By Gerry Bates
From 23 January members of the shop and distribution workers' union
USDAW will be receiving ballot papers for the election of our union
executive and president.
This is one of the most important trade union elections in years.
USDAW is perhaps the least effective union in the British labour
movement. Its leadership have signed away the right to vote on their
pay and conditions for nearly a third of its total membership in
Tesco. They have blocked a united front with the TGWU against low pay
in Sainsbury's, and throughout the industry USDAW officials are happy
to stay warm and cozy in the employer's pocket while they turn the
screws on the shop floor.
Not surprisingly, the USDAW leadership collect plenty of praise from
people who hate genuine trade unionism. They are Tony Blair's
favourite union and he made retiring General Secretary Bill Connor a
Knight of the Realm for his services.
USDAW is not weak because its members lack economic muscle. It is
weak because it is has a leadership who do their best to keep the
members demoralised, isolated and divided.
Broad Left Presidential candidate Terry Savage reports that the
membership are being kept in the dark about the upcoming election.
The first thing most members will know about it is when ballot papers
drop through the letterboxes. The existing leadership are counting on
a low turnout and being swept back to power on a tide of apathy.
They could be proved wrong.
Though the Broad Left starts from a position of disadvantage, with
the existing leadership controlling all the levers of power within
the organisation, the fact is that discontent with existing state of
affairs and the leaderships craven support for management means that
a shock result cannot be ruled out. Recent history has a warning for
the USDAW leadership. Tony Blair's onetime favourite union leader Sir
Ken Jackson was thrown out in a postal ballot by the 'outsider' Derek
Simpson in Amicus a few years ago; today the same could happen in
USDAW if the membership realise that they can use their vote to
change the union.
Every socialist in the working-class movement should do everything
they can to get the message out to USDAW members that there is an
alternative for the union: Vote Broad left!