Drivers break from USDAW

Author: 
A driver

A retail distribution driver spoke to us about recent moves by workers to break from the retail union USDAW and join Unite. AWL has criticised USDAW's role as a collaborationist and sell-out union in the retail sector. However, we do not have a formal policy of advocating or supporting breakaways from majority/recognised unions, and relate to particular cases on an individual basis. We publish this report for information.


Members of USDAW at the Sainsbury's distribution centre in Sherburn-in-Elmet, Leeds (operated by Wincanton), have rebelled by defecting to another union - Unite.

In less than four weeks, over 150 union members in the transport department (HGV Drivers etc.) have freely and without any influence from Unite, chosen to cancel their membership with USDAW and transfer to Unite.

Following a number of recent incidents whereby USDAW ignored member concerns which included an 80-signature vote of no confidence in USDAW. Concerns also included ballot fixing allegations, union reps being removed for spurious reasons, and a union rep being
appointed without a ballot.

The situation has also been exacerbated by USDAW members and former members receiving threatening letters from USDAW.

This has left USDAW with a minority membership and Unite with a majority membership in the Transport Department.

USDAW is the recognised union at the huge Sainsbury’s distribution centre in Sherburn-in Elmet, Leeds. They were given recognition voluntarily almost five years ago when the site opened. In return for recognition, USDAW agreed to opt-out of the road transport 10-hour night work limit for drivers, which has resulted in HGV Drivers working excessively long hours on nights. USDAW also signed away the right to strike for all workers at Sherburn.

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Usdaw Rebellion

The new Unite members at Sainsbury's DC Sherburn, are committed to the cause, they will continue to campaign for recognition so that they may negotiate on their terms and conditions and pay. Usdaw has turned it's back on it's members at Sherburn, they ignored their members concerns and complaints.

Usdaw have sold their members down the river giving away the right to strike in return for recognition, this before the site opened 5 years ago. Usdaw also gave away the drivers right to choose whether to opt in or opt out of the Road Transport Directive 10 hour night work limit.

The TUC's 'Bridlington Agreement' prevents one union from poaching members from another union, but that was not the case on this occasion, the majority of workers chose themselves to join Unite the Union online at home.

In response to this situation Usdaw have now turned to the company for help, they have produced joint statements with the company threatening their members and former members stating that the company will not recognise any other union other than Usdaw. Are these the actions of a union that puts it's members first, or are they the actions of a collaborationist, sell-out union?

Wincanton/Sainsbury and USDAW

It was interesting to read of this situation at Wincanton Sainsbury in Leeds. For the past two years the UNITE branch in Northampton has been recruiting and leafletting (with leaflets they've produced in English and Polish) at the Wincanton Sainsbury warehouse here which employs 400+ - which also has a sweetheart agreement with USDAW. Here this so called union has for instance signed deals for speed up without workers agreement and generally let the employers walk all over the workers. Working conditions are poor and injuries and crap bullying treatment from cowboy managers make workers lives a misery and USDAW does nothing.
We have represented workers and won some individual cases/grievances etc, including disability and sex discrimination cases at Tribunals. But UNITE's role has not been good with past co-operation between USDAW/Wincanton and UNITE in keeping us out and trying to stop us recruiting and doing our work.
The real question is how we build in the workplace so that whatever the union bureaucracy does, be it USDAW or UNITE, the workers can develop confidence in their own strength and improve conditions without being held back by the bureaucrats.
We would welcome contact with the workers at Sherburn Leeds and a discussion on how to move forward to build a fighting union organisation against employers like Wincanton.

hgv driver at sherburn

as said above can you imagine the members feelings when all there legal and proceses of complains have been ignored and when the members asked for a vote of no confidence to the branch there actions were to remove the reps that were duty bound to express the will of the members , we need to back up and support the new fledged branch of unite members at sherburn , after all we spread the word and supported the tesco/stobbart dispute at doncaster and with unity and strenght got at least got a partial win there .

Comment from Michael Bohan

Michael Bohan emailed us to say he was having difficulty posting his comments on the site, and asked that we post this up on his behalf, in the interests of continuing the discussion/debate:

"I am a USDAW rep at Northampton, I have my own issues with USDAW. I registered with your site and am struggling to see my comments.

"My reply was in response to the unite members claims at the Sainsbury site run by Wincantons at Northampton. I am a night driver who has been a rep for 18 months I have never in the time I have been a rep done anything other the do the best for my members, if I am accused of doing anything other I would stand down today.

"I am also a card carrying Labour supporter."