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'Partnership'= Benefits For Bosses
ROBBIE SEGAL has just been re-elected to the national executive (EC) of the shopworkers' union USDAW.
She told The Socialist about working at Tesco under the 'partnership' agreement between USDAW and the company. All her comments are in a personal capacity.
I work for Tesco's, one of the top world food retailers, who between them control 80% of food production and distribution. Tesco's employ 210,000 workers in this country in 600-700 stores.
I work because I need the money. Throughout my life I have been on low pay and I need to work to survive. Workers in retail are made up of mainly women and students, mostly working part-time.
I represent the Southern Division on the executive of the Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers, which is the major recognised union in the retail industry. We have had a 'partnership' agreement with Tesco for four years.
I campaigned against the partnership agreement when the company and union first presented it to the membership. However once it had been sold to the members by USDAW I felt that it was necessary to get involved in the negotiations to protect what rights we have.
Partnership does not work on the shop floor. In my position as EC member I get phone calls from all over the Southern division, about management's bullying tactics. The company still brings in policies without the union's agreement and the new agreement has taken democracy away from the shop floor.
When negotiations began in 2002 they were followed by intense discussions with the company. The meetings continued for weeks and then stopped. We left one meeting with the first draft and came back to the next meeting to be presented with the sixth draft. It was obvious that discussions had been carried out between the union and Tesco's behind our backs.
The company's key issue was to include non-union members in the forums. This I believe would begin the process of breaking the union in Tesco's.
The union leadership wanted an agreement that kept the members' dues flowing in but the membership has remained under 50% despite four years of partnership.
I resigned from the partnership national review committee in May 2002 on four points - non-union members in the forums, national and regional forum representatives to lose their votes on the new partnership agreement, the loss of our vote on wages and conditions and the code of conduct for shop stewards.
I was assured by the union nationally that they would not give way on these four points, so I remained on the national negotiation committee. But when I learnt that health and safety committees were to be lost, this was the last straw. On 15 November 2002 I formally refused to work on any of the partnership forums.
The elections to the executive of USDAW began in January 2003. My campaign started by leafleting the regional forum meeting between Tesco national management, USDAW national officers and the regional forum representatives at a posh hotel in London. At that meeting, 104 reps were entitled to vote on the agreement, 15 had resigned or did not attend the meeting. 68 voted for and 19 against.
A national rep told me that I had a 'death wish' but these regional reps would not even have had an opportunity to vote on the partnership agreement if I had not threatened to resign in May.
In The Socialist 28 February 2003: