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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