Salute: The Story Behind a Powerful Image of Resistance

As the Radical Film Festival prepares to screen Salute: The Story Behind The Image, our guest blog explores the symbolism of the the clenched fist salute at the 1968 Mexico Olympics. With a panel discussion involving Layla Roxanne-Hill (NUJ Glasgow Branch) and Melina Valdelièvre from the STUC Black Workers’ Committee, it is a story well worth hearing.

Salute: The Story Behind the Image
6pm, 19 May
CCA, Sauchiehall St, Glasgow

Sportspeople have long played a role in standing up against inequalities and highlighting social injustice. We can see this through the work of Show Racism the Red Card and also, the high profile Take the Knee actions throughout the NFL in the USA.

The clenched fist Salute of solidarity by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico Olympics was an iconic moment in the USA Civil Rights movement. The photo of the three athletes on the winning podium has provided us with an image that has crossed generations and continues to permeate popular and political culture as a call to arms.

‘Salute’ is the documentary feature which provides insight into the moment when two Black American athletes protest racism, the war in Vietnam and Civil Rights. But what is not common knowledge is the role of Australian Peter Norman, the third man on the podium.

The film focuses on Norman, who showed his support for Tommie Smith and John Carlos by donning an “Olympic Project for Human Rights” (OPHR) badge on his way to the podium. It was also Norman who suggested to Smith and Carlos that they share the black gloves used in their salute, after Carlos had left his gloves in the Olympic Village. This is the reason for Smith raising his right fist, while Carlos raised his left.

download.jpegAsked later about his support of Smith and Carlos’ cause by the world’s press, Norman said he opposed his country’s government’s White Australia policy.

The film documents the subsequent reprimand of Norman by the Australian Olympic authorities, and his ostracism by the Australian media.

Despite Norman running qualifying times for both the 100m and 200m during 1971/72, the Australian Olympic track team did not send him to the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. It also documents Norman’s reunion with Smith and Carlos, shortly before his death in 2006.

This film screening has been organised by the Radical Film Network as part of the Radical Film Festival 6818, which runs throughout May to remember the tumultuous events of 1968 and that legacy relates to 2018. This screening has been sponsored by GMB Glasgow General Apex Branch and NUJ Glasgow Branch. The film will be briefly introduced by Kevin Buchanan (GMB Glasgow General Apex Branch), following the screening, there will be a short panel-led discussion with Layla Roxanne-Hill (NUJ Glasgow Branch), Melina Valdelièvre (STUC Black Workers Committee), Dr David Archibald (Glasgow University) and Ilisa Stack (Documentary photographer).

Come along and support this event and learn more about the back drop to that most powerful of moments fifty years ago and how popular culture can and does play a crucial role in changing cultural attitudes, norms and political discourse and action.

Tickets are available from CCA on a sliding scale from £0.00 – £8.00 – the Radical Film Network aim to ensure that the cost of a ticket does not prevent anyone from attending.

Kind to Women – how the 1967 Abortion Act changed our lives

Ahead of tonight’s screening of “Kind to Women – how the 1967 Abortion Act changed our lives”, Jillian Merchant (Vice Chair, Abortion Rights Scotland) shares her thoughts on the difference the Act has made to women’s lives and the continuing fight for abortion rights.

The passing of the 1967 Abortion Act was a pivotal moment for women’s health and women’s lives in Scotland. The culmination of decades of campaigning, it finally ended the horror of deaths from self-induced and backstreet abortions. It precipitated the public funding of contraception for all and meant that, finally, women were able to choose when and whether to have children.

In this moving documentary, women who survived illegal abortion, the nurses who picked up the pieces when things went wrong, campaigning doctors and abortion rights advocates share vivid memories of the time and bring to life the story of this ground-breaking legislation and of a historic turning point for women’s rights.

The timing is apt. As the film begins Scotland’s Court of Session will just, hours before, have concluded a two day hearing where the anti choice lobby group, the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) are asking the Court to strike down the Scottish Government’s decision to designate a woman’s home as a place where the second abortion pill can be taken. (More on that here).

And in less than a fortnight Ireland will go to the polls in a referendum on the 8th amendment. It is the 8th amendment which gives both the unborn foetuses and pregnant women an equal right to life. This is an abortion ban, in all but name. It is one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the western world.  If the referendum is won the law will provide for medical abortion on request for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. With the drugs being prescribed by the woman’s GP.

For many the turning point which precipitated the referendum was the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012. Savita died because she was refused an abortion. Had Savita been permitted access to an abortion, as she requested, her life would have been saved.

The 25th May is a reckoning in Ireland’s history. It is a test of whether the ground swell of progressive social conscience which was on show during the equal marriage referendum, only two years ago, can be repeated. However, abortion rights campaigners are not naïve. It is not as simple as believing that the equal marriage vote means that attitudes have changed to abortion. For some abortion, and the sanctity of life, is at the very core of their religious and moral being. In those terms it is a far more radical step than the equalisation of marriage.

As is always the case the anti choice campaigners are well funded. Recent media reports by Open Democracy and the Guardian have revealed what many of us on the pro choice side have long suspected – concerning links to American Pro Life Groups and those who provided support to Donald Trump’s 2016 Campaign where he sought to seek division between voters in order to ascend to the US Presidency.

All of this shows that a woman’s body and her autonomy to make decisions over her own body are, regrettably, still a matter of public debate. This has to end.

The law on abortion in Scotland has changed little, if at all, since it was introduced 50 years ago. Abortion is still a crime.  There is still the requirement for the signature of two doctors – unlike any other healthcare procedure. There has been no attempt to update the legislation to take account of changes in modern medicine or the realities of women’s lives.

The Scottish Government’s decision on Abortion Pills was the first of it’s kind within the UK. Although seen as politically courageous, there is widespread international medical consensus that the abortion pill is safe and clinically appropriate to take at home. Indeed many countries including the United States, France and Sweden already permit it.

Ironically enough, the exact same pill is permitted to be taken at home in Scotland at present. But only after a woman has miscarried.

This demonstrates that the drugs are entirely safe. There is no reason as to why it cannot be taken at home. There is only judgment from those who do not, and will never, find themselves in the situation many women do.

The truth is that the anti choice lobby want to restrict a woman’s right to choose; to fight progress at every stage and to drive abortion back to backstreets, endangering the lives of women in the process.

Let’s ensure that they fail.

Let’s unite as women and progressives to defend the 1967 Act but also campaign for changes to bring this outdated and draconian piece of legislation into the 21st century.

There are still tickets available for the event here.


We’re All in This Together: Our Personal & Collective Power around Mental Health

The STUC is hosting a Mental Health day on 19th May (details below), shaped and promoted by the STUC Equalities committees, to discuss what needs to change at work and in wider society, and how we can support ourselves and each other.

More so now than ever, mental health is a trade union issue. Employment is becoming increasingly precarious for too many workers in Scotland. Low pay and under-employment are rife. Stress and anxiety are becoming normal features of our lives. And life outside of work is increasingly precarious too, with soaring rents in the private sector, spikes in the cost of living, and mounting levels of personal debt. It is no wonder that one in four people suffer mental ill health each year.

The Equality Committees of the Scottish Trades Union Congress have each identified mental health as a key priority for 2018/19. We know that public services that once helped people mitigate mental ill health are stretched to breaking point due to years of cuts. And we also know there are deep structural and cultural problems that lead to workers from under-represented communities being disproportionately impacted by poor mental well-being, and having greater barriers put in the way of treatment and support.

The levels of social isolation and loneliness have increased amongst a variety of demographics, notably men and young people, in correlation with the rise in mental ill health generally.

stuc-mental-health-event.jpgWith over two-thirds of people in Glasgow reporting that they have experienced loneliness and 1.2 million chronically lonely older people in the UK, the newly launched Campaign to End Loneliness[1] calls loneliness ‘endemic’.

There is a social context to the rise in mental ill health and it’s one which means that people cannot simply ‘get over it’ or ‘deal with it’, without a sharp turn towards breaking down these structural barriers.

The Lonely Society, a 2010 report commissioned by The Mental Health Foundation, noted a link between our “individualistic society” and an increase in mental health issues over the past 50 years. It also drew on research showing that mental health problems occur more frequently in unequal societies where vulnerable people are often undervalued and socially neglected.

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 09.12.24.png

‘The Lonely Society?’ report examines how modern society has changed the way people connect. It aims to raise awareness of loneliness and its effect on our mental health. [2]

An intersectional response is needed. One which recognises that older LGBT+ people report even higher levels of loneliness and isolation, that the BME community confront disproportionately higher levels of mental ill health in part due to the continual systemic harassment and subsequent isolation many feel, that young men feel disempowered and lonely partly due to the economic and industrial changes in the way society has shifted thereby often perpetuating the toxic masculinity which harms so many, and that women being sexually harassed can cause or exacerbate mental ill health and women’s image of themselves.

A short-term policy response will not cure this endemic, but a multi-faceted and well-resourced strategy, which places the idea of a well-resourced community at the core, can mitigate against social isolation and loneliness, reversing the tide in favour of social cohesion.

This event on 19th May at the STUC building in Glasgow will explore how we use our personal and collective power to deal with the challenges of modern day life and the impact it has on our individual mental health, as well as the shared mental health of society.

Discussing these issues in the context of austerity and public service cuts and job losses, an increase in social media and automation, and increasing precarity and alienation at work, we want to investigate a joint approach to mental ill health in 2018 Scotland.

Our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, therefore we believe that the only way to combat isolation and loneliness is to eradicate the causes of the high increases in anxiety, depression, physical isolation, and breakdown in social cohesion.

Organisations which put co-operation and emulation above competition require to be resourced and allowed to flourish. Trade unions, which remain the largest organisation of people in the UK, are well placed to encourage this and to provide a sense of belonging and identity where people can form bonds through collective activity.




Labour of Love – Film Festivals Speak Out On Working Conditions

In hives of creative industry across the country freelance work is standard practice. But the grumbling in these hives is getting louder as work is becoming less secure. The industry expects more work to be done ‘in kind’, or through the ‘labour of love’. Initiatives like the In Kind project are highlighting how much ‘free time’ is given to festivals – while Better than Zero is supporting workers in these industries to build trade union activity.

Film festivals are in particular straits, and an event tomorrow will bring together freelance film-makers, as part of the STUC-sponsored Radical Film Festival, to discuss solutions, methods and opportunities for re-valuing film festivals and creating sustainable work in the field, in part through trade union activity. Better than Zero, the trade union campaign against precarious work, will be on the panel, and union activists from the entertainment union BECTU will be taking part. In a guest post, Alexandra Maria Colta writes about tomorrow’s event.

5 May 2018 | 3-6 pm | STUC, Glasgow

Event link:
RFN event:

The RFN 68/18 Festival channels the revolutionary spirit of 1968 with a series of events, screenings and artworks across Glasgow throughout May 2018. Labour of Love – Festivals Speak Out on Working Conditions addresses the gap between the increasing economic and cultural value of film festivals and the constant struggle for sustainability, fair working conditions and diversity of staff. The event will take place on Saturday, 5 May 2018, at the STUC (333 Woodlands Road, Glasgow) at 3-6 pm. The event is free and un-ticketed.

The first of its kind in Scotland, the event will bring together people who have worked for or coordinated some of Glasgow’s most exciting alternative festivals such as Document,SQIFFSMHAFFAfrica in MotionSouthside Film FestivalBlueprint and New Visions. With input from unions and academics, the panel discussion will be followed by a workgroup session with the aim to generate a set of objectives and demands to inspire further action and change.

The event’s unique focus is on alternative, smaller, community-oriented, activist film festivals and curators in Glasgow and beyond, who have a specific set of challenges and demands. Every year, these festivals create opportunities to see films that would not have been screened otherwise, developing audiences, tastes and engaging with marginalized voices. At the same time, most of these festivals are under-funded, rely on volunteer labour and in-kind support, while struggling for sustainable organisational models and funding schemes. We will hear contributions from Justine Atkinson, Karen O’Hare, Sam Kenyon, Paula Larkin, Hans Lucas, Richard Warden and many others to be announced soon. The panel will be facilitated by Alexandra Colta (University of Glasgow) and Maria Velez-Serna (University of Stirling), researchers of film festivals and film exhibition in Scotland. The debate is open and participatory, welcoming experiences and opinions related to any kind of festival activity and paid/unpaid labour.

This exploratory open talk will challenge the existing working practices and their impact on mental health, creativity and development. It provides an opportunity for everyone to join the debate, share their experience and suggestions for improvement. The discussion and workgroup will create opportunities for collaboration between researchers, film festivals and trade unions in order to explore the role of festivals as arts organisations and create a space for new forms of mobilisation on labour rights for freelance workers.

The Personal Impact of Precarious Work

Our policy team explores the personal impact of precarious and exploitative work, as young union members in ‘precarious’ work today took their experiences and demands to the Scottish Parliament for a ministerial meeting with Economy Secretary, Keith Brown. 

With around 10% of the Scottish workforce[1] in insecure work, not including bogus self-employment, our job as trade unionists will become increasingly difficult unless we recruit and retain precarious workers to our movement.  We either ensure good quality jobs where workers have effective voice, opportunity, security, respect and fulfilment for all, or not at all.

The first thing we can do is bring together lived experiences. Instead of separating a housing struggle from worker’s struggle, we need to ensure the campaigns are linked. A young worker paid the discriminatory minimum wage on a fixed term contract and paying extortionate rent faces numerous and interlinked barriers to organising collectively.

That is why the Better than Zero campaign and Scottish Union Learning’s Young Workers’ Project has teamed up with Living Rent tenants’ union to provide a platform for people to bring together fundamentally important aspects of their lives in order to campaign for working and living conditions they want to see; not what bosses or landlords want. Only by ensuring the space and resources for people to organise collectively around these issues can real control be returned to working people.

With private rent in Scotland increasing at 4% above inflation[2], private rental costs are now 19.9% higher in 2017 than they were in 2010.[3] They are over 30% higher now in Glasgow and Lothians. At the same time, wages have stagnated[4] meaning that more people are spending a larger portion of their wages on keeping a roof over their heads. This is particularly true of younger generations who also face more precarious working lives.

housing graph

Whether it is agency work, seasonal, fixed-term, or zero-hours, the issue of precarious work affects us all. Permanent, well trained and skilled jobs with sustainable terms and conditions, such as university and college lecturers, becoming causalised; “jobs for life” within local authorities becoming fixed term; or more women enduring precarious working lives has an impact on all of society, not just on the worker themselves.

Knowing the systemic reasons for insecure and precarious work is one thing. However, understanding the personal impact of leading a precarious life is paramount to bringing more people in to trade unions.

The correlation between increasing precarity of work and a decline in trade union membership is not coincidence. But it is important, for our labour movement, to understand this.

ZHC graph
Source: author’s analysis based on ONS and LFS data for the UK

Without appreciating who has insecure work and how this affects other aspects of life such as housing and relationships, the trade union movement will not be able to effectively gear recruitment campaigns towards those in insecure work. Nor will we be able to retain them or support them in becoming active leaders of the labour movement.

We know that self-employment is more prevalent amongst older people; around 40% of those aged 65 and over who work are self-employed[5] whilst over one third of people on zero hours are in the 16-24 age range and around one-fifth are in full-time education.[6]  Agency workers are significantly over-represented among younger groups, with close to half aged under-35.  The number of self-employed people with a disability has grown by 13% since Q1 2014, broadly in line with the increase in the numbers of disabled employees but considerably quicker than growth among non-disabled workers.[7]  We also know that those on zero hour contracts are three times more likely to want more work[8] which indicates that the pay for these jobs per hour is not enough to live on.

Understanding the personal impact on these demographics of precarity, which may increase or transform with the advancement of new technologies, is imperative for appreciating how the workplace is experienced in order to collectivise the power of workers.

[1] 274,000

[2] CPI

[3] Private Sector Rent Statistics, Scotland, 2010 to 2017



[6] ONS Contracts that do not guarantee a minimum number of hours: April 2018

[7] Resolution Foundation, “Is self-employment Taylor-made for people with disabilities” February 2017

[8] ONS Contracts that do not guarantee a minimum number of hours: April 2018

The Best Kind of May Day

The more I study history, the more I seem to find
That in every generation there are times just like this time
When folks like you and me who thought that they were all alone
Within this honoured movement found a home.
‘They all sang Bread and Roses’, Si Kahn

Mayday! Mayday! This winter brought a surge of people contacting Better than Zero asking for advice about workplace exploitation, poor conditions, unpaid wages, and unsafe workplaces. Many workers contact the site seeking help, unsure about what the campaign is and what help is on offer. Some of them want rights-advice, or want to call out bad bosses. Quite often, they are surprised by the first advice we give, which is always the same – join a union.

Mayday is a universal signal for danger, when hope is slipping away. When there is nothing you can do for yourself, you send for help. For many people treading along precarious paths, it seems the only option when the ground collapses beneath you: when you’re sacked from work, when your children get sick, when workplace abuse makes it impossible to bring yourself to work.

But in our tradition, May Day is something completely different. It is a show of power – a day that celebrates workers’ own collective struggle. It is about the power of a movement when it stands as one, with raised hands and voices, to overcome the misery and support one another to get the rights, respect, and living we are due from our work. It commemorates those who died when the labour movement was first emerging in the 1880s. It contemplates all that has been achieved, through dark and lighter times, through workers’ struggle. And it celebrates the new forms of building union power to take collective control.

mayday poster

One-off events illuminate the ways that workers are at the mercy of bosses. During the recent red weather snow alert, workers in a number of sites in Livingstone got in touch with Better than Zero to say that they were given no option but to come into work – and they were told in their fast-food restaurants that they could not leave early. Throughout the afternoon, they responded through joining a union and taking action together, winning agreements that they could go home. But for weeks, they were not paid for these hours, and this caused rent arrears for a number of those who had joined in the action. They continued to put pressure on the bosses, and eventually got the wages.

The red alert was just an extreme backdrop for ordinary conditions, where workers are at employers’ mercy. But Cinema workers are reacting to the announcement that the taxi allowance at the end of a late shift will be cut from £8 to £3. Tour-guides are taking the first steps towards taking control of shifts and scheduling. Hotel staff are talking about working-to-rule to protect their beaks. In the recent upsurge workers are taking collective action like this every day. Unions are emerging in places where they have been never been.

This is the principal of hubs – regional-based networks (supported by a new app) where workers from across different workplaces can share testimony and techniques, meet face to face with other active union members, and push back against precarious conditions and work in the place that they’re from.

Better than Zero will be building these hubs and making them into centres of solidarity and collective action for workers, mostly in workplaces where there are not unions like call centres, fast food, hospitality, retail and entertainment.

Their core purpose is to get workers ready to join trade unions and support them to the stage of recognition. They will also build the skills of workers, and uncover and observe what is happening at work in the regions they operate in – Glasgow, Livingstone, etc. They will also campaign on issues they uncover – unpaid trial shifts, unpaid wages.

Today Better than Zero has agreed to meet with Keith Brown, the Scottish Government’s Economy Secretary. The workers who are attending on behalf of the campaign will be demanding action on two areas where the Scottish Government has power. People working in procured public services have unfair contracts and conditions by the government’s own standards – working on zero-hours contracts. And licensing laws stand in the way of safe travel for staff after shifts. On both of these, the government can act quickly and firmly.

But Better than Zero, and trade unions, will not look to government and legislation for solutions. We do not cry Mayday – but look to the meaning of our May Day tradition. Study history, and you’ll find that workers’ rights never came from government, but from collective action. Come and find a home.