The campaign to overturn the dismissal of Richie Venton — USDAW shop steward, USDAW convenor, and member of USDAW National Executive Council — continues, despite the lack of support from the leaders of his own union.
Richie was sacked by his employer, IKEA, at the end of August. Richie had worked in the IKEA store in Braehead on the outskirts of Glasgow for twelve years, during which time he had built an effective trade union organisation in the store and achieved major improvements in working conditions.
In the midst of the first lockdown IKEA informed union representatives of plans for major cuts in company sick pay: workers absent due to Covid-19 would not receive full pay but only Statutory Sick Pay.
When Richie informed his members of these proposals, IKEA sacked him for “breach of confidentiality”. Anyone who believes that that was the real reason for Richie’s dismissal, as opposed to his being an effective trade union representative, needs to get a reality check.
The campaign for Richie’s reinstatement was launched after his dismissal had been upheld on appeal in the company’s internal disciplinary process.
Since then the demand for his reinstatement has been backed by over 8,000 people in an online petition, by over 300 trade union lay representatives at local and national level in a Joint Trade Union Statement, and by 49 MPs from five different parties in a Westminster Early Day Motion.
Regular protests have been staged outside of the IKEA Braehead store. Protests have also been staged at other IKEA stores in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. And online Zoom meetings have been run to help build the campaign.
The campaign for Richie’s reinstatement, although not yet successful, demonstrates that even in the midst of a pandemic an energetic and effective campaign can be run. But the missing factor from all of this is USDAW itself.
USDAW failed to apply for an interim interdict (i.e. for reinstatement of Richie pending a full Employment Tribunal hearing). It has not mentioned the dismissal on its social media. Nor has it issued a media release about the dismissal, built for the protests at IKEA stores, or publicised the protests which have taken place.
And although USDAW members in the Braehead IKEA store voted in favour of striking to secure Richie’s reinstatement, USDAW has refused to run a strike ballot.
USDAW’s failure to challenge the victimisation of one of its own members has provided a cover for other sections of the union bureaucracy to do nothing, on the basis of that well-known union “protocol”: “We cannot support a campaign by a member of another union unless officially requested to do so by that union itself.”
But the broader labour movement should not wait for the permission of the USDAW bureaucracy before it mobilises to campaign for Richie’s reinstatement. Otherwise, employers will feel emboldened to use the Covid-19 pandemic as a cover for attacking workplace trade union organisation and representation.
Messages of support should be sent to ReinstateRichieVenton@protonmail.com. To request a speaker, and for details about protests and financial donations, e-mail the same address.