Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 28 April 2021

Usdaw's virtual annual conference - a mockery of union democracy

Usdaw conference 2019, photo David Owens

Usdaw conference 2019, photo David Owens   (Click to enlarge)

Socialist Party members in Usdaw

The last year has been a challenging one for retail workers - some sectors have faced furlough and shop closures in the non-essential sector.

On the other hand, the bulk of the union's membership has been on the frontline - while like-for-like sales are up in many supermarkets from 5% to 8% (excluding fuel, sales of which are expected to bounce back), and shareholders dividends have been protected. Despite being recognised as key workers, supermarket workers are still in some of the lowest paid jobs, with poor terms and conditions.

Usdaw's online Annual Delegate Meeting (ADM) could have been a vital opportunity to discuss and debate the way forward on many of these pressing issues.

However, the chaotic way that cut-down two-day conference proceeded meant lay members' voices were squeezed out. This reflects how Usdaw, like many other unions, has become increasingly top-down over the last year.

This was warned about in advance by the left minority on the outgoing executive council, who opposed cutting down conference from the usual four days, and argued for exploring a delayed conference later in the year.

Both days finished early, with much of that time taken up with waiting for votes rather than debate. Because of the 'lack of time' we were told motions couldn't be moved or seconded and, as it transpired, even debated.

Delegates had to apply to speak over two weeks ahead of the conference, with delays in the postal system meaning many couldn't send slips in advance to speak. In one of the few conference sessions that took place, five out of six speakers had prepared to speak on a proposition grouped as part of a timetabled debate. Two of those weren't allowed to speak and two were stopped part-way through.

Delegates who attempted to reference back standing orders reports to challenge this were blocked off by the staff running the online systems, meaning the president, who should have decided whether to put these to conference, was unaware of them.

In reality, the only real debate that took place was on the leadership's proposals to close the part-time rate of membership subs to new entrants. Worryingly, this was justified by some on the basis that part-time people won't join.

Undoubtedly, this was supported due to the union's declining membership, down around 50,000 from a peak of 430,000 a few years ago. This is partially due to the effect of repeated lockdowns on union organisation, but also to the ongoing crisis in the sector.

Outrageously, at the same time as this measure, and a 6p increase in subs were voted on, five executive council members not involved in the running of the conference took an expenses-paid visit to Manchester. A new logo was also used at the conference without any discussion with the outgoing executive council. As one person succinctly put it on the Usdaw Forum group on Facebook: "This ADM has only been done for the subs vote."

Despite this, motions opposed by the leadership - where delegates only saw the text of the motion and had no opportunity to hear it moved, combined with often spurious reasoning for opposition by the leadership - received very substantial minority votes.

These included affiliating to the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance (COPS), supporting councils passing legal no-cuts budgets and in favour of Usdaw moving a new version of Clause 4 containing nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy under democratic workers' control and management. These received 33%, 36% and 38% support respectively. The latter we think almost doubled in support since the same issue was discussed back at the 2018 ADM.

Seven Socialist Party members attended the conference as delegates, with two speaking, including Leeds Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidate Iain Dalton who explained what measures Labour councils could be taking now to help assist the struggles of retail workers.

Iain also called for the objective in the union's rulebook "to work consistently towards securing the control of the industries in which its members are employed" to be actively fought for, by campaigning for the big retail companies to be nationalised under democratic workers' control.

The right-wing leadership of the union may have won the votes on the day, but the substantial minority votes in the face of the anti-democratic way the online ADM was handled, show that the mood in the union for a more decisive lead is growing. We urge Usdaw members looking for such a lead, to join the Socialist Party and the union's Broad Left.

Donate to the Socialist Party

Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • We must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our Fighting Fund.

Please donate here.

All payments are made through a secure server.

My donation


Your message: 


In The Socialist 28 April 2021:


Vote TUSC to oppose sleazy capitalism

Why you should vote for TUSC

Campaigning for a no-cuts, socialist Liverpool mayor

International news

India's health system in meltdown under Modi's misrule

Campaigns news

Socialist Student action marks the way for a national student movement for free education

South West regional conference shows that socialist ideas can grow

To get Socialist ideas out there, we need to have the funds


Protesting works - unite to defend the right to protest

No trust in billionaire football owners - kick them out and reclaim the game

Private sector is stealing the NHS

39 'postmasters' cleared - now clear the rest

Generation eviction

Workplace news

Usdaw's virtual annual conference - a mockery of union democracy

PCS ballots members in Jobcentres over safety

Goodlord strikers fight fire and rehire as part of day of action

Devonport tugboat crews strike against rota changes

St Mungo's workers walkout

Thurrock bin strike in third week


How partition of Ireland derailed a revolutionary struggle for national and social liberation

Irish police aid strike-breaking at Debenhams store in Dublin

Welfare state

Poverty increasing. Welfare state in crisis. Do we need a new Beveridge Report?


What councils can do to protect the environment

Readers' opinion

The Socialist Inbox

May Day Greetings 2021

International Workers' Day - struggle, solidarity, socialism


Home   |   The Socialist 28 April 2021   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook

Related links:


triangleMax McGee victimisation - second appeal rejected

triangleTesco strike action latest

triangleThousands of Tesco warehouse workers to strike

triangleTesco warehouse workers ballot for strike action

triangleTesco warehouse rep fighting for reinstatement


triangleDemonstrating against the Tory anti-protest bill

trianglePolice attempt to intimidate Newcastle protesters

triangleFootball abuse scandal: Reclaim the game for justice and democracy

Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance:

triangleNews in brief

Reports and campaigns

Reports and campaigns



10,000 tube workers vote to strike



Scunthorpe scaffs resume indefinite strike action


South Yorkshire

S Yorks Stagecoach strike results in "huge pay win"



Sheffield Just Eat couriers speak about strike



Coventry bin strike continues



NUS walkout: Organise to fight for free education on 2 March



Oliver Campbell - 31 years fighting for justice



Somers Forge workers continue pay strike



Workplace news in brief



Bus driver Tracey Scholes reinstated at Go North West


Royal Mail

Royal Mail: Unofficial walkouts precede bigger battle to come on pay and workload



Newham college strike solid against bully privatisers



Pauline Wall memorial meeting


Socialist Students

Southampton uni ignores staff and students in exam farce



Demonstrating against the Tory anti-protest bill

triangleMore Reports and campaigns articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777

Email: [email protected]

Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 079 8202 1969

East Mids: 077 3797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 078 4114 4890

North West 079 5437 6096

South West: 077 5979 6478

Southern: 078 3368 1910

Wales: 077 7221 5281

West Mids: 024 7655 5620

Yorkshire: 078 0983 9793



Alphabetical listing

January 2022