Addressing the conference delegates online, Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary said:
“We must once again recognise that the pandemic has changed many things, one of those is how we campaign and carry out the political work of the union. It's been more difficult in the last year. We've been less able to bring groups of our members together, or to campaign physically, on our high streets and in our communities.
“But two things haven't changed: Firstly, we are still faced with a Boris Johnson led Conservative Government. A Government whose majority is so big, that there are few blocks to their ambitions, or their many mistakes. The other thing that hasn't changed is the fundamental reason why we, as a trade union, are involved in politics in the first place.
The union exists to improve its members' lives. Sometimes this can be achieved through industrial organising, sometimes it has to be done through political organising. These are two sides of the same coin and both are done in service to the needs of our members.
“We take great pride in the way our union includes members and their experiences in our campaigns. This union goes to great lengths to understand the lives of our members. To make sure that those real world issues, problems and concerns are at the heart of our campaign work. Our campaigns are built upon this foundation and shaped by our members.
“The Union's policy priorities reflect our members' lives and they are at the centre of what we campaign for. They range from tackling low pay and insecure work, to strengthening workers' rights and ensuring that there is a strong retail sector to provide job security. These priorities have been given a new perspective by the pandemic. Cracks in our system and in society have been highlighted, bringing into public focus so many of those issues that we, as trade unionists, have been raising for so long.
“Like the crisis in retail and on our high streets; the scandal of in-work poverty, the pittance that is statutory sick pay, the massive flaws in the Universal Credit system, the appalling abuse against public facing workers. All of these issues have come to the fore and there is a new sense of urgency about tackling them.
“While our immediate priority is to get out of this crisis and back to living our lives safely, we must also make sure that those big, long-term, issues are addressed. Because the recovery cannot, and must not, mean continuing with the old problems, inequalities and injustices. No, we need to build a new, better normal.
“But how do we go about doing this? The simple answer is: together. The union was built upon the collective strength of our members and it is together that we will continue to achieve our aims.
“The longer answer is that we will continue to use all of the tools at our disposal. From public facing campaigns on the streets, in our communities, to focussed lobbying in the parliaments of the UK. From our seat on the Retail Sector Council, talking to Government and employers at the highest level about the issues facing our members. To our leading role in the new Labour Party High Street commission, where we will be informing the opposition’s approach to reviving the retail sector. All driven by our members. All based on their views - their stories - their concerns.
“This is the key strength of our Union and our movement. The experiences of our members and their direct involvement in our campaign work and we know that these methods work. More and more, the policy priorities of our members are seen as the priorities for our wider communities and for the governments of the UK.
From a focus on high streets and the problems facing the retail sector, to the acceptance by the Scottish Parliament, after many years of hard work and campaigning, that retail workers do need and deserve stronger legal protection from abuse and violence. Thanks to that hard work, Daniel Johnson MSP's Protection of Workers Bill was passed unanimously. And we will not rest until that protection is shared by every retail worker in the rest of the UK too.
“We will always campaign to make our members' lives better and these successes show why our involvement in politics is so important. There can be no real, fundamental and long-lasting improvement to our members' lives without political success.”
Notes for editors:
Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers)
is the UK's fifth biggest trade union with over 400,000 members. Membership has increased by more than one-third over the last couple of decades. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemicals and other trades.
For Usdaw press releases visit: http://www.usdaw.org.uk/news
and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion