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

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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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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