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Co-Operative Funeralcare - The History

In 2007 The Co-operative Board de-recognised GMB after more than 100 years, terminating a relationship that went back to the 19th Century Victorian era. This was a sad day for democracy, Trade Union rights and ethics given the background of The Co-operative movement, a group owned by its members which claims to be 'Different.'

The Co-operative then found itself ostracised form the wider TUC movement and a motion moved by GMB and seconded by USDAW was passed unanimously at the TUC Congress in 2008 condemning their draconian decision and pledging all unions support to work to overturn that decision. The Co-operative Party also passed a motion supporting GMB members in Funeralcare at their annual conference.

The Co-operative found itself banned from TUC and Labour Party Conferences, Tolpuddle Martyrs festival, Workers Beer events, Wortley Hall and a whole host of other events and activities where they had been previously welcomed. Undeterred the Co-operative Board ploughed on regardless and moved even more to the right doing deals with the likes of Rupert Murdoch’s News of The World. Just look where that principled paper ended up.

GMB disgusted by such an organisation that trades on its ‘Ethical principles’, promotes ‘Fairtrade’ and urges members to carry the card with a conscience when clearly the board have lost theirs remained determined to overturn the boards decision and fight on for GMB members employed in Funeralcare.

A propaganda sheet put out by the Co-operative in July 2009, unsigned but titled ‘Funeralcare and GMB background briefing’ tried to counteract all the anger that was being directed at The Board by Trade Unions and individual Co-operative members, many of whom were now boycotting the stores in disgust. It tried to justify their decision dismissing GMB as a ‘Non specialist Trade Union’ and as ‘Not being representative of their entire business.’ Further it went on to say we had a ‘Small membership in Funeralcare.’ The facts are somewhat different. GMB is the only specialised union in Funeralcare and not just The Co-operative. GMB is made up of amalgamations of many other unions including the former National Union of Funeral Service Operatives which merged with FTAT in 1978 and then GMB in 1993 making us the only specialised union in the funeral business.

GMB have membership right across the group in travel, retail and are the only union recognised in Co-operative Clothing factory.

GMB membership was growing at the time of de-recognition because only GMB were taking up and dealing with the issues of concern to our membership. We don’t sit in the pocket of any management.

Whilst initially (due to bullying and management intimidation and some managers handing out application forms for another union) GMB membership declined in Funeralcare, since January 2011 GMB membership has increased by around 20% and before the end of this year we confidently predict that GMB membership will far exceed 2007 levels. GMB are back, although despite what senior management said, we never went away in the first place.

The Co-operative Congress in 2009 passed a special report entitled 'Building links between the Co-operative and Trade Union movement.'

They said 'Given the similar values, principles, and history shared by The Co-operative and Trade Union Movements, greater and more creative efforts should be made to build links and collaboration between the two movements.'

Mick Laws, South East Co-operative Regional Board member and GMB Branch Secretary, Regional and Central Executive Member pointed out in his speech that this could not happen until the board changed its mind on the de-recognition of GMB due to the TUC Motion passed in 2008.

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