Richard Allday reports on the Unite the Union meeting of reps turning the tide against the Tories
100 senior reps and convenors from across road haulage and warehousing met in Birmingham on Tuesday, at a meeting called by Unite’s new General Secretary, to brief her on the root causes of the driver shortage and to develop a strategy to, in her words, “Start rolling back the poor conditions, long hours and low pay in the industry and make the industry fit for our members to work in”.
She also committed to a campaign to organise the largely non-union container-haulage sector after a rep pointed out that as long as there were 10,000+ drivers working for £10.50 an hour or less, they were a drag anchor on any attempt to improve pay and conditions in the organised sectors. She emphasised that this could not be a a publicity stunt, here today gone tomorrow, but that the union was in it for the long haul.
One convenor said how pleased he was that Unite was finally stepping up to the plate. He said that up to now, it had seemed that the union was just standing by, holding the coats for the employers and the government whilst they blame each other, “Now perhaps we can get the workers’ voice in the argument”.
This is the first time that the union has called such a meeting - outside of the formal constitutional structures, and right across the industry – and the energy generated fed itself into the meeting of the National Sector Committee held the following day.
At that meeting, top of the agenda was how to carry the spirit of the previous day into practical, concrete actions. It is not possible, under the Tory anti-union laws, to call industrial action across the sector, but a delegate proposed that the union call on all lorry drivers to take their statutory breaks at the same time on a given day. The day and time were fixed at 11.00 on Monday, 1 November. The motion was carried unanimously.
An advantage of this action is that, if it is built for and well-publicised, it allows non-union members to join in as well – the first step to participating in collective organisation – and puts the union in the position of being the prime mover. The committee also unanimously supported the seconder of the motion, who insisted that this could not be a one-off, but should be seen as the opening shot of a real fighting campaign.
It is clear that the wind of change in the union, which resulted in the election of Sharon Graham as General Secretary, was not just a passing gust but appears to be compelling a change in direction that taps into a mood of discontent. It will undoubtedly take time for some in the union – activists as well as the full-time administration – to adjust to the new approach, but the past two days have offered the possibility of a new way of doing things.
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Richard Allday is a member of Unite the Union’s National Executive, a branch secretary and shop steward in road haulage. A member of Counterfire, his comrades know him better as 'the angry trucker'.
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