Trade unionists rally for Richie Venton and extend action

Trade unionists across Britain and Ireland are rallying to support Richie Venton following his sacking at IKEA Glasgow.  Mike Picken reports from Glasgow.

A veteran trade union and socialist activist, Richie is the IKEA Glasgow convenor and shop steward for the retail workers union USDAW and a member of the union executive. He was dismissed for opposing IKEA’s plans to withhold sick pay from workers including those following Scottish government policy of self-isolating due to Covid-19 symptoms and infections. 

On Saturday 3 October rallies and protests demanding Richie’s reinstatement were held simultaneously at six IKEA stores across Britain

Over fifty gathered at IKEA Glasgow, despite the atrocious weather, to protest. Speeches in solidarity were held and the protestors addressed shoppers on why Richie had been sacked.  Hundreds of car drivers tooted their horns in support as they passed the protest at the busy Braehead shopping area just outside Glasgow. 

Richie’s case is now becoming widely known across Scotland and attracting support.  Among trade union banners and flags were those from the EIS Scottish college and school teachers’ union including nearby West College members, the RMT transport and rail union, the Unison branch at Glasgow City Council, University academic staff from the UCU branch at Strathclyde University, members of the Unite, Industrial Workers of GB, and other trade unions.

 Addressing the demonstrators, Richie pointed out that his only ‘crime’ was to inform his members that IKEA intended to violate Scottish government advice and not pay workers needing to stay off work due to Covid-19.  Richie also pointed out that IKEA had backed down on withdrawing sick pay, but had still continued to uphold his sacking.

Activists also gathered in solidarity at IKEA branches in Edinburgh, Leeds, Warrington, Southampton, and North London (Tottenham/Edmonton) to hammer home to the IKEA company and customers that the appalling treatment of Richie Venton would not be tolerated by trade unionists. 

International action

Further protests against IKEA are being planned across Britain, and in Ireland where Richie originates from and where he also has strong support.  IKEA is a huge multinational organisation making 12 billion pounds per year profit with stores in many countries worldwide – international solidarity and pressure will be vital in putting pressure on the company to reinstate Richie Venton.

The campaign had been boosted by a declaration on 1st October from the highest level of Scottish politics. The First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party, Nicola Sturgeon, demanded in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh that IKEA “get round the table” with the union to come to a resolution of the dispute. 

Richie’s own Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP), Sandra White of the SNP, herself a former steward for USDAW, rose to her feet  to call on the First Minister to support his campaign for reinstatement.  Nicola Sturgeon replied by explaining that she knew Richie Venton and his record, and that while she could not comment on individual cases she put direct pressure on IKEA by name and publicly backed the right of union representatives to protect workers interests without victimisation, insisting that the Scottish government expected all employers to adhere to the legal rights of union reps to carry out trade union activities.

The issue has also been raised in the Westminster Parliament by Glasgow MP and trade union activist Chris Stephens of the SNP, in the form of an “Early Day Motion” of support currently backed by 48 MPs from five political parties.  While the vast majority of Scotland’s SNP MPs have signed, as have all the MPs of the smaller SDLP, Alliance and Green Parties, the response from the majority of Labour MPs has been entirely inadequate especially given that Richie’s own union USDAW is a longstanding affiliate of the Party. 

The Early Day Motion has however been signed by many on the left of the Labour Party, including prominent figures such as former Party Leader, Jeremy Corbyn and individual MPs such as John McDonnell, Richard Burgon and Ian Laverty.  However, the vast majority of backbench Labour MPs, many sponsored by trade unions, have yet to sign the motion and the pressure needs to be stepped up on them to sign by activists within the Party and unions.

The campaign for Richie’s reinstatement moves online with a virtual rally on Thursday 8th October at 7pm (details below).  Among those speaking at the Rally alongside Richie Venton himself, are the Amy Murphy National President of USDAW, Sarah Woolley the general secretary of the Bakers’ Union, a union that has been very active defending its members during the pandemic, Chris Stephens MP, and workers from across Britain involved in strikes and struggles during the pandemic.  For trade union activists across Britain, Ireland and internationally the rally is an important opportunity to build solidarity and do all they can to step up the pressure through action on IKEA in the coming weeks.

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