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Let down by John Lewis stance on cleaners - letter

Let down by John Lewis stance on cleaners

guardian.co.uk, 17 Sept 2012

As a regular John Lewis customer, I was disappointed to read of the partnership's practice of outsourcing cleaning to firms that pay their workers low rates and offer little job security, and few or none of the rights and benefits offered to "partners" (The John Lewis motto should be 'never knowingly underpay', 14 September). Like many others, I shop at John Lewis in the belief that it is among the more ethical and socially responsible of retailers. The John Lewis Partnership's profits are owed, in part, to this consumer choice.

If JLP were to take its cleaners back into the partnership, this could help promote good employer practice in the retail sector. A cleaning job with the company would become a gateway to a decent standard of living for some of the most marginalised and underpaid workers. Guardian readers can exercise their consumer muscle by writing to Charlie Mayfield (chairman) and Andy Street (managing director) before the November board meeting to press for a change of policy.

Hilda Smith, feminist and co-operator

Hilda Smith, MBE - ‘To hope, to dare and do’.

Hilda Smith, a distinguished feminist and co-operator, died recently aged 94. Born and raised in Burnley, she started work at 14 earning six shillings a week in a sewing factory.

Active in the feminist, co-operative and labour movements for over 50 years, her relentless commitment to social and gender equality stands out as an example of selfless commitment to the wellbeing and welfare of others. Hilda constantly fought for the things that she believed in, she was practically minded, compassionate and stoical in her determination.

Hilda started her political career in 1958 serving her apprenticeship in Woking Co-operative Womens Guild. In 1963 she was elected to the Political Purposes Committee of the influential Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society (RACS), becoming its first and only female chair within a short space of time. RACS was the only Society directly affiliated to the Labour Party. She used her influence to ensure that the voice of ordinary women and their families was heard by the Labour Party and Government, with easy access to Labour Ministers and Prime Minsters.

For Hilda, the 'personal was the political'. As a women who entered formal education in her mid forties, Hilda knew from experience that access to social, educational and economic opportunities was a key issue. She worked alongside prominent women MPs and trade union leaders on the National Joint Committee of Working Women (NJC), to bring about the introduction of the Equal Pay Act in 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act in 1975, and the formation of the Equal Opportunities Commission, who took steps to bring this to the fore.

As a patient in a TB sanatorium from 1947 to 1950, Hilda understood the importance of preventive health. She contributed extensively on health policy issues and chaired an NJC national working group which produced a comprehensive ‘Health Care for Women’ policy document (1977), (Virago). As a former nurse and as a social worker, Hilda contributed extensively to the NJC’s evidence to Government inquiries. including the Seebohm Committee (1969), the Finer Commission on Single Parent Families (1974), and the NHS Royal Commission (1979). She championed new and neglected issues and, in 1982, authored an NJC food policy statement which recommended developing a Government policy on food and nutrition to build a national approach to healthy eating. .

Throughout, she was never concerned with courting popularity. In 1981, against wider conventional opinion she supported a National Minimum Wage campaign because she knew this would help millions of women.

In 1990 she received a Shadow Ministry for Women award for “her lifetime, particularly within the Co-operative Movement, fighting for equality for women and for their full representation at all levels of the Labour Movement”.

Her meticulously-kept NJC papers and encouragement led Labour historian Christine Collette to take a fresh look in her book, the ‘Newer Eve’, at what was called the ‘second wave of feminism'.

On retiring to Wales, Hilda continued her work as Health Convenor for the Fawcett Society. She was very active for another 26 years and was awarded an MBE in the 2013 Honours List for “services to frail and vulnerable people”.

It is hard to measure the impact of Hilda Smith upon the way in which we have become committed to equality over the last 40 years. Her quiet determination and relentless passion helped to improve the lives of many people who will never know her name or understand her contribution. She lived life with purpose and with passion to deliver a greater vision of a fair and just society, and helped to make this world a better place.

David Smith

Hilda is survived by her sons Peter and myself, three grandchildren and nine grandchildren

Hilda Smith, born 10 February 1919, died 27 March 2013

 

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