Morrisons employees, who are represented by the Union of Shop and Distribution Workers (Usdaw), were today forced to accept a pay deal that an overwhelming 69% of union members rejected on 17 May. This rejection of a poor deal presented Usdaw’s leadership with the opportunity – and responsibility – to campaign for a pay deal that would benefit workers, not just shareholders.
There would have been the potential for a massive win for retail and distribution workers across the UK. Unfortunately, this was not the right-wing leadership’s approach, and the negotiated pay deal has resulted in a loss of benefits and paid breaks in exchange for an insulting 30 pence hourly pay rise which is partially being funded by the loss of benefits.
There is a comparison to be drawn between how Usdaw has betrayed its members and the way the general union GMB has capitulated to the Walmart giant, Asda. Workers have been threatened with instant dismissal if they do not sign new contracts as part of a terrible negotiated pay deal. This bullying behaviour, the consistent low-levels of staffing and continued poverty pay has intensified the low morale that millions of retail workers across the country suffer. These issues are widely understood as being a major contributing factor to an increasing percentage of workers facing mental health issues.
Ultimately, the only way to combat this situation is for workers to join one another in their daily struggles, and to get organised to demand a genuinely democratic, fighting union – starting by replacing self-interested right-wing union leaders who are too weak to stand up to big business.
The treacherous role that Usdaw has played by accepting a deal rejected by workers and failing to follow the example of other unions, such as the Communication Workers Union (CWU), and call strike action to fight for improved pay and working conditions, has led to calls from some Morrisons workers to form their own independent union. In the circumstances, it’s possible that such sentiments could become more widespread. Of course, any new union would face the same questions as the existing one – including of the need for a fighting leadership, democratic structures and so on.
The fundamental task faced now is to organise workers who see the need for a fighting approach. Right now, that means fighting to build based on the most combative groups of shop workers and all those willing to fight back against this sell out. The aim should be to utterly transform the Usdaw – making it a genuinely fighting vehicle through which workers can fight to improve their lives. But nothing should be ruled out, and should it prove impossible to remove the stale bureaucracy currently blocking struggle, the question of a new union would be posed. Socialist Alternative is fighting in Usdaw against this shoddy sell out and to replace Usdaw’s right-wing leadership with one which puts its membership first.