IT IS MY considered view that dealing with important issues like the projected impact of rapid automation in the retail sector or the shape of our economy post-pandemic cannot be adequately tackled by Mandate on a piecemeal ‘shop-by-shop’ basis. These massive challenges must be tackled at an industrial sectoral level with union activists from a range of leading retail employments at the core of everything we do.
No-one person has all the answers. However, similar organising unions to Mandate such as Unite the Union, under Sharon Graham’s organising leadership, have determined that the traditional approach of organising one workplace or one employer at a time was always a strategy doomed to failure.
In challenging the collective strength of global capitalism organising unions, such as Mandate, need to work cleverer or slowly disappear like the proverbial snow off a ditch.
Unions must adapt and mirror their approach to organising in a similar way to the collective organisation of modern global capitalism. Organising shop by shop, office by office and bar by bar is an outdated concept which eats away resources and frustrates the establishment and power of any real effective collective organised labour.
By organising across the retail sector and building a “combine” of shop stewards from the dominant companies, it is very possible to win collective victories for many workplaces rather than on a one-by-one employer basis.
One of Unite’s early UK organising campaigns in meat production succeeded in securing a ground-breaking ‘Minimum Standards Agreement’ with the big supermarket chains and the suppliers.
This agreement ensured a living wage, parity of pay and permanency of contract for tens of thousands of workers. Might this collective organising approach developed over time by Unite be the future way forward for Mandate in organising workers who need a union more now than at any stage of our past history?
Many moons ago Mandate negotiated ‘Town Agreements’ which set standards across retail for individual towns. Town Agreements involved a cross-section of retail workers from different employments collectively bargaining for their locality.
Mandate’s Retail Charter 2020, which outlines the aspirations of our union towards achieving a living wage and better terms and conditions, is a perfect model for achieving collective solidarity action across the entire retail sector.
A sectoral campaigning retail union led by our union activists working alongside our union leadership could become a strong collective challenge to retail capitalism and extreme profits at a time of great national need for a better and more equal socialist-based economy and society.
The only effective answer to organised greed is organised labour.