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.

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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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Orange Order parade should not be passing St Alphonsus Church on Saturday

An Orange Order parade is scheduled to go past St Alphonsus Church in Calton where a priest was spat on last July. Glasgow City Council was wrong to agree to this route. In solidarity, I intend to join other trade unionists in the peaceful protest which has been organised for Saturday.

In working for the STUC I have organised a lot of marches in Glasgow over the years.  These have been broadly speaking ‘political’ marches aimed at demonstrating that many people, both our members and across wider society, have a specific view about an industrial or social issue.  I have never laboured under the misapprehension that everyone agrees with us, nor that some people might be offended by the opinions we espouse.  We have, no doubt, offended racists by marching against racism, and homophobes when we march for LGBT+ rights.  There are, no doubt, some folk who disagree with us when trade unions march for Equal Pay for Glasgow’s Women or fair pay for Scotland’s teachers. 

We also sometimes explicitly march against particular groups – counter-demonstration.  We have organised marches in opposition to organisations such as the English or Scottish Defence Leagues which have, as a primary purpose, the identification and harassment of racial minorities.  This is trade union solidarity. We march to send a message to the targeted minority that they are not alone and to isolate the extremists.

In the course of organising such marches, I have frequently been required to negotiate over a whole range of issues – routes, timings, the use of music, to name but a few.  This can be frustrating.  There are a number of restrictions and there is an expectation from the Council and the Police that we show ‘give and take’ to balance the rights of our members and their supporters to march and the rights of civilians to go about their daily lives without undue alarm.  In short, we don’t always get the route that we want. 

Part of march route negotiations also require us to take a degree of responsibility for incidents and behaviours that might be linked to our march.  There is no absolute rule here. For example, when I was one of the main organisers of the 2003 anti-war march in Glasgow, there was no suggestion that I could be held responsible for the behaviours of all 150,000 people who attended that march. We were however required to work with the police to identify potential flash points. And whatever march I organise, I am required to monitor what happens in and around my marches and to co-operate with authorities to prevent unnecessary risk and to obviate causing unnecessary distress.

At the very least, this is what should be expected of the organisers of Orange Parades.

Last month, a man pled guilty to having assaulted Canon Tom White on July 7th 2018. Canon White had been spat on and lunged at as the annual Boyne parade passed St Alphonsus Church in Calton on July 7.  Abuse hurled at the priest included ‘Fenian Scum’.

In court, Sheriff Andrew Cubie told the guilty man “I want you to be under no illusion at all, spitting is disgusting and cowardly and this was done in the context of a sectarian atmosphere which is an embarrassment to the West of Scotland.”

None of this is untrue. But what also needs to be said is that this was, specifically, an anti-Catholic crime. In my view it is also anti-Irish racism.  (I make the latter assertion without even needing to know whether Canon White would identify as Irish or not). 

As Canon White himself has said ‘Just using a label like sectarianism doesn’t help in these instances – these crimes are specific and a blanket term of sectarianism does not identify it for what it was.  We need to be more honest about the nature of the crimes.  It was specifically an anti-Catholic crime and a hate crime’

The response from the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland to the original crime was to “totally condemn the bigoted actions of those involved and hope that they are dealt with to the full extent of the law.” The Lodge also stated that no person who was part of the formal parade had been involved in the incident.

The Lodge asserts that the Orange Order is founded on the principle of religious liberty and respect for people of all faiths.  When it comes to parades, I think the majority of people in Scotland would agree that this strains the bounds of credibility.  There have been calls to ban marches and Glasgow City Council has pledged to reduce their frequency, though the success of this policy is very far from clear. 

Irrespective of this particular aspect of the debate, what is entirely clear to me is that the parade on Saturday should not pass St Alphonsus.

Moreover, serious consideration should be given to going further than this. There are 2000 streets in Glasgow and fewer than 2% of them hold a Catholic church.

As a matter of respect and to employ due diligence to avoid such incidents being repeated elsewhere, Glasgow City Council should now be giving very serious consideration to the re-routing, as a matter of policy, of any parade that passes a Catholic church.

STUC on Scottish Budget

Commenting on the Scottish Budget, STUC General Secretary , Grahame Smith said:

“We are deeply disappointed that Mr McKay’s public sector pay policy does nothing to make amends for a decade of pay cuts for public workers.  Better pay means better services and more demand to boost local economies. The Scottish Government has failed to recognise the urgency of this issue.

“Freezing the higher rate threshold is a positive move, but it is the least we would expect from a Government which is committed to raising revenue for public services. Given the pressures on the Scottish economy and the need to support living standards, the Finance Secretary should have been bolder, using the powers at his disposal to properly resource the public sector and provide the economic stimulus the economy needs.

“Business rates caps are untargeted giveaways, with little evidence that they support economic growth. Rather than seeking an easy headline, the Scottish Government should use this revenue to support local communities by properly resourcing local authorities and supporting the real economy where most people work.

“Commitments to support the high street are welcome, as is the commitment to fair work first. The test for both of these issues will be effective engagement with unions and workers. It would be unforgivable if the Scottish Government’s approach to the supporting the high street replicates the failures in the UK and fails to provide an opportunity for workers to be heard.”

ENDS

For further details

Dave Moxham 07891026870

Scotland’s Just Transition and the Gilets Jaunes

Today, the Scottish Government announced the first tranche of commissioners and the remit of the Just Transition Commission.  In our view it is unfortunate at best that the Government did not wait until it was in a position to announce the full membership of the Commission.  Perception is vital, and we are now busily allaying concerns about a ‘two-tier’ Commission.  We are assured that the final Commission membership will include trade unions and environmental groups, who lobbied for the body in the first place.  The sooner this becomes clear, the better.

We are however strongly welcoming of the Government’s support for a Just Transition Commission which we believe should endure well beyond its initial two years phase. In announcing its first three members in Poland today, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said “We are committed to achieving carbon neutrality while growing a sustainable economy that improves the opportunities, life chances and wellbeing of every citizen of Scotland, and I am absolutely determined that this will be done in a way that is socially inclusive.”   These are important ambitions which the STUC can fully support.  Achieving it will require a fundamental rethink of how such change can be delivered.

In the light of events in France, it has never been clearer that radical social and economic change, trade union and community organising, democratic ownership, and massive government intervention are all essential companions in the transition to a low carbon economy.

The cost of approaching climate transition without justice will be the failure of policy and a deepening environmental catastrophe.  The World Health Organisation estimates that by 2030, climate change will cause 250,000 additional deaths per year, due to malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.  The majority of those deaths will be in the ‘developing’ world rather than on these shores.

The cost could also be the rise of the far right.  Donald Trump was quick to try to connect with Gilets Jaunes , tweeting that the French had come around to his skepticism about the Paris climate change agreement and the cost of fighting global warming.

Trump would do well to note though that the Gilets Jaunes are much more than a bunch of fuel protestors.  Indeed, had they been, Macron’s decision to scrap the tax on fuel should have seen the disintegration of the movement.  That this has not yet taken place, suggests that the movement addresses itself to much wider and deeper economic social issues.

Writing in the Jacobin Magazine, Auriele Dianara, describes the aims of the Gilets Jaunes thus: The main proposals formulated thus far are a general decrease in taxation and the creation of a “citizen’s assembly” to discuss the ecological transition, respect for citizens’ voices, the increase in purchasing power, and renewed value being attributed to labor. The assembly would also discuss such diverse measures as a ban on glyphosphate, the marketing of biofuels, the abolition of the senate, the organization of frequent local and national-level referenda, the increase in subsidies for the creation of jobs (and not precarious ones), respect for gender parity and equal treatment, an increase in the minimum wage, and the cutting of employers’ social contributions.

This is hardly, of itself, a coherent manifesto, but it is sufficient to banish any suggestion that the Gilets Jaunes is a movement of the far right and that energy prices and taxes are the sole driver for the upsurge in activity.

Yet, although energy and climate change are not the sole driver for the movement, it is likely that the issues of Just Transition to a low carbon society will continue to be a major source of dislocation between the elite centre of politics and citizens and workers.  This is true for France but also an issue across Europe and beyond.

Macron’s mission is to socially and economically transform France.  He is doing this through tax cuts for the rich, attacks on workers’ rights, welfare and pension cuts. This transformation is being resisted by organised formations such as the French trade unions but the protest has now spread and is sending panic through the French political system.

In a speech described by the Guardian as a “rare display of humility and deliberate empathy with the anger among voters living outside of France’s big cities, Macron conceded that he must avoid a “two-speed France” emerging, where workers in outer-urban areas felt left behind. However it is highly unlikely that he will rise to this challenge.  Indeed much of the centrist elite has attempted to attack the Gilets Jaunes. In a recent article ”Chaque personne qui insultait un gilet jaune insultait mon père” author Edouard Louis excoriates the media attempts to smear the participants as “country bumpkins” or stupid opponents of progress.

At the same time as denigrating the Gilets Jaunes, the same elite are scrabbling around for policies which will pacify the movement. This will not be possible whilst the elite moralises about the climate and business continues to make huge profits, meanwhile leaving the clean-up to the workers. It is simply wrong to categorise the protestors as not caring about climate change. What they care about is the rich getting richer, major companies paying little in tax,  while workers and citizens bear the brunt of transition.

These events might seem some way removed from the announcement of the Scottish Just Transition Commission.  However (as was recognised by the Scottish Parliament Energy and Climate Change Committee when I gave evidence to it recently) the question of ‘taking people with us’ is key.  And taking people with us has to mean far more than finding a few policies to pacify the masses.

Workers’ experiences of previous industrial ‘transitions’ has not been good.  In the 1980s, the closing of the pits, immiseration of heavy industry, privatisation of key utilities, all led to the loss of quality jobs and the destruction of communities.   The current transition to the ‘knowledge economy’ has been partnered with a rise of low wage, precarious jobs.  Automation has too often been a driver for poorer quality work rather than the improvement of working conditions and the paid reduction of the working week.

The energy transition thus far has seen thousands of high quality jobs destroyed and far too few created.  The biggest single contributor to Scotland’s most recent emissions reduction was the closure of the coal-fired power station at Longannet.  Decently paid, unionised jobs are being lost and not replaced. Emission cuts of 69% from energy and 73% from waste contrast with reductions of 28% from agriculture, 21% from residential, and just 3% from transport.

In addition much of these domestic emissions reductions, for example in agriculture, have been offshored. While much is made of the targets in Scotland’s Climate Change Act, Scotland’s emissions associated with consumption (e.g emissions generated at home and abroad in the production and transport of the goods and services that we consume) have only reduced by 8.6% between 1998 and 2014.

At the same time as this has happened energy prices have increased.  Over 2.5 million people in the UK are in fuel poverty and we are financing new development through charges on energy bills which disproportionately impact on the least well off.

In Scotland the strong progress towards onshore and offshore wind generation has seen overseas competitors snap up contracts while workers such as those at Bi Fab are idle. The much heralded jobs bonanza has not occurred.  Where jobs have been created they have too often been of lower quality than jobs lost and too often non-unionised.

The Just Transition Commission must have at its core, the purpose of an economic transformation which meets the aim of improving the opportunities, life chances and wellbeing of every citizen of Scotland.  Its levers may be limited (with key powers being held at Westminster), but it will be in a position to make recommendations based on an analysis of the current failures of Just Transition as well as the role of key institutions such as the Scottish National Investment Bank and the planned publicly owned energy company.  It can take a view about transport policy and infrastructure investment.  It should assess the jobs impact of transition and have Fair Work (including the importance of collective bargaining) as a key indicator and driver of success.

Alongside this, trade unions will campaign for public ownership, of transport and the utilities, for increases in wages across all sectors of the economy and for a progressive and redistributive tax system.  There will be no justice unless those who are responsible for emissions – namely multinationals and the better off in society who consume the most, are those who bear the brunt of the cost of transition.

The Scottish Government is right to point to the future opportunities that Just Transition can generate, but we will only get to that place if we find a way to start delivering justice now.

Dave Moxham

Deputy General Secretary