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

If you have a colleague who would like to receive
a regular copy of the Activist or other materials to democratise
our union then send their
e-mail address to

No comments: