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From Peterloo to Boohoo - the campaign for workers' representation is still relevant today says Usdaw

Date: 15 August 2019 Tomorrow marks the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, when 60,000 women, children and men gathered at St Peter’s Field in Manchester to peacefully campaign for parliamentary representation and were charged upon by the cavalry, resulting in 18 deaths and around 700 injured.
Usdaw commemorates this watershed moment in Britain’s long struggle for universal suffrage and reminds us that the battle for workers’ representation continues. While we do now have universal suffrage, the right to be represented by a trade union continues to be denied by too many employers.

Mike Aylward – Usdaw’s Divisional Officer for the North West says: “We remember all those brave people who 200 years ago took a stand against famine and chronic unemployment. In the face of the Corn Laws, which caused dramatic increases in food prices because of tariffs on imports, working people lacked the representation in parliament to voice their desperation and secure a better deal. 200 years later, because of their efforts and sacrifices, working people are now represented in Parliament where their issues and concerns are heard.

“However even when Parliament expresses concerns and makes recommendations to help working people, some businesses feel they can ignore MPs and carry on denying staff an independent trade union voice at work. A prime example is Burnley and Manchester based online clothes retailer Boohoo, who claim to speak on behalf of their staff and refuse to recognise Usdaw.

“While Boohoo markets itself as a modern and trendy retailer, their attitude towards industrial relations is more 1819 than 2019. The least we expect from an ethical employer is that the staff are able to be fully represented by an independent trade union, if that is what they want. Stopping Usdaw from speaking to Boohoo workers, refusing to meet with us and telling your staff to bin our leaflets is not acceptable or ethical.

“So while we celebrate the achievements of past campaigners and commemorate those who made the ultimate sacrifice at Peterloo, we must never allow standards to slip, hard fought for gains to be lost and a race to the bottom on workers’ rights.”

Notes for editors:
 
Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fifth biggest and the fastest growing trade union with over 410,000 members. Membership has increased by more than one-third over the last couple of decades. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemicals and other trades.
 
The Boohoo story so far: Online clothes retailer Boohoo continues to refuse to meet with the retail trade union Usdaw to discuss arrangements for the company to recognise the union, so they can negotiate on behalf of their members working at the online fulfilment centre in Burnley and head office in Manchester.
 
Boohoo repeatedly claim that their staff have told them, through a management organised consultative structure, that they do not want to be represented by Usdaw. However the union has heard from many workers that is not the case and managers are making it clear to staff that they are hostile to Usdaw, instructing them to bin the union’s leaflets.
 
Usdaw continues to organise protests outside the Burnley and Manchester Boohoo workplaces and in Burnley town centre and Manchester city centre. Usdaw reps protested about the company’s attitude to the union outside their shareholders AGM and union reps attended the meeting, although they were not allowed to speak.
 
Political pressure is building. Initially the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, chaired by Mary Creagh MP, took evidence from Usdaw and Boohoo. In their subsequent cross-party report they recommended that Boohoo should engage with Usdaw. Burnley councillors from a variety of political parties overwhelmingly backed a Labour motion asking Boohoo to engage with Usdaw. Julie Cooper MP (Labour, Burnley) has joined the calls and is meeting the company on 29 July to try to broker a settlement. Shadow Business Minister Bill Esterson MP, Shadow Skills Minister Gordon Marsden MP and North West Labour MEPs have also given their backing to the campaign.
 
Boohoo had applied to join the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), an important body that seeks to give consumers the confidence they are shopping ethically. The membership application has been withdrawn, with the ETI making it clear that they want to see Boohoo engage with Usdaw before progress can be made.
 
Usdaw has also received support from campaign organisations like Labour Behind the Label, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre and other trade unions through the local trades council.
 
Usdaw will continue to seek to meet Boohoo management to negotiate a recognition agreement, so the union can best represent their members. It is time the company did the right thing, listen to reason and allow their staff to have a voice through the independent trade union Usdaw.
 
For Usdaw press releases visit: http://www.usdaw.org.uk/news and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion

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