THE ELECTION for the general secretary of Britain's fifth biggest union has started.
Usdaw has a membership of over 323,000 workers. It represents workers in shops like Tesco and across the retail sector. Many of these are women and black workers in low status, low paid jobs with unsocial hours.
They are on the receiving end of many of New Labour's policies.
Yet Usdaw's current general secretary Sir Bill Connor is New Labour to his core. He has been the union's leader since 1997 and was knighted last year by New Labour for 'services to industrial relations'.
Connor was Labour leader of Skelmersdale council in Merseyside and was a member of Labour's national executive committee from 1990-7. The union's deputy general secretary, John Hannett, is hoping to shoehorn himself into the top job when Connor retires next May.
Hannett is on Labour's national executive committee.
But the union's broad left is standing a candidate against him. Maureen Madden wants to challenge the union's uncritical support for New Labour. 'I aim to be a leader whose prime concern will be to advance our members' pay and conditions, not to work for knighthoods and peerages,' she says.
She attacks the union's close relationship with those employing union members, saying, 'Forget partnerships with companies that leave our members worse off.' She has already been out campaigning around some of the union's best organised sections in Tesco's warehouses around the country.
Many of the workers there are frustrated that they have repeatedly voted for action over pay, only to be told the leadership will not sanction a strike. There is a third candidate in the election, Val Pugh, the union's national officer.
But Maureen Madden is the left candidate. She stands for a fighting union. Union activists should join in her election campaign. Ballot papers were posted to members' homes on Friday of last week. The ballot closes on 5 December.
For details of Maureen's campaign go to www.usdawbroadleft.org.uk