Socialist Party member Robbie Segal shook the entire shopworkers' union USDAW by gaining 40% of the vote for General Secretary in the ballot result announced today. Robbie is a Tesco worker who on shoe-string resources with a tiny band of activists in a David and Goliath battle faced the entire USDAW official machine. The whole right wing union full time bureaucracy was mobilised to crush her, but she still managed to gain over 18,000 votes winning the moral victory by far.
The incumbent, John Hannett, had the entire union behind him – except the members. He appears in the union journal and other union publications every month. Robbie was virtually unknown to most of the members other than those that have known her first-hand as a fighter over the years. As an example, three NEC members were flown into the Central London branch meeting to argue against one Socialist Party member to secure the nomination of all the London branches for Hannett. But Robbie’s programme clearly appealed to the members by calling for an £8 minimum wage for all, no to partnership between the union and the employers- as there is in Tesco, for democracy within the union, and for an alternative to New Labour for ordinary people to have a party that genuinely represents them. Robbie also pledged to reject the £100,000 Hannett took and to continue on her Tesco wage.
The result is in no way a ringing endorsement of the current leadership. The low turnout of 13.2% reflected the fact that Hannett did his very best to subdue the issue, by calling a summer election, calling no debates with Robbie and producing no other material other than the ballot paper and a letter to the branches demanding their support. So Hannett's 7.8% support in USDAW must be seen as a massive vote of no confidence in his performance in the job.
This result, for a clearly socialist candidate in the USDAW General Secretary election is testimony to the changing mood in the unions. USDAW has for many years been the bastion of the right wing with an avid New Labourite leadership. John Hannett pulled all the stops out to use the union bureaucratic machine in his favour for this election. Robbie proved his leadership severely lacking.
Voting returns are:-Voting papers distributed............348'278 100%
Ballot papers returned..................46'002 13.2%
USDAW national public meeting
'Fighting for a Democratic Usdaw'
to discuss union perspectives, election results and plans for future action
is this Saturday, 20th September 12-3pm, Lucas Arms, 245A Gray's Inn Road, London WC1X 8QZ. Nearest station, Kings Cross St Pancrass.