 2008 level, meaning a wage cut in real terms. Staff who have resigned or been fired have not been replaced in a bid to cut costs, increasing the workloads of those who remain. Faulty equipment has not been replaced, and investment in new systems and techniques to make the work quicker and easier has been cut. This has left the mail order department understaffed and under resourced and leaves workers struggling to achieve targets and avoid disciplinary measures.
These issues and others, including using training as a means to try and divide the workforce, have built up resentment among the staff. By pointing out the ways La Senza breaks employment law, and explaining how the logic of capitalism forces companies to force the most work from people, while paying the lowest possible wages, Union activists and Socialists have been able to tap into this resentment, and channel it into action. Now, there are enough union members working at La Senza Mail Order to ballot for recognition, and a final recruitment push will take membership to the level required for mandatory recognition. Discussions with the area organiser for USDAW have been positive, and the union is willing to push for recognition once a majority of staff have joined up.
We hope that the last 18 months of agitation, discussion and recruitment will bear fruit, and that the USDAW agreement with La Senza will include the following:

Ÿ For full training for all staff, end favouritism
Ÿ For a reform of absence policy, end punishing workers for attending hospital or caring for sick relatives
· An end to bullying management
· An end to mandatory overtime
· An end to discrimination against temporary workers: for the same conditions and levels of pay for temporary workers, for protection against dismissal for sickness or lateness, for full training of temps
· For paid breaks
· For extra breaks for those working over time, an extra 15 minutes every two hours
· For measures to be taken to protect workers from the cold during winter
· For a guarantee of job security, and for permanent jobs to be made available for a proportion of temps
· For a 35 hour week with no loss of pay


Following our appeal for ideas for propositions for the 2010 ADM, we publish below the propositions that have been received to date. If you have any other ideas of propositions and would like them to be circulated through the Activist network then please send them to:

Jobs for Young Workers

The latest unemployment figures show that young people are suffering the brunt of job losses. As unemployment of the under 25s reaches a million, this ADM considers that urgent action is needed by the trade unions on a national basis to fight for decent jobs for young people.
Therefore, this conference calls upon the EC to press the TUC to organise a series of protests on youth unemployment at a regional level which will lead to a national demonstration in the autumn.
Further, conference believes that all the Usdaw divisions should mobilise maximum support for any TUC action.

Recruiting Young Workers

This ADM notes with the current employment policy of many of the companies in the retail sector that many young people are employed on low hour contracts.
This conference believes that the Union should conduct a major organising and recruitment drive to win young workers to the trade union movement.
Conference calls upon the EC to present an ADM Statement on the ‘Problems facing Young Workers’ which should be discussed at the 2011 ADM. This document should consider the following:
1. a new youth and student rate for under 26 year-olds who work less than 10 hours
2. an organising campaign in 2011 directed towards young workers

Union Expenses

In view of the recent scandals over MPs’ expenses, this conference believes that complete openness on the allowances paid to all members and officials in the Union is the best policy.
Therefore conference instructs the Executive Council to include in all future Annual Reports a section on expenses.
This new section should include the following:
1. all the different allowances paid to the Full Time Officials of the union, including the General Secretary and the central officials
2. the amount paid to members while on union business
3. any special allowances paid to Executive Council members.

Defend Public Services

Following the banking crisis and with the national debt continuing to grow, this ADM notes that all the major political parties have announced that there will be cuts in public services.
Conference believes that if our public services are not to be severely cut then the trade unions will have to take united, coordinated action to protect these services.
The ADM calls upon the EC to support trade union campaigns to defend our public services.
Challenging the BNP
The conference notes that the recent rise in the fortunes of the BNP and its racist policies has coincided with the failure of the three main parties to adequately deal with the problems facing working people. Many workers and young people have been conned into voting for the BNP believing them to at least represent a kick to the establishment parties that are all seen as the same.
Conference considers that if the labour movement allows the BNP to go unchallenged then racist attacks will continue to increase in the areas where the fascists elements of the leadership are active.
Therefore this ADM calls upon the EC to ensure that there are regular articles in both the Activist and Network exposing the background and fascist roots the BNP leaders, and how their policies are a danger to the labour movement and minority groups.

General Secretary: Rule change for the 2010 ADM.

This ADM considers the decision of the EC to place on the agenda of the 2010 ADM a proposition on changing the rules for the General Secretary election to be against the interest of democratic debate within Usdaw.
This ADM notes that the present incumbent of the position of General Secretary will only have served one year since his latest election and therefore we cannot understand the urgency of introducing this rule change without the branches having the same opportunity.
Therefore this ADM calls upon the EC to withdraw the proposition and raise the rule change at the same time as the branches can propose alterations to the general secretary election rules at the 2011 ADM.

Branch circulars

This ADM notes that not all members cannot attend branch meetings therefore they are unable to be fully informed of the work of the union.
Therefore, this ADM calls upon the EC to introduce a system where branch circulars can be distributed by email to any member that requests to receive them.

Life Long Learning

This ADM considers that all the Parties have pledged major spending cuts after the next election. Life Long Leaning could be one of the many cuts imposed to pay for the economic crisis.
Conference notes that Life Long Learning has benefitted many of our members to gain knowledge and to develop new skills which have resulted in many learners finding better paid jobs.
Further, Conference believes that cutting funding to the Life Long Learning project would damage many of our members’ changes for a better future.
Therefore, this ADM instructs the EC to vigorously oppose any attacks made against Life Long Learning and join with any TUC initiatives, such as lobbies and demonstrations, to save the funding for Life Long Learning.

Job share

This ADM notes the number of women being employed as full-time officials in the Divisions have changed very little since 2003.
In the ADM Report 2003 there were 34 women employed as Area Organisers, Recruitment and Development Officers, Divisional Officers and Deputy Divisional Officers compared with 78 men and in the ADM Report 2008 there were 37 women and 78 men full-time officials working in the Divisions.
This conference considers that one of the main reasons for this lack of progress is that these important positions are not advertised on a job share basis.
Therefore, this conference instructs the EC to introduce a policy that all future Area Organiser and Recruitment and Development Officer vacancies should be open to members on a job share basis.

Rule book

The conference calls upon the EC to rewrite the rule book in plain English.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Retail and Distribution Activist no 18 - Part 1

Bulletin of Socialist Party members working in retail and distribution
ADM bulletin number 1, April 2009

‘I’d like to thank all the delegates and visitors to this conference who voted for me in
the election for General Secretary helping me achieve 40.6% of the vote’ Robbie Segal

Dear Sisters and Brothers

Unfortunately, 2009 is developing into one of the hardest years faced by retail workers for decades. During my campaign for Usdaw’s general secretary, I said that what was at stake was the future direction of the union.
My socialist message received 40% of the vote. If the election had taken place today, I am sure the bankruptcy of the present leadership’s policies - as shown by their response to the economic crisis - would have given me even more votes. My warning that there needed to be a change of attitude because the union would not be ready to face the challenges of the impending economic crisis has proven correct. It is clear from recent reports that two of the major UK banks came within hours of collapse and New Labour came to their rescue and the tax payer paid the bill. Our members have contributed millions to save the banks and yet when our jobs are threatened there is no help for us.
What is needed is a militant programme of action which includes: demonstrations, lobbying the government, occupations of the stores and workplaces, and the nationalisation of the major retailers. The trade unions have been silent, Usdaw must demand at the TUC that a progamme of coordinated action be planned which must include one day stoppages. John Hannett and the policies of Usdaw leaders’ have been tested with their response to the Woolworth closure. They have failed. We need Usdaw to fight for every job and argue for nationalisation of all large retail and distribution outlets when they threaten closure or redundancy. I am backing the No2EU- Yes to Democracy challenge in the Euroelections, see below for more info.

Robbie Segal

No2EU-Yes to Democracy offers the only realistic alternative of persuading workers rightly disgusted with the mainstream capitalist parties not to cast a protest vote for the BNP. No candidate on the No2EU list would benefit financially from their election and they would use the nominal position of MEP to fight against the EU’s neo-liberal agenda, in Britain and Europe. No2EU is a coalition for the European elections, and is only a tentative first step to independent working-class political representation. It will at bottom provide a pro-worker alternative to New Labour in June’s poll.

Support the Union Led Challenge to New Labour

THE MILLIONS of people now facing job losses, home repossessions, short-time working and wage cuts can expect nothing from the pro-market establishment politicians. After all, these are the same people who got us into this mess in the first place!
It was Gordon Brown, for example, who boasted at a speech before business leaders at London’s Mansion House just 18 months ago, that the New Labour government had helped create “a new golden age for the City”. He speaks now of the need for ‘new global rules’. But then he hailed the unleashed financial markets for creating a “new world order”, achieving “the greatest restructuring of the global economy, perhaps even greater than the industrial revolution”! Workers and young people suffering the consequences of his pro-big business policies have no mass political party to represent them as the crisis of the free market system deepens.
That’s why the announcement that the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers’ union (RMT) is backing an electoral alliance to contest the forthcoming European elections in June is so important. For the first time ever a national trade union, the RMT, the most militant industrial
union in Britain, is mounting an electoral challenge to New Labour, under the name No2EU-Yes to Democracy.
No2EU-Yes to Democracy concentrates on opposition to the European Union (EU) constitution (now re-packaged as the Lisbon treaty), which enshrines free market economics into EU law. It also stands against the EU’s directives instructing governments to privatise and cut public services, and the anti-trade union rulings of the European Court of Justice that are driving our wages, conditions and job prospects down in ‘a race to the bottom’.
No2EU-Yes to Democracy is a coalition for the European elections. But it represents another step towards rebuilding political representation for working class people, absent from Britain since the 1990s transformation of the Labour Party into the completely capitalist New Labour.

Come to the Broadleft meeting tonight (Sunday)

Speakers will include Robbie Segal EC member (in a personal capacity) and Mick Cotter Unite member to speak about the Visteon dispute, where 600 workers were informed 5 minutes before their shift end that they had no job and no redundancy pay or pension intitlements. A discussion will also be had on the No2EU- Yes to Democracy electoral challenge.

Retail and Distribution Activist no 17

Bulletin of Socialist Party members working in retail and distribution
March 2009

Usdaw Activist Public Meeting

· Do the Usdaw leaders have the strategy to defend members in the recession?
· Come along and discuss where next for the campaign to change Usdaw into a Union that fights for its members

4 April, 11am-3pm,
Exmouth Arms, Starcross Street,
near Euston station, London

Join the Struggle – Against the Rich
G 20 demo –
“8th April, the Demo leaves the Embankment at 12.00
Youth Fight for Jobs
Starts on 2 April and is passing through London’s highest areas of unemployment and end at the ExCel Centre where the rich countries leaders are meeting. If you want to know more ring 02085587947

The Credit Crunch and Poverty

The economic crisis has pushed a further 60 million people into absolute poverty which means living on less than $1 a day. This will mean that over an extra one million children will die prematurely. The world’s governments have provided millions of pounds to save the banks but have never provided even a small fraction of this sum to save the starving children of the world.
The Activist and the supporters of the Socialist Party believe that the failure to solve the problems faced by the world even in the good times shows that the capitalism is a bankrupt system. In the long term, unless we rid ourselves of these parasites, more and more people will slip into the poverty trap,

Billionaire Crisis

OK, So you may have lost your job, are hopelessly in dept and are having your house repossessed as a result of the capitalist economic. But spare a thought for the real losers – those pinnacles of society. According to Forbes magazine, the world’s billionaires have, on average, lost a quarter of their wealth – some £2 trillion – due to the financial meltdown and developing recession. In fact, things are so bad that 335 of last year’s billionaires have been regulated to the ranks of the mere millionaires.
How will US speculator Warren Buffet pay hie electricity and gas bills after his wealth dropped from $41 billion last year to just $24 billion today? And how will the Russian oligarch and Chelsea FC sugar-daddy, Roman Abramovich, afford his season ticket now that his bank balance has shrunk from !^ billion to less than £6 billion.
If any reader would like to assist in the rehabilitation of these tragic victims of capitalist greed – through socialist expropriation.

Campaigning to Save the Post Office and the £500,000 donation to New Labour

Usdaw has just donated £500,000 to New Labour. Our members are asking why are we handing over the cash and we get nothing in return.
In the last edition of the Activist, we called for Usdaw members to support the campaign against New Labour’s plans to part-privatise the Post Office. At a meeting between the trade unions and New Labour at the Warwick University in 2008, Labour promised to keep the Post Office in the public Sector. Now they are willing to sell part of it off. We hope that when Usdaw’s leaders handed over our money, John Hannett mentioned to Brown of his Post Office commitment.
John Hannett, along with other trade union leaders, signed a protest letter to the Guardian (26.2.09). The letter is interesting because it shows the bankruptcy of New Labour and how they serve the interests of big business rather the working people. We print extracts of the letter below.
‘Within that Warwick agreement was a clear commitment to maintaining Royal Mail in the public sector: "We have set out a vision of a wholly publicly owned, integrated Royal Mail group in good health providing customers with an excellent service and its employees with rewarding employment."
This commitment was agreed by all affiliated trade unions in the belief that it guaranteed the future of Royal Mail as "wholly publicly owned". This was our belief in the summer, and it was the belief of the 2008 Labour party conference, which voted to support this policy.
We are deeply concerned that the Labour party now appears to be willing to break that commitment by adopting the recommendations of the Hooper report. Its proposals to bring in a "strategic partner", via an exchange of equity, clearly constitutes the part privatisation of Royal Mail.
The affiliated trade unions believe that the part-privatisation of Royal Mail is electorally unpopular, politically unwise and damaging to the concept of universal service provision. Furthermore, to break a pledge so recently made undermines the legitimacy of our policy process and raises questions about the validity of other agreements reached.
We are unanimous in our opposition to the proposed privatisation of Royal Mail, and ask that the government reconsiders its response before it becomes a dividing line within our movement.

The New Labour government has announced plans to part privatise the Post Office. In a recent survey, nine out of every 10 people oppose its privatisation.
The CWU, the post office workers’ union, has launched a campaign against the government's intention to privatise Royal Mail. They are calling for people to sign their petition opposing privatisation at:

Letters to the Activist

Dear Activist,
As a shop worker on £6 an hour, I earn £240 a week and that makes a yearly income of £12,480. So if I earn the same wage for the next ten years, I would have received £124,800 and in a lifetime of work (50 years) the grand total will reach £624,000.
I will earn £624,000 over a lifetime and one parasite banker will get a yearly pension of £693,000. The politicians say there is nothing to be done. He has a contract. They can nationalise bankrupt banks and I say let’s nationalise Godwin and share out his wealth.
A Scottish Usdaw member

The Activist: Well it is not only bankers who have fabulous pensions, even our own Terry Leahy, the Tesco boss, has £10 million in his pension pot and that will give him £710,000 a year. But don’t feel too sorry for him as he earned £2.4 million last year.

Dear Activist
Today, I heard Mr. Gordon Brown on a question & answer programme on BBC RADIO 4 today circa 12.30 hours. He was challenged by a number of people really fed up as they were just coming up or reached retirement and when they got told what Pension they were about to receive, it was way short of what they had planned for. In fact one person said that he could not now afford to retire on what he was quoted, typical Mr. Brown sidestepped the answer. This is just disgusting in my opinion, & I have found when recruiting for USDAW, people ARE BEING FORCED BACK TO WORK SO THEY CAN PAY THEIR EVER INCREASING BILLS.
Good luck in your news letter,

Derrick Frost,
VERY angry retired USDAW member!!

Dear Activist,

As I was walking to do the local shops I passed the recently closed Woolworths. The shutters were down and the doors shut. It had been a regular shop to visit in our high street since I was a boy. Now it is gone and I am sure it won’t be the last store to close.
As I turn the corner, there are more empty shops and along with the post office they are all boarded up. My next stop was my bank. All my working life, I have called for the nationalisation of the banks. Now I own it. Alas the Government have left it in the hands of the same lot of criminals that ruined it before.
Clearly, the New Labour government pose no threat to the power of the rich. If the ruling class were really concerned then they would be clamouring for their removal.
I see you are calling for nationalisation under workers’ control and management. Well done and keep up the good work. Robbie got my vote.

Yours fraternally
A retired retail worker

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Thursday, 5 March 2009

Retail and Distribution Activist no 16

Bulletin of Socialist Party members working in retail and distribution
February 2009

The campaign they tried to hide... and still 10,000 voted for Robbie

With the votes now counted, we can confirm that Robbie got a very respectable ten thousand members' votes for the position of President of Usdaw. That means a third of the votes for President of the fourth biggest union in the country!

Robbie was also reelected onto the Executive Council with nearly 500 more votes than the next person and despite a dramatic increase in the number of members standing for election in the south.

With a turnout of 9% and a muted campaign to say the least, it is hardly surprising that the incumbent President got re-elected, the New Labourite Jeff Broome, with the entire union machinery backing him. It is disgraceful that the election was hardly mentioned to the majority of members, no debates were allowed and the only available official election material for Robbie being the ballot paper itself. 10,000 leaflets were distributed by Socialist Party members and others on the left in Usdaw getting an overwhelmingly supportive response.

Robbie stood for President following her 40% vote in the General Secretary election over the summer. She has been standing on a platform of opposing any job losses in the retail sector and was the only person on the EC to raise the demand for nationalisation of Woolworths. While she was issuing press releases and contacting workers about the need to demand the companies open their books and show us where the money has gone, the Usdaw leaders were falling over themselves taking part in debates and interviews defending the job losses and arguing that nothing can be done other than spout praise on Brown's government (see John Gorle's interview with Paxman or Hannett's statements in Arena and Network).

Robbie's demands have been focusing on the urgent need for Usdaw to give retail workers a strategy to fight the barrage of job losses and the attacks on terms and conditions the bosses are trying to heap on the plate of workers. Retail is one of the main industries that have recently been in the firing line, bearing the brunt of the economic crisis the bankers and speculators got us into.

Robbie pledged to launch a campaign to raise the minimum wage to £8 an hour from 16 to retirement, which got an enthusiastic response from members struggling to make ends meet on the pittance we get.

Robbie says: 'What shop workers need isn't conciliation with New Labour and the bosses but a strong democratic fighting leadership. I will continue the struggle and now with a stronger left network of activists behind me we are heading for our most successful ADM for a long time. The voice of the members won't fall on deaf ears for much longer'

Usdaw Activist Public Meeting,

4th April, Exmouth Arms (near Euston station) 11am-3pm.

No announcement of the result on the website

Again we wonder why there is no mention of the President and EC election results on Usdaw’s website. Even the press release concerning the President’s result was not placed on the website. So as a service to Usdaw’s members that our union does not provide, the Activist publishes the results of the President and EC elections.



Votes Cast

Jeff Broome

19,962 (Elected)

Robina Segal


Executive Council

South Wales and Western


Votes Cast

Dennis Stinchcombe

Elected Unopposed

Barbara Wilson

Elected Unopposed

Eastern Division


Votes Cast

Allan Newanga


Sharon Newson


Sheila Thomas


Simon Vincent

1,901 (Elected)

Barbara Woodford

1,622 (Elected)

Midlands Division


Votes Cast

Maureen Bowman


Kevin Davies

1,287 (Elected)

Javid Iqbal


Barbara McAlister

1,846 (Elected)

Di Mitchell


Graham Parkin


David Stokes


North Eastern Division


Votes Cast

Peter Capper


Mike Dixon

2,522 (Elected)

Pat Fitsgerald

2,143 (Elected)

Scottish Division


Votes Cast

Susan Coutts

Elected Unopposed

Harry McAlister

Elected Unopposed

Southern Division


Votes Cast

Maria Aldred


John Barstow


Dennis Hart

1,069 (Elected)

Alan Higgins


Margaret Hughes


Peter Millward


Amy Murphy


Richard Mustonen-Smith


Su Patel


Bernadette Phillips


Robina Segal

1,502 (Elected)

North Western Division


Votes Cast

Ann Hickson

4,248 (Elected)

Jan Jervis

2,880 (Elected)

Julie Keenan


Joan Lyall


Tony Threlfall

3,832 (Elected)

Fight every job cut

Over the last year and since the launch of the Activist in November 2007, we have consistently pointed out that the policy of developing a partnership with the bosses would prove disastrous in an economic crisis. Our argument was that the tactic of acquiescence to the demands of the big retailers would lull our members into a false sense of security and prevent a united fight back.

Now when the announcement of redundancies is a daily occurrence, the response of Usdaw leaders is to issue a press release. These press releases contain nothing that would encourage our members there is a way of saving their jobs. Members are ‘left reeling’ or are ‘devastated’ at the news they are joining the dole queues.

Our members know the threats to their living standard. What members are asking is how is our Union going to stop this job massacre. A press release is not a strategy. This is a continuation of the partnership strategy but in an economic downturn has proved catastrophic.

Over the past few months thousands of jobs have been lost in retail. It is time to start the fight back. Every time we do nothing another boss will look at this weakness and say I will sack some more employees.

A coordinated response, including lobbies, demonstrations and even factory sit-ins, is necessary to involve our members and send a warning to the bosses that we fight every job loss.

Join the Fight to save the Post Office

The New Labour government has announced plans to part privatise the Post Office. In a recent survey, nine out of every 10 people oppose its privatisation.

The CWU, the post office workers’ union, has launched a campaign against the government's intention to privatise Royal Mail. They are calling for people to sign their petition opposing privatisation at:

More retail crisis

The Icelandic run Baugur retail empire is in deep crisis-brands include: House of Fraser- (62 shops, 6,500 staff),Iceland (667 shops 20,000 staff), Jane Norman (192 shops, 1,600 staff), Wyevale garden centres (122 shops, 4,100 staff) & other investments include; Debenhams, Karen Millen, Principles, Oasis, Warehouse, mapping & Webb, Goldsmiths, French connection. Where is the fight back from our union?

The crisis, women, pay and waiting lists

Even Jim Rogers co-founder of Quantum fund with financial guru George Soros, said “It’s quite simple the UK has nothing to sell” The City of London is finished, the financial centre of the world is moving east” and the latest official employment figures show that the number of women in fulltime employment fell by 53,000 compared with a fall of 36,000 for men. Women are losing jobs at twice the rate of men because men significantly outnumber women in the workforce but meanwhile the average contribution of female earnings to the family budget is rising at a far faster rate than for men. And lone parents now make up a quarter of all families-and 90% of lone parents are women. More women than ever are supporting families on their wages and council tenants face rent rises of an average 6.2% in next financial year. There are 4.5 million people on the housing waiting list.

Will ‘Welfare to work’ get work for unemployed?

The governments answer to the predicted rise in the long term unemployment is to finance privately run 'Welfare to work' programmes but even private industry are skeptical. The cost of the governments programme to get the long term unemployed back to work looks set to double and possibly triple as the numbers out of work for more than 12 months rocket.

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Monday, 16 February 2009

Retail and Distribution Activist no 15

Bulletin of Socialist Party members working in retail and distribution
January 2009

Vote Robbie (Robina) Segal For President

No return to the 1930s!

The Activist sent the following questions to Robbie Segal, candidate for Usdaw President and we print below her reply.

What do you think about the present economic crisis?

There does not seem a day that goes by without another announcement of redundancies affecting our members. Clearly the crisis is going to be deeper and longer lasting than the pundit’s are predicting. The present economic system is based on greed of the few and now this global elite, after exploiting the world’s resources and people, now want us to bail them out - so they can keep their privileged life style. Do they think we are mad?

How is the economic crisis affecting those still working?

Apart from the continued announcement of job losses, retail companies have virtually stopped hiring new staff. Not replacing those who leave means that workloads are increasing. Pressure is being applied to those who are lucky enough to have jobs to give up hard won conditions: Workers are being asked to work beyond their contractual hours without pay and overtime premiums are being stopped. Pressure is being applied to ignore health and safety issues.
The TUC has estimated that 5.24 million people work unpaid overtime in 2008, bringing the bosses a bonus of £26.9 billion. For those who are forced into this form of slavery, if they worked unpaid from the beginning of the year then they would not receive any pay until 27 February. This must stop.

Usdaw have many women worker in its ranks, how do you think the current crisis will affect them?

Many of the workers losing their jobs are women and for many families the woman’s wage makes a major contribution to the family income. For 21 per cent of all couples the woman’s contribution is over 50 per cent and for all families women contribute 32 per cent to household bills. Usdaw Women do not work for pin-money anymore and we should defend their jobs.

How do you think Usdaw should respond to the crisis?

Usdaw is handicapped by it years of slavish acceptance of a partnership strategy with the big retail companies. Usdaw’s leaders have no clear strategy to solve the crisis. There has not been one attempt to mobilise the membership to fight against these attacks. In previous crises, the union leaders organised demonstrations and national marches. This time even the verbal protests have been subdued because it would mean attacking the policies of Gordon Brown and New Labour.
The leaders have surrendered many of the best part of our terms and conditions to the bosses without even a protest. Usdaw is the fourth biggest union in the TUC and should be playing a major role in mobilizing workers to fight these attacks. However with the present Usdaw leaders this will never happen. I am standing for the Usdaw’s President so the voice of struggle can be raised amongst retail workers.

Why do you call for nationalisation of the economy?

For over 100 years, the labour movement called for the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy. Although the Labour Party leaders never really took the nationalisation seriously, nevertheless it was one of the aspirations of activists. The socialists understood that capitalism never worked and would one day fail. The old clause 4 was passed in 1917 under the influence of the Russian revolution and it called for.
To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service

The Labour Party’s socialist clause was ditched in 1995 and a woolly alternative put in its place.

The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect."

The driving force behind the change was Tony Blair. Since leaving parliament, Blair’s yearly earnings are estimated to be in excess of £7 million. Obviously the part ‘to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential’ worked brilliantly for ex-Prime Minister Blair.
Usdaw’s leaders fully supported the abandonment of the socialist clause. As the supporters of the British establishment in the Labour Party understood, if the clause on nationalisation remained on the Labour Party membership card then it would act as a reminder to members when capitalism faced a crisis and that there was a socialist alternative.
As part of the Usdaw’s objectives, it states, ‘To work consistently towards securing the control of the industries in which its members are employed.’ But this is never mentioned as an alternative to the ownership by the few.
With New Labour' s and the Usdaw’s leaders abandonment of socialism, it means it is the responsibly of the Socialist to call for a new society which would be based on the public ownership of the means of production. Instead of the current crop of parasites who have bankrupted their capitalist system controlling the new public owned banks they should be controlled of the people. They would be run for the benefit of the majority rather than the few.

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Monday, 19 January 2009

Retail and Distribution Activist Issue 14

Bulletin of Socialist Party members working in retail and distribution
January 2009
Issue 14

Vote Robbie (Robina) Segal For President

Tens of thousands of retail workers are being laid off. These workers are facing a bleak future, many of whom have been working on low wages for the big retail companies for years. Woolworths is now closed, yet all those workers are getting is the statutory redundancy payments of less than a few hundred pounds.
Gordon Brown is promising schemes to create new jobs. But what will these jobs be like? Will they be on decent wages with good working conditions and pensions, or will this be another New Labour gimmick?
Woolworths and other retail workers deserve better than empty promises from Gordon Brown, after all our union Usdaw subsidises New Labour to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds every year.
All companies threatening redundancies should be nationalised but under democratic workers’ control and management. We should open the books and find out where all the profits have gone – profits made by the workers.
I am standing for election to become president of Usdaw because our union needs to be a fighting union, we should be building a mass campaign against job losses but also demanding a minimum wage of £8 an hour without exceptions. The union should be taking workers' wages and conditions forward, not watching them go backwards.
And why are mainly female and part-time shop workers treated as if they are only earning pin money by the trade union leaders? It is time for all shop workers to get active to build Usdaw as a democratic and independent campaigning trade union.
I have been a trade unionist since the age of 19, a Tesco union rep for 21 years, and a member of the Usdaw executive Council for nine years.
The election runs from 19 January to 13 February.

Robbie Segal

Slaughter in the high street

As Robbie has explained the slaughter of retail workers continues. Always looking for some publicity and when all around are announcing redundancies Tesco is creating 10,000 in their UK business, Morrisons over 5,000, Sainsbury’s up to 4,000 and Iceland 2,500.
However, the Activist receives reports explaining the real life in the retail sector. What is needed is a union that can use the anger of our members to fight against the attacks by the bosses. We publish below two articles from out members explaining life in retail.

Christmas is over and the cutbacks begin

After dragging almost the entire workforce in over the Christmas period to do extra shifts to capitalise on the usual higher sales of that period, the Morrisons I work at (and the others in the area) have decided to repay the workforce by cutting back on hours. Of course, there are usually cutbacks on temporary staff that are taken on for Christmas, but this is much more.
In the name of saving money (or in reality keeping up their profits), staff have had their hours cut on a temporary basis with someone losing 24 hours of work per week! Others have been moved from working on Sundays (for which we get paid time and a half) to other days of the week. Although it is not a large proportion of the staff who are affected directly, it will affect everyone indirectly as we’ll all be expected to pick up the slack. It’s another story of workers who have mortgages and rents to pay, suffering for the effects of the capitalist economic crisis.
Shop workers need a fighting trade union to represent them and fight for better conditions, and that’s why I’d urge all USDAW members to vote for Robbie Segal in the upcoming elections.

A Morrisons Worker

No festive joy for shop workers

CHRISTMAS IS finally staggering to a close at the lingerie company I work for. After 23 December, I was able to take four days off for Christmas. To be allowed this luxury I worked almost continuously for the previous six weeks, between 8.5 and 10 hours a day, having taken only one day off.
We were informed that on the first two work days after Christmas (Saturday 27 and Sunday 28 December), we would be required to work 12 hour shifts, to make up for lost time. For all staff, including Christmas temps, this is technically overtime, although the consequence of refusal would be a straight dismissal for temps.
For permanent staff the punishment for refusing to do overtime is consignment to making boxes for a couple of days, general harassment and threats of disciplinary action.
Of course, Christmas is the busiest time for retail workers and no unskilled worker will complain about the offer of overtime during the period when extra money is most needed.
What we have every right to complain about, however, is being bullied into doing overtime, being bullied and threatened into working harder than is reasonable (or even, in some cases, than is humanly possible); being forced to work in near freezing temperatures because the company is too cheap to heat the warehouse (despite grossing over £500,000 a week, for six weeks); for the temps having to accept the poverty wage of between £5.50 and £6.00 an hour, depending on their agency and being made to feel ashamed of the human weakness of illness. Sick days are not paid, nor are breaks.
What the workers at this workplace need is a trade union, and that is exactly what Socialist Party members who work there are building. We are aiming to achieve the 51% membership (out of 30 permanent staff) that is required to force the company to recognise Usdaw as our union. Having built a core of five activists we feel ready to begin a more general recruitment policy in order to get recognition before the end of the January sales.
The majority of the young workers are angry, and starting to realise what a life of unskilled work will mean. The older workers are starting to see that this company has no great intention to look after them.


We are recruiting union members with the following programme:
  • An end to bullying management. An end to mandatory overtime.
  • An end to discrimination against temporary workers. For the same conditions and pay levels for temporary workers. For protection against dismissal for sickness or lateness. For full training of temps.
  • For paid breaks. For extra breaks for those working overtime, an extra 15 minutes every two hours.
  • For measures to be taken to protect workers from the cold during winter.
  • For a guarantee of job security, and for permanent jobs to be made available to a proportion of temps. For a 35-hour week with no loss of pay, which could be accomplished by paying breaks.
We are confident that in the first quarter of 2009 we will achieve recognition. Workers are sick and tired of accepting poverty wages to line pockets of certain rich ‘Dragons’. We will continue to build the union, and with it the Socialist Party.

A retail worker

If you have any stories about what is happening in your workplace
then please send them to the Activist

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