#OurTurnScotland

On this International Workers Day, we’re thinking about international solidarity.  Across the world, thousands of  unaccompanied children are living in squalor in refugee camps and we have a moral duty to help them.  Today, we have a guest blog from John Dennis, Secretary of Dumfries TUC speaking about the campaign.

I’d never heard of either Safe Passage or the Kindertransport Association until I got an email out of the blue from Margaret Woods, the well-known campaigner for refugees in Glasgow.

Margaret knows my family background as she’s heard me talk about it at a Holocaust Memorial event at the STUC HQ 3 years ago and at anti-racism rallies in Scotland.

My father, then called Kurt Deutsch, was rescued, aged nearly 10, from Prague in July 1939 as one of a train load of Jewish children organised by Nicholas Winton. He got his place as his father Ernst had already died in February 1939 of mistreatment and typhus in Theresienstadt Concentration Camp.

His mother Melanie sent him to Britain with a big black metal trunk filled with full sets of clothes in various sizes to last him for 3 to 4 years.

She kept up an almost daily stream of letters to him (which I’ve translated from German for my family) till the start of WW2. She managed to send intermittent letters via contacts in neutral countries until she and her relatives were rounded up and sent to Theresienstadt and then on to Auschwitz in March 1942.

My father was sent by Nicholas Winton’s organisation to Selkirk where he spent the war years in the Priory. It was then a Church of Scotland orphanage accommodating up to 20 mainly Jewish child refugees of both sexes.

At the end of the war Kurt changed his name (to Kenneth John Dennis) after he had discovered that his mother and almost all his relatives had been murdered. From a wee shy 10 year old Czech boy with German as his second language and no English, he managed, thanks to the support of Selkirk High School and the community there, to win a bursary to study medicine at Edinburgh University.

He met my mother, the daughter of his landlady in Edinburgh and they had 4 kids. After gaining experience in various Scottish hospitals, he worked as an obstetrician in Aberdeen for 12 years before eventually becoming professor in Southampton where he worked till his death in 1989.

I knew nothing about my father’s early life until I was 14. I knew he’d been brought up in an orphanage in Selkirk. All I knew was that his parents had both died in the war and that the subject was too distressing for him to discuss. I’d assumed up to that point that they’d both died in air raids.

Anyway , to return to Margaret Woods’ email : It was forwarding a call by Barbara Winton (daughter of Nicholas) and Safe Passage for former Kindertransport children and their relatives to a rally in London to mark the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport and at the same time to promote efforts to rescue unaccompanied child refugees from dire situations in camps in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

I attended the rally on November 15th with my mother and was impressed by the work done by Lord Alf Dubs and the Safe Passage charity. I was particularly pleased that many at the rally , including some of the now aged Kindertransport evacuees, booed the speech of the UK immigration minister Caroline Nokes.

Unfortunately the rally did not get much media coverage as it took place the same day as a number of Tory ministers resigned over Brexit.

Those involved in the Safe Passage Initiative have approached a number of local councils to help find families and organisations who are willing to take unaccompanied child refugees. To date hundreds of places have been found, mostly in England. So far no local authority in Scotland has pledged any places.

I thought that I could take this forward through my involvement with the trade union movement in Scotland. I am Secretary of Dumfries Trades Union Council and I was Secretary of Dumfries & Galloway EIS (the teachers’ union) for 12 years up till my retirement in 2017.

I have had pledges of support from leading members of the SNP, Labour, the Lib-Dems and Green parties in South West Scotland and I was very glad that the General Council of the STUC agreed to my proposal to launch the campaign at STUC HQ in Glasgow on 1st May – International Labour Day.

I’m sure that people in Scotland will come forward in numbers to offer homes to child refugees once they receive the call from Scotland’s Councils.

In the 1930s many Basque children fleeing Franco’s Fascists were found places in Scotland as were many of the Kindertransport kids in 1938-39.

We are looking for 10,000 places across the UK over the next few years to match the 1939 totals. The UK government has been deliberately putting bureaucratic obstacles in the way of child refugees and only 20 children had been allowed in by September 2018. We need as many people as possible to come forward and offer places in their homes to increase the political pressure on the Home Office so that vulnerable children can be rescued from the squalor of the refugee camps.

The campaign is launching on social media on Wednesday 1st May at 11am, you can keep up with it by looking at the hashtag #OurTurnScotland.

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Trade Union Solidarity with Palestine

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Recent events in Palestine underline the need for international solidarity, Rachel Thomson, Campaigns & Communications Officer, writes in advance of the STUC’s conferences on trade union solidarity with Palestine.

This week, on Wednesday the 24th of April, the STUC will be hosting two events on Scottish Trade Union Solidarity with Palestine.

The morning event will include ‘voices from Palestine’ and a focus on solidarity activity. The afternoon event, taking place from 2pm will involve sessions on Boycott Divestment Sanctions and will conclude with a panel discussion featuring trade unionists from across the movement, including UNISON’s Sam Macartney, co-chair of the International Committee.

Our conference comes at a time of continued turmoil for Palestinians.  Just this week, a teenager was shot twice by Israeli soldiers, while handcuffed and blindfolded. The 16 year old, Osama Hajahjeh, said the incident began after a funeral for a school teacher in his village of Tuqu, who had been hit by a car driven by an Israeli while walking at a busy intersection.

This shooting comes after weeks of violence and repression following the commemoration of Palestinian Land Day. As the Israeli journalist Amira Hass states, “To listen to Palestinian news every morning is torture”.

However, international solidarity continues on, giving hope and strength to Palestinians at home and across the diaspora. Earlier this month saw marches of solidarity in Nigeria, with hundreds of activists taking to the street in Iwo (Osun State), organised by Nigerian Friends of Palestine.  In Johannesburg, South Africa, activists came together to plant olive trees to commemorate Palestinian Land Day.

Closer to home, hundreds marched in London to mark Palestinian Land Day, with placards reading “Exist! Resist! Return!” and “Freedom to Palestine”. Additionally, this summer will see resistance to Israel’s hosting of the Eurovision song contest. Not The Eurovision: Party For Palestine, organised by Palestine Solidarity Campaign, will take place in London on May 18 – the day of the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, Israel. The concert, featuring Mercury Prize-winners Wolf Alice and rapper Mic Righteous aims to highlight and protest human rights violations experienced by Palestinians. The organisers argue that Israel is deploying “artwashing” tactics by using Eurovision as a way to mask its regime of apartheid and occupation.

At the moment the STUC is working with European Trade Unions to call on the EU and European countries to impose a ban on economic activity with illegal Israeli settlements.  If your trade union would like to show solidarity and get involved, please email ETU at etu.palestine@gmail.com.

We hope our events tomorrow will provide attendees with the knowledge, skills and inspiration to continue the fight for Palestinian people.  To register for the event, please email info@stug.org and to see the agendas in full, please click here.

Predicting the predictable

Watch out for a story in the Herald on Sunday tomorrow (14th April).

 It will re-hash a story of some months ago about STUC finances using the ‘hook’ that STUC has its Congress in the week coming.  The journo may try to fold in some other bits and bobs to try and construct a ‘thing’.  But there will be no new news and no real story.  It will suggest that an organisation which is in robust health (just ask our auditors) somehow isn’t, and that a movement which regularly takes Government to task is somehow not independent of it.

 It will throw up two big financial sounding figures and imply that the STUC is economically reliant on Scottish Government funding.  Someone (odds are on it being one of the normal go-to MSPs of this singularly unimaginative journalist) probably a Tory, a Liberal or another ‘usual suspect’, will attack us for being too close to Government. The journalist ‘may’ be able to find someone who will say that the SNP is too close to the STUC. 

 I doubt he will manage to get a Labour Party comment.  They understand that reasonable a relationship between government and unions to deliver on agreed objectives is a good thing, even when it’s not them.   There may I guess be a few social media comments from Labour supporters on the back of the story saying that we are not independent enough of the SNP.

 The bigger financial figure the journalist will cite – some £2.5 million – funds the Scottish Union Learning project. The STUC and our affiliated unions deliver structured adult learning opportunities based in the workplace.  The idea is that skills and learning are good things for individuals, employers and the economy.  Unions are trusted to deliver some of these opportunities in partnership with the employer. This is not highly controversial. The Tories fund a similar strategy for the TUC to deliver in England. Union learning has been funded in Scotland by government since it was first introduced, by the Labour/Liberal coalition Scottish Executive.

The smaller figure, some £250,000 per year, is used to fund collaborative work to promote the Fair Work Framework.  This government initiative has widespread support across the Parliament.  It is used primarily to promote an alternative vision of work in sectors such as hospitality and care where working conditions can be poor and pay too low.

These funds are used in their entirety to support the projects’ objectives.  It would be a tragedy if they were to disappear, thousands of workers would be denied the opportunity of personal and professional development. However it would not affect the rest of the work the STUC and unions do.

If you’re interested in that, just take a look at the General Council’s report to our Congress next week to get a sense of the depth and breadth of what we do.

Among those other things that we do includes supporting our affiliates when they take industrial action.  The two biggest events of last year to which we dedicated resources were the Glasgow Equal Pay strike targeting an SNP-led council and the Teachers Dispute targeting the Scottish Government.  Oh and there was the lobby outside the Scottish Parliament on budget day and our critical analysis of Derek MacKay’s budget and its subsequent changes to increase funding for local government.

We got plenty of flack from SNP supporters about these things.  The main charge was that we are too close to Labour. 

It is to the credit of the Scottish Government that never on a single occasion directly or by implication has it been suggested that we should pull our punches on such issues. 

This is a good job, because we never would.  We owe it to our affiliates and their members to represent their interests and these will always come first.  That means being critical when criticism is due and not indulging in political posturing when it is not.

We have a robust democracy which underlines this approach.  We will be held to account next week at our Congress.  Tomorrow, on the eve of Congress, we will highlight the situation of migrant workers in Scotland and call on the Scottish Government and employers to do more. 

It is a central issue going to the heart of the impact of Brexit, Scotland’s demographic challenges and the battle against exploitative work. 

One thing I won’t try and predict is whether the journalist or his paper will cover this issue. 

But let me guess …

 

Dave Moxham

Worker voice in the South of Scotland

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Walter Baxter / Galashiels Town Centre Redevelopment Works

As legislation is currently making its way through Parliament to establish a new South of Scotland Enterprise Agency, the STUC and the Jimmy Reid Foundation have published research on the South of Scotland economy. Francis Stuart introduces the research and highlights the key issues the agency must address.

Regional inequality in the UK is a well-recognised issue, with London and the South East hugely outperforming the rest of the UK. Many have emphasised that regional inequality was a driver of Brexit.

However, regional inequality is also a significant issue in Scotland. Areas such as the Borders and Dumfries and Galloway significantly underperform other parts of Scotland. That is part of the reason why the STUC commissioned the Jimmy Reid Foundation to undertake research into the South of Scotland economy.

Their research finds that the South of Scotland faces depopulation and falls in the working population, especially in rural and peripheral communities. Poverty and in-work poverty are high across the South of Scotland and higher costs of living exacerbate low incomes. There is a dependence on low paid employment, and continuing long-term decline in the previous dominant sectors of manufacturing, agriculture and public administration are forecast to continue for the next decade.

These challenges are why the STUC support the creation of a South of Scotland Enterprise Agency, as proposed in the new South of Scotland Enterprise Bill. However, for that agency to effectively address the challenges it must have Fair Work offering effective voice, opportunity, security, fulfilment and respect, at the core of the Agency’s aims and operations.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation research highlights that the most successful European Development Agencies are based on the inclusion of all social partners in development agencies and other governance structures, with workers recognised as essential partners in setting agendas and creating a better economy and society for all.

Ultimately, workers need to be at the heart of decisions taken about our economy. For too long, workers have been excluded from economic development strategies, plans and policies and the result has been a declining share of wages, increased inequality and the rise of in-work poverty.

If the new agency is serious about fair work and inclusive growth, it must have a trade union seat on the Board.

The new Agency has the opportunity to improve the South of Scotland economy and address regional imbalances within the Scottish economy. If it is to do so inclusively, it must put workers and trade unions at the heart of its approach.

To read the research in full, please click here.

Sorrow and solidarity as we stand up to racism

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On Saturday 16th March, as president of the Scottish TUC, along with an imam and local politicians, I stood before an assembled crowd that defied sleety Glasgow rain to express collective sorrow and solidarity for the victims of terrorist atrocities in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Speaking at the start of this march was the most emotionally challenging task in my year as STUC president so far.

We can take heart that across the world on 16 March people massed on the streets in unity and in strength to stand up to racism and fascism.

The murderous shooting of 50 women, men and children at prayer in mosques is a pure act of terrorism. It’s a terrible reminder where Islamophobia and far right ideas can lead.

The trade union movement is internationalist and rooted in equality and justice for all, and we stand in solidarity with our New Zealand sisters and brothers and with Muslims here in the UK.

We stand as one against fascism.

Those gathered in London, Cardiff and Glasgow as anti racists would of course rather we were organising processions and carnivals to celebrate our diversity and inclusion. But while the fascists are on our streets and in our news feeds, and running killing sprees in our places of worship we must show that we are the many and they are indeed the few, to borrow, third hand that well used but approriate quote from Shelley.

My union, PCS and the Scottish TUC support the annual Stand Up to Racism March events as part of that world wide raising of the anti racist voice.

When white supremiscists set out to shoot and kill, they are presented as lone wolves. But they are not.

We must express our deep concern over the sinister but quiet rise of far right ideas representing as “mainstream” and the normalisation of racism in work and in society as a misplaced response to austerity economics and a breakdown in trust of institutions and politics. We know that far-right organise around “anti-establishment” sentiment online, through street protest, non-party and non organisation-defined.

The Scottish trade union movement stands by workers, families and communities scarred by racist murders, racist policies and racial harassment. I am proud to have stood with:

  • The Chhokar family campaign for justice
  • Sheku Bayou’s family
  • Kamil family hunger strike outside Brand street
  • Leith Seikh temple

We oppose and call out anti-semitism and Islamophobia as two sides of the same coin.

I am proud that my PCS sisters Shavanah Taj and Zita Holborn addressed the Cardiff and London rallies respectively. As black trade union women in Britain they know the lived experience of everyday racism and the cold fear of deliberate government scapegoating of people of colour whether through racial immigration policies’ pay inequalities or a lack of justice.

Our sorrow and solidarity this weekend is with the victims of the attacks in New Zealand and we send a message of love and light and with peoples the world over committed to stamping out racism.

But as trade unionist we believe in organising – and we resolve to organise in our workplaces and in our communities against racism however it manifests itself. But our organising muscle and agitational strength will be nothing if we don’t also educate against ignorance and prejudice.

The role that unions have driving back austerity and giving all workers voice is first line of defence in anti-fascism.

Inspiring Women of our Movement

Scotland’s trade union movement isn’t short of strong women leaders, but although they make up more than 50% of our history, they didn’t always get to tell 50% of the story

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For International Women’s Day, learn about the inspiring women who shaped the trade union movement in Scotland over the last hundred years and more.

The labour and trade union history archives at Glasgow Caledonian Unviersity opened their doors in February for women who are leading our union movement today to come and re-discover inspirational women from the past, including:

Kate Maclean
Mary Barbour
Ethel Chipcase
Helen Crawfurd
Mary Brooksbank
Agnes Maclean
Rachel Devine
Helen Oliver
Mary Anderson
Martha Frew
Ethel Macdonald
and others…

Happy International Women’s Day!

Don’t Pull the Drawbridge Up Behind You – Building Up the Women’s Movement

For International Women’s Day, the Chair of the STUC Women’s Committee describes what brought her into the movement and what is driving the work of the committee this year.

My name is Joyce Stevenson, and I am proud and excited to be Chairperson of the STUC Women’s Committee this year.

Each time I attend the STUC Women’s Conference, I see more of the positive work being undertaken by amazing women to advance the women’s movement.

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Joyce Stevenson, Chairperson of STUC Women’s Committee

And being on the STUC Women’s Committee since 2011 has given me an enjoyable avenue for promoting women’s issues and the equality agenda of women and children.

Two things happened in my childhood that were instrumental in me becoming involved in the equality movement.

When I was 9, my family immigrated to Detroit. It was a complete culture shock. It was at the end of the race riots and the school I attended was in an all-white neighbourhood. I couldn’t understand segregation and why it could be allowed, far less be deemed normal. Detroit at the time had confined African Americans to small parts of the city.

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Race riots in Detroit

It was a further 18 months before the school was open to all students. I remember mum and dad sitting me down and telling me to be friendly to everyone. Little did they know that having a Scottish accent (which I was not giving up) meant that I was who would be stared at!

I also credit my mum with giving me the drive to get involved in the equality movement: a strong woman, widowed at 39 with 3 children, in a foreign country and having to make the decision to come back to Scotland. I saw first-hand the struggle she had and how the state and the taxation system treated her as a single mother. One of her favourite sayings was ‘what’s the point in having an opinion if you don’t express it?’ So you can blame mum for my forthright manner!

I have been a member of the Communication Workers’ Union for over 40 years (although I always give my age as 34, and holding). I have been an Operator dealing with 999 calls since starting work with BT in 1978, holding many different posts as my union and the 999 service have evolved. Those who know me as Vice Chair of the CWU’s Standing Orders Committee will know that I am quite rule-book oriented!

Weekend Schools, Mental Health, and Solidarity!

Since my election the committee has finalised a busy work plan for the year ahead. We have sought this year to focus on equality and fair work in each of our objectives and priorities.

This year the Committee will continue to host weekend schools for women to share ideas and get to know each other alongside our more formal work. We know that many women have found the schools to be excellent, and have used the skills learned at them to become more involved within the STUC and their own trade unions.

It’s all about mentoring and giving women the skills and confidence to realise their potential in whatever they want to do. It’s also about making sure we never pull the drawbridge up behind us.

As well as weekend schools, the committee plans to build on the Mental Health Workshops that were held last year in conjunction with the Youth Committee and the Black Workers committee. Mental health is raised at every conference I attend, and we need more training for our reps.

Union reps face their own mental health issues through the stress of supporting members. They are often the first person a member comes to with their own workplace stresses, and the Women’s Committee will work to make sure that reps in turn are supported to deal with the strain of representing, which can sometimes become a difficult part of the overwhelmingly positive – and often very joyful – role of a rep.

So whether you are new to the women’s movement or have been active for as long as me, I am happy and honoured to work with you as the Chair of the STUC Women’s Committee in the coming year.

For more information about the STUC women’s committee follow @stucwomen on Twitter or visit the Women’s Committee webpage
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