RAFFWU – the new Retail and Fast Food Workers Union. If you know of workers in the industry ask them to join.
Update 28 January: Relevant speech by new President explaining why a new union
For many years while I was at the UTLC of SA, I worked with the right-wing SDA SA Branch (now ALP right Senator Don Farrell) – until they disaffiliated. The recent exposes of the SDA’s poor business unionism and their continuing right-wing political agenda still dominant in much of Labor’s inadequate response to Turnbull and others means welcoming this RAFFWU initiate. Unions need to win the battle on penalty rates that I have been involved in for over 30 years of maintaining living standards;better wages and conditions at Coles and Woolworths;McDonald’s for delivery drivers; abolition of junior rates and ending migrant exploitation –http://www.raffwu.org.au/campaigns
New union to challenge ‘shoppies’ after massive wages scandal by Ben Schneiders Royce Millar
The cosy, decades-long relationship between Australia’s largest employers and the Labor party’s biggest industrial backer, faces an audacious challenge from a new retail union committed to boosting penalty rates for hundreds of thousands of workers.
A 15-month Fairfax Media investigation revealed how the deals left more than 250,000 workers paid less than the award – the basic wages safety net – and saved big business more than an estimated $300 million a year.
The industrial researcher who helped unearth the wages scandal, Josh Cullinan, will unveil the new national union on Monday with the help of volunteers and supporters, including disenchanted SDA members….
Under SDA agreements the companies pay either reduced penalty rates or, in the case of McDonald’s, no weekend penalties.
In a landmark decision in May, that followed Fairfax revelations, the the full bench of the Fair Work commission found a Coles agreement with the SDA failed the crucial test that workers under enterprise agreements must be “better off overall” compared to the award….
Union president will be Siobhan Kelly, a barrister who led the historic case against Coles, along with Mr Cullinan and Coles trolley operator Duncan Hart.
In its formative stage the union would be run by volunteers who would seek to sign thousands of financial members and use Pozible crowd-funding to raise funds for part-time organisers and offices in major cities.
“We know that’s a big task and it will take time to build our union,” said Mr Cullinan. “But we have a sector of a million workers; half a million of them are subject to exploitative enterprise agreements.”
The new union won’t at be first registered as a traditional union. Instead, it would register as a national organisation under the Corporations Act and as an incorporated association.
here is a Crikey report https://www.crikey.com.au/2016/12/07/shoppies-on-the-ropes-as-new-union-emerges/?utm_source=TractionNext&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Weekender-Lapsed-20161210
In an era of low union membership numbers, it comes as a surprise to many labour movement insiders that a new union has burst onto the scene, the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union. It poses an existential threat to the increasingly infamous and under-pressure, hard-right Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA) or “Shoppies”.
Unions affiliated to the Labor Party wield their internal power by way of the size of their rank-and-file membership. The Labor Right-aligned SDA as the union of retail workers is the largest national union and has almost 250,000 members. As a result of the weight of these numbers, they are well represented in terms of delegates on state and territory party conference floors all over the country, particularly the national conference.
These numbers have ensured the SDA have been for decades able to control the Right’s policy positions on pet issues such as blocking marriage equality, euthanasia and abortion at a branch and national level, and therefore the party’s positions on these issues. It’s been considered something of a secretive paranoid reactionary Catholic cult since the days when Tony Abbott used to socialise with SDA stalwarts Joe de Bruyn and former senator Joe Bullock.
The Shoppies have been constraining prime ministers since the days of Gough Whitlam. The newly re-elected SDA-aligned senator from South Australia, Don “The Godfather” Farrell, was central to Kevin Rudd being dumped as prime minister in 2010. At least 12 members of federal Parliament are believed to owe their positions to the SDA, and that tends to engender loyalty.
The Shoppies also hold three of the 10 Right positions on the finely divided Labor Party national executive. The Left have the other 10 positions, with the Right’s Bill Shorten having the casting vote as leader.
The SDA needs to be kept happy or it can do damage at the highest level of the party if its members were to abstain on any issue in protest; it has had it its own way for many years, using its powerful patronage and numbers machine without hesitation on issues it has conservative convictions on. These convictions are often counter to those of rank-and-file members.
Increasingly, all across the country, the SDA — save for the SDA ghetto, SA Labor — has been looking like losing the power it’s become used to. There was a highly publicised midnight coup against SDA leadership in Victoria that stripped their Victorian secretary of his numbers in the Victorian Labor caucus, and most importantly halved the weight of SDA-aligned delegates at state conference from 21% to around 10%.
Being ruthlessly sidelined in a major power centre is a serious blow to their Victorian delegate numbers next national conference and their ability to get their state and federal candidates preselected in Victoria.
A co-ordinated flood of Right faction federal MPs and senators, including SDA-aligned members such as Tony Burke and David Feeney, came out supporting marriage equality ahead of the 2015 national conference, signalling they were no longer intimidated by SDA powerbrokers and/or embarrassed about being attached to such a retrograde, out-of-touch union.
All but 5% of the federal Labor caucus would now support marriage equality in a conscience vote in this term of Parliament.
Next term of Parliament, members of the federal Labor Party caucus are bound to vote for marriage equality under a deal struck between the Left’s Tanya Plibersek and the Right’s Bill Shorten at the 2015 national conference.
The SDA’s national conference delegates in attendance, about 44 of them, barely whimpered when “those against” was called when voting on that deal. But there was one lone voice: Joe Bullock. Bullock has since resigned as a senator for Western Australia. He said he couldn’t campaign on the current marriage equality position of the party at the 2016 election.
The union is so aware of its reputation the national executive stunningly voted this year to take a “neutral stance” on the issue of marriage equality. The SDA has been the subject of numerous reports of how they keep their officials and members in line, how they ask about various policy positions of candidates seeking to be employed and how they intimidate those seeking to challenge their leadership in elections.
The SDA’s cosy relationship with employers like Coles, Woolworths and McDonald’s has been comprehensively exposed by the media. The Fair Work Commission recently quashed the Shoppies’ EBA with Coles, and ruled that Fair Work was “not satisfied that the Agreement passes the better off overall test”. The better-off-overall test requires that any EBA doesn’t leave any employee any worse off than the award would allow for.
Independent analysis found that some workers were thousands of dollars worse off as a result of the defunct negotiated agreement. It has also been revealed that the SDA has paid $5 million in commissions to employers such as Woolworths and Coles to secure workers’ union fees being payroll-deducted.
The SDA has rejected the claims and said that most workers were better off, but it’s quite clear what was going on; Woolworths actively encourages union membership with the SDA when employees commence working for the suparmarket, and that is unheard of in any other workforce.
Dating back to the mid to late ’70s, controlling the union was only ever seen as a way to wield power within the Labor Party, and workers were a side issue. Meanwhile, current Coles workers have found themselves thrust back onto the previous EBA as Coles now refuses to renegotiate terms after the Fair Work Commission defeat.
This brings Retail and Fast Food Workers Union into the frame.
People central to the Fair Work case against the SDA and Coles have established it to form a progressive modern retail union that works for the benefit of their members and represents their values within the Labor Party.
It doesn’t intend to be affiliated with the Labor Party at this stage.
Rank-and-file SDA members are increasingly aware of how their union has functioned — for so many years, without their knowledge — as a result of in-depth investigative journalism, whistleblowers and social media. They will put up a fight, but I suspect the SDA has had its day and is mortally wounded by being exposed for what it is.
Many within the Labor Party are hoping it drives a stake into the heart of the out-of-date, out-of-touch, complacent SDA.
I’m led to believe Retail and Fast Food Workers Union — RAFFWU for short — is getting hundreds of applications from workers who want to be represented by a serious and democratic union.
With the rap sheet of the SDA, can you blame them?
Hopefully, retail workers can build this new union and get the representation and the rights and entitlements every worker is entitled to, least of all low-paid and often young employees of huge employers Coles, Woolworths and McDonald’s.
News ABC New union aims to woo retail and fast food workers from the SDA http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/drive/new-union-aims-to-woo-retail-and-fast-food-workers/8043930
Green Left Radio’s Jacob Andrewartha interviewed Josh Cullinan, secretary of the RAFFWU, on November 25. Below is an edited version of that interview.https://www.greenleft.org.au/content/new-retail-and-fast-food-union-challenges-old-order
Tell us how this union came to be started
There has been a general disquiet now for the past decade. There have been efforts over the past 30 years to democratise the SDA. But over the past decade there has been a growing disquiet among young workers mostly, but also other workers about the way SDA does its business.
That came to a head last year during the Coles case. I was responsible for working with a young worker at a Melbourne western suburbs Coles store where we were able to identify that the majority of workers were going to be worse off under the new agreement.
This was then exposed in the national media and, in the end, Coles made undertakings to improve the agreement. They were not small undertakings: it was 5% more pay to casuals and up to 10% more for 17-year-olds.
They were substantial undertakings, worth many millions of dollars. But they didn’t deal with the core issue of mostly ongoing part-time workers, the vast majority of Coles’ workforce.
I then represented Duncan Hart in Brisbane. His case exposed that the SDA had done a very dodgy deal with Coles to undercut the rights of retail workers: they had been paid under the minimum, by probably more than $1 million a year.
That was the catalyst to expose all the other deals, which the SDA now freely admits are more than 100 agreements, that cut about half a million workers’ conditions from the very minimum they would have if there was no agreement at all.
There was a lot of opportunity for a progressive union to do the right thing, own up to mistakes and fix them. It has been 178 days since that decision, so that’s $178 million ripped from the pay packets of some of the lowest paid workers in Australia. The SDA has done nothing for them. Unfortunately, the Australian Council of Trade Unions has also been silent, and the ALP has done nothing either.
So it has come to a head. A group of activists, retail and fast food workers and their supporters have decided enough is enough and that it’s time for a genuine trade union to step into this space. That’s why we’ve launched the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union.
What has been the response from other unions to the RAFFWU?
Unfortunately, this space is fraught with danger for many other organisations because of the influence the SDA has in the ALP.
There is a group of unions that are prepared to stand up and say that the exploitation has got to stop and have a vision that goes beyond the next year or two — a view beyond the parliamentary careers of the current union leaders. Those progressive unions are slowly getting in contact with us.
We’re in contact with the Meat Industry Employees Union. They were the ones who were most affected by the SDA deal with Coles and Woolworths and we’re keen to continue to build a relationship with that union.
We’ll continue to be in contact with the other unions that face the damage that the SDA does to the working class in their shops, their warehouses and across Australia and, hopefully, build stronger relationships with them.
Right from the outset you’ve been very clear about demarcation. Can you explain why?
Yes, we wanted to be clear from the start that we are not seeking a demarcation fight with any other trade union.
So the National Union of Workers, the Australian Services Union, United Voice and the Transport Workers Union have coverage in various shops and in the retail and fast food sectors. We respect that. We want to encourage those workers to get involved and help make those trade unions great.
The reality is that many workers had no other choice other than to join the SDA. But, let’s be frank, the SDA is not a trade union.
So we want to be clear with the workers who do join us that we’ll be encouraging them to resign [from the SDA] and move on to those other unions, because we don’t want to be representing those that can be effectively represented by genuine trade unions.
Does the union have a particular focus on the workplaces that SDA previously covered, including McDonalds, Woolworths and Coles?
They are the three largest employers in Australia and they are the three most obvious and significant worksites for us to get involved in.
Media reports have said that the RAFFWU was started by socialists, greens and ALP members but that the union wants to remain politically independent. Why is this important to you?
I think there is a distinction between being political and being associated directly with a political party.
Obviously all of those engaged with RAFFWU, especially in the early stages, are politically engaged. Every person is political as well as social. We were born out of an experience of SDA members which has come about through the relationship between the SDA and the ALP.
We are acutely aware that, in the foreseeable future, the union’s relationship with a political party is not something our members are going to be interested in.
We need to be able to influence politicians and influence employers through the expression of worker power. We’re not interested in affiliating with any political party or getting engaged in those antics.
Our pursuits are at the workplace level. No doubt, over time, our members are going to want to coalesce at a state and a national level and they will want to develop policy and they will want to implement that policy. But affiliation to a political party is not on our radar.
What sort of democratic structures is the union planning, especially for the rank and file to be centrally involved?
We have not established a structure beyond the national membership electing an executive and a committee. At this stage we have not established a new structure that mobilises representatives from shop stewards upwards. But we have convened a subcommittee to explore that and the way other unions work to see what will work for us.
We cover people who are employed by national employers and we need to be able to implement the decisions of our members in the best way possible.
We are interested in feedback from our members and we’ll go through that process for the next six months to a year, after which we will have a special general meeting of our union to decide on our new structure.
We have already decided we want full proportional representation. The structures and rules of some of the old guard unions, like the SDA, are anti-democratic. So we want to have the best possible democratic structure.
The other element is the way we resource it. Everyone on the committee and at the shop floor is very clear that we want to resource organising of and by our members.
As our members get engaged, as they organise their workplaces and as they organise the workplaces of their colleagues, they will get to a point where they can, through their own resources and through their own membership fees, establish organising efforts. We will be appointing organisers into that space from among them. We are hopeful that that will also be another way we can build a democratic structure into our union.
…fear of the SDA’s political power and dependence on the money they use to buy that power is too high. Even more disheartening is that powerful trade unionists refuse to stand up for vulnerable workers for fear of ‘giving ammunition to the enemy’. They seem not to have realised that the real enemy is worker exploitation, and that the SDA is exploiting workers for their own,
narrow political ends. As Orwell observed, the distortion of facts and self-delusion may seem sensible in the short term, but in the long run it is poisoning us.
The enemy within
By Daniel Nicholson
Let’s be clear about how dire this situation is: an Australian trade union representing young, low-paid workers, who are disproportionately women, was found by the independent umpire to have knowingly pushed the wages and conditions of their members below the minimum legal standards. Why would a trade union do such a thing?
It is an open secret within the labour movement that the SDA’s leadership have maintained cosy relationships with big retailers and fast food giants – Coles, Woolworths, KFC, McDonalds and others – in order to have easy access to workplaces and maximise their membership. …
Australian fast food and retail workers may be some of the best paid in the world but the evidence suggests they would be better off on the award than on SDA-negotiated agreements.
There are a number of possible reasons why labour movement leaders may have been reluctant to condemn the SDA’s behaviour. The most obvious is money. As the country’s biggest private sector union, SDA’s affiliation fees represent a huge source of revenue for both the ALP and the ACTU; criticising the union could jeopardise that revenue. The other reason is the political power of the SDA. The affiliation fees paid by the union buy them significant quotas on conference floors and, with that, significant political power. In 2015, Dave Oliver saw off a challenge from then ACTU assistant secretary, Tim Lyons, with the support of the SDA – he has been their staunch defender ever since.
These justifications are relatively easy to overcome: leaders of peak bodies and political parties should never allow themselves to be beholden to their dishonest affiliates for fear of them withdrawing their financial support or of political retribution.
But there is a third, more insidious argument that is sometimes used as a justification for not condemning the SDA: that we shouldn’t condemn the practices of the SDA because that would be giving ammunition to the enemy.
It implies that, regardless of the behaviour of any particular trade union – even if their actions undermine the interests of working-class people – we shouldn’t criticise them because they are ‘on our side’. At a time when the trade union movement is under attack from aggressive employers and reactionary governments, this siege mentality is pervasive.
In his 1945 essay ‘Through a Glass, Rosily’, George Orwell took issue with this type of logic:
Whenever A and B are in opposition to one another, anyone who attacks or criticises A is accused of aiding and abetting B. And it is often true, objectively and on a short-term analysis, that he is making things easier for B. Therefore, say the supporters of A, shut up and don’t criticise: or at least criticise ‘constructively’, which in practice always means favourably. And from this it is only a short step to arguing that the suppression and distortion of known facts is the highest duty …
Labour movement leaders are engaged in exactly this kind of obfuscation and distortion when they defend the SDA. We know and understand exploitation they perpetrate but find a reason to do nothing about it.
There are alternatives. For instance, the SDA could be kicked out of the ACTU or the ALP. Union leaders could condemn the exploitation of the SDA and demand it reform itself or face a well-organised opponent at its next union elections.
But currently, fear of the SDA’s political power and dependence on the money they use to buy that power is too high. Even more disheartening is that powerful trade unionists refuse to stand up for vulnerable workers for fear of ‘giving ammunition to the enemy’. They seem not to have realised that the real enemy is worker exploitation, and that the SDA is exploiting workers for their own, narrow political ends.
As Orwell observed, the distortion of facts and self-delusion may seem sensible in the short term, but in the long run it is poisoning us.
Daniel Nicholson is an industrial relations researcher at the University of Melbourne. He is a member of the National Tertiary Education Union and the Australian Labor Party.