Wave of solidarity for Richie signposts fightback we need

RICHIE VENTON: Usdaw trade union rep sacked by IKEA for warning workers of intended attacks on their sick pay

by Ken Ferguson

· The brutally engineered sacking by furniture giant IKEA of USDAW Shop Steward and Convener Richie Venton must serve both as a warning and a rallying cry to us all.

The trumped up “crime” for which bosses sacked him of “breach of confidentiality” was in fact warning his members of intended attacks on their sick pay.

That this was the real reason for his sacking has been amply confirmed by the fact that as soon as he was first suspended and silenced, then out the door, the attacks on conditions, set out in detail elsewhere in this Voice, began. Literally within hours, in some cases.

IKEA’s cosy “better everyday life for the many people” slogan and soft focus image has been exposed both by Richie’s sacking and attacks on workers to be as thin as the veneer on their nightmare-to-assemble products.

Flat-pack fatcats
However, if the bully boy bosses thought that by taking out the shop steward at the Braehead store—by far the most unionised in the UK and Ireland—they were clearing the way to cowing the workers and shredding their conditions, they have been “sent homewards to think again”.

Thousands of trade unionists from across the UK and beyond have rallied to Richie’s defence, a process much boosted by the hard hitting exposure of IKEA’s actions and fork tongued spin by campaigning journalist Annie Brown and the Daily Record.

This is a developing struggle and we urge all Voice readers both to sign the petition and respond to action calls and developments all of which will be found at the Reinstate Richie Venton campaign website ReinstateRichieVenton.com

This campaign is, today, the spear point of a struggle which, though based in Braehead, has potentially widespread ramification and implications not just there but across Scottish and UK workplaces.

In a matter of weeks the UK government furlough scheme, already being cut back, will end and the jobs of millions will be on the line.

All history warns us that, faced with the mass unemployment which will result and the thousands-strong pool of unemployed workers which will result, bosses will move to weaken conditions, increase hours and cut pay.

This is the “take it or leave it” world stretching before millions and this is the context in which we need to rebuff the attack on Richie—which is merely a trailer for the main feature. Workers and unions must now be organising and educating on the bosses’ offensive ahead.

These defensive preparations must cut through the fog of supposed “social partnership” whose regime of offering minor concessions in good times will be shredded by employers and which has done much to demobilise the fighting spirit of workers.

The scale of the coming crisis must surely bury such sweetheart deals six feet under and makes the task of building workers resistance a central one.

So resistance in workplaces, colleges and communities must be at the heart of the response to the coming hammer blows as attempts are stepped up to recover profits and cut costs but a political dimension in this situation will also be essential.

In this context it needs to be frankly said that this week’s Programme for Government presented to Holyrood by First Minister Sturgeon, despite much pre-publicity and hype, offered little more than worthy sound bites and shiny wrapped goods for the 2021 election shop window.

Elsewhere, we look in detail at the programme but perhaps here it might be useful to go to the core of the contradiction posed by trying to hammer out people and planet based solutions through utilising the very market mechanisms that created many of them.

So, for example, the worthy ambition of planting more trees to gobble CO2 will, since land is mostly held by large lairds, finish up lining their pockets. Likewise the plans to create green jobs are to be achieved through handing money to private firms driven by profit.

Most glaring in its posturing in the PFG is the setting up of yet another “enquiry” into the ways and means of setting up a National Care Service with a report due in January.

The entire idea of a National Care Service is hugely popular with the public in the wake of the carnage visited on resident at the peak of Covid-19 and what it exposed about the totally inadequate care system.

Now, of course, it will need detailed planning to introduce such a system and organise the transition from the old to the new.

Climate/Covid clarion call
However, the proposed enquiry, which includes many of today’s providers with their own vested interests (but not trade unions), will not achieve that.

Rather it has more than a whiff of procrastination about it seeking the soft focus light of association with a popular idea while kicking it into the long grass.

Yet the combination of Covid and the ever-growing Climate Emergency surely demands not more footsie with the profiteers but a major break with them and a determined drive to utilise public ownership and planning to create a ‘different normal’.

Instead of treading the old path what is urgent is a decisive break towards public ownership and intervention to ensure that the vital jobs and equipment needed as part of a Socialist Green New Deal creates skilled work and training to both rebuild Scotland’s working class communities and workers’ security and wages.

There has been much learned work written on the policies needed to meet the climate crisis. But it is absolutely central that at the heart of this work is the interests of Scotland’s working class who, through public ownership and planning, will produce the means to meet the challenge.

Such an approach means a dramatic new path but this is essential to save both people and planet on the increasingly short time when this remains possible.

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