Morrisons Pay Deal
ACAS sides with management - a missed opportunity to fight
Iain Dalton, Usdaw Broad Left chair
In May Morrisons workers stunned management by rejecting its pay offer, with over two thirds of members of Usdaw, the shop workers' union, voting against, which would have given a 30p increase on the basic rate of pay to £9 an hour.
At the same time, Morrisons was also replacing the service bonus (commonly known as the Christmas bonus), which management claimed was separate but many members and reps saw as being traded away for a relatively meagre pay rise (still below Sainsbury's who are on £9.20 an hour).
At the time, Socialist Party members advocated a strategy to build a campaign amongst the membership to win more from management - including a meeting of lay reps to discuss a strategy and a national lobby of Morrisons' headquarters. But instead of giving a lead, the Morrisons' national reps instead mistakenly opted for binding arbitration through conciliation service Acas without any such campaign.
Undoubtedly, comparisons may be drawn with the failure of the GMB union to successfully fight the imposition of 'Contract 6' in Asda. However, unlike in Morrisons, Asda workers at least had a campaign, including numerous store protests, and three national demonstrations outside Asda headquarters in Leeds.
Of course, in both situations the 50% turnout threshold for strike action under the latest Tory anti-union laws provides an obstacle, especially in sectors where strike ballots have been rare, let alone strike action.
In the case of the GMB, Socialist Party members argued that one approach could have been to take targeted action in stores with a higher union density or those that were more affected by the contract imposition, in order to build up momentum for a campaign.
Given the lack of a fight - even to the extent that the GMB had in Asda - then demoralisation over the imposition of the pay deal will be felt even deeper among Usdaw members and reps in Morrisons.
While the Usdaw Broad Left did win some important recent elections, including that of President when Socialist Party member Amy Murphy was elected, there is no left majority on the union's executive.
The 'partnership' approach of former Usdaw general secretary John Hannett led to a similar situation in Tesco, where national reps rejected a pay offer in 2014, only for the subsequent meeting to be presented with the same offer which Tesco was then allowed to impose.
As we commented at the time: "This is the reality of partnership - a dictatorship where Tesco says jump and Usdaw's leaders end up asking how high. The only way to have shifted Tesco would have been to have organised a campaign to force them to come back with a better offer."(Usdaw Activist Issue 52)
To help challenge this approach, the consolidation of the Broad Left throughout the union structures needs to take place. There has been an influx of increased support seen in increased attendance at the Broad Left annual general meetings, but this needs to be consolidated into networks of Broad Left supporters in the different companies Usdaw organises in, in order to campaign for a fighting strategy to be adopted in relation to future pay negotiations.
- See Issue 82 of the Usdaw Activist - the bulletin of Socialist Party members in Usdaw