By a USDAW shop steward

The Labour-dominated leadership of USDAW has stooped to a new low in their rush to impress the anti-independence Labour leadership, trampling on the democracy of the union in the process.

The Better Together alliance of Tories, LibDems and Labour are making much of the affiliation of the fourth-largest union in the UK. But the fanfares from the No camp can’t drown out the rising voices of anger in the ranks of the union at how the whole decision was arrived at.

In looking at what has happened prior to this week’s press statements (falsely) claiming “82% of USDAW vote against independence”, you should bear in mind the methods used to debate the crunch issues around the Referendum in the next-biggest union in the country, PCS.

PCS leaders issued a document to every single Scottish member with equal space provided for advocates of three competing views of what PCS should do, officially, as a national union: support a Yes vote, support a No vote, or inform the members without backing either the Yes or No campaigns.

Every branch of PCS was encouraged to hold membership meetings with speakers for each of these three positions.  At these meetings, votes of the members were taken, openly, which in turn mandated the branch delegate to a special Scottish conference on which way to vote.  The meetings were well attended. Members engaged in a vital discussion about what option would make them better off.

The conference then had the same format – three speakers, open debate, and a vote based on the branch decisions.  Very significantly not one single branch voted to campaign for a No vote in the Referendum.  Democracy trounced the No camp.

No such risks of members’ views prevailing have been taken by the leadership of my union, USDAW.  Almost two years ago, well before the Referendum debate had even started properly, USDAW general secretary John Hannet announced in the union magazine that our union was affiliating to Better Together.  There was no prior consultation with Scottish branches or Scottish members before they got into bed with the Tory party that low-paid retail workers overwhelmingly revile.

A year ago, at the 2013 UK-wide conference (Annual Delegate Meeting) the UK-wide Executive Committee of USDAW issued a document on ‘Political Campaigning’, declaring USDAW had decided to affiliate to Better Together, “not by clinging to a piece of ideology, but by carefully considering the evidence for and against independence”.

Where they got their evidence is still unclear: it certainly did not involve democratic debates between representatives of the Yes and No campaigns.  And no branch debates were arranged, no circulation of the members with arguments for and against independence, no widely advertised Scottish conference after a series of branch meetings deciding their members’ views through vigorous debate.

In the year since, USDAW officials, including Scottish Divisional Officer Lawrence Wason, have spared no time or effort in pumping out press releases attacking independence, including shamelessly parroting the comments of chief executives of the big supermarkets when the latter raised even the vaguest of ‘concerns’ about the consequences of Scottish self government.

It seems they listen more to the supermarket bosses than supermarket workers who pay their subs to USDAW, but whose views have never been sought in any transparent, organised, democratic fashion before or since USDAW leaders affiliated our union to Better Together.

Now, in a new low in cynicism, the leadership presented the recent Scottish Divisional Conference with one speaker on the Referendum – Alistair Darling, chief of Better Together – and then held a vote of delegates to rubber stamp what had already been imposed on us by the UK leadership for the best part of two years!

No speaker was ever invited to debate with Darling from those who support Yes.  No prior publicity in the USDAW branches alerted members to this discussion or to Darling’s  presence.  No engagement with the members to genuinely seek our opinions.  No pretense of imitating the democratic procedures conducted by the PCS union.

And despite the charms of Alistair Darling, with nobody invited to challenge his arguments, the leadership still couldn’t even get the level of endorsement they had maneuvered to ensure at the Scottish conference; around 40-50% of the delegates didn’t vote one way or the other, making the claims to 82% endorsement totally bogus.  82% of the 50-60% who did vote is not even a majority of the actual delegates!

And then in their Press Release, Lawrence Wason claims,” We have listened to our members’ views, investigated the pros and cons of independence, and come to the conclusion we are stronger and better together.”  As an USDAW shop steward told the Sunday Herald, “It has been a completely cynical exercise and a stitch-up.”

Many USDAW members are already sick and tired of being bombarded by national union magazines and emails dominated by articles preaching the wonders of Labour and Ed Miliband – who, incidentally, the USDAW leadership obviously thought was far too Red when they backed the other Miliband brother for Labour leader!!

They are less than overjoyed that £12m of our members’ subs have been handed over to Labour since 2001, after Labour’s record in government of continued low pay and sustained Tory anti-union laws.  But this latest episode is a crude exercise in sucking up to the Labour leadership, making no genuine attempt to consult – let alone ballot – the opinions of members in Scotland before nailing our union’s flag to the Better Together mast.

When the USDAW leadership coyly refer to Better Together as “a cross party campaign” they hope to smother the news that they have joined up with the Tories and LibDems.  And we await news of how many tens of thousands of pounds of our members’ money has been handed over to Better Together!

But members won’t be so easily fooled.  We don’t need sermons on “the risks to jobs under independence” when we face massive job losses – and crushingly low pay – under the rule of successive Tory, LibDem and Labour governments at Westminster.

And when our Scottish Divisional Officer issues a press release trumpeting support for Better Together and carries – as background notes to editors – quotes from multi-millioned chief executives of ASDA, Morrisons and Sainsburys, it begs the question whose views they really listen to.

The members of USDAW will have their say on September 18th, and it might not be to the liking of Alistair Darling or our own national leadership!


2014-03-23 16:47

Fortunately,in our democratic referendum,ever  yone’s vote will count and not just the prejudices and interests of a few.
After independence,un  ions in Scotland are going to have the umbilical cord to London Labour cut and are going to have to find new outlets for political expression and maybe a renewal of the democratic process at the same time.
Having worker representation on company boards written into our constitution will force apathetic workers to take more interest in who represents them and how.
Union activists who put their politics before the interests of the people they are supposed to represent will not last long in a future Scotland.
2014-03-23 22:45

Hopefully it will be possible to clear out the top brass in your union. Let’s see how they enjoy getting the boot from their members. (although I imagine they have it stitched up in such a way to preserve their un-earned fat salaries and perks)
John Souter
2014-03-25 08:55

Sad isn’t it when both Labour and the executives of the unions despise the people and the principles they supposedly represent.

Abuse democracy and you are left with tyranny.

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