St. Andrew’s Day Blogs (part 1)

In this series of guest blogs, we ask the leaders of the main political parties in Scotland to share their thoughts ahead of the annual St.Andrew’s Day Anti-Racism March & Rally which takes place this Saturday. First up is Patrick Harvie MSP, co-convener of the Scottish Green Party.


This year’s St Andrews Day anti-racism rally comes at a time when the normalisation of far right views is a threat to us all.

We have just seen US midterm elections plumb new depths in overtly racist and homophobic campaigning. Far right parties have made unprecedented gains in elections across Europe. Closer to home, the BBC has defended giving a platform to Steve Bannon at its NewsXchange event in Edinburgh.

We should be in no doubt that providing an audience for extremist views enables their cause and emboldens to those seek to commit or justify horrific acts, such as the recent Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.

At our annual conference in Glasgow last month, Scottish Greens overwhelmingly backed a new policy motion on challenging the far right.

Developed by members, our policy seeks both to directly challenge the politics of hate and tackle the conditions that allow it to grow. That means reversing the economic and social inequalities that the far right manipulate to further their aims.

In this context, we must also recognise the starkest warnings yet of the risk of climate breakdown, which will have a huge impact as a multiplier of extremism unless we change course urgently and radically.

We call for action at every level, from better legal protections and more comprehensive policing of far right activity, to intervention in the education system, through local communities and online.

We must also call-out those who use a pretence of free speech while shutting down others’ freedoms and spreading hate. Freedom of speech and association are cornerstones of our democracy but they cannot be allowed to become the means by which the far right destroy that democracy.

We can be proud of Scotland’s story of resistance. We should applaud the First Minister for refusing to take part in the NewsXchange event. We should reflect on how we collectively rebuffed the advances of UKIP and how the articulation of a positive, inclusive vision for Scotland – which I believe the Greens have contributed to – followed through to a resounding Remain vote.

And we should celebrate that, this summer, thousands of people took to the streets to protest the visit of Donald Trump, while others mobilised to act as a human shield against asylum seeker evictions proposed by Serco as part of the UK Government’s Hostile Environment agenda.

But we cannot afford any complacency in the face of a resurgent far right and the continuation of austerity.

That is why as Greens we’ll be proud to join other progressive forces at this year’s St Andrews Day rally, sending a clear message to the far-right that we will not allow their hate to spread and showing solidarity with our fellow citizens at home and around the world.


 

Join us on Saturday at the biggest annual anti-racism event in Scotland: Find out more and let us know you are coming along here. 

Are chief executives overpaid?

We all know that the answer is a resounding ‘Yes’. Bob Wylie says a new book gives trades unionists stonewall arguments for our case.

Are chief executives overpaid is a good question. We can start with the house builder Persimmon. A couple of years ago the government set up the “Help to Buy” scheme to assist first-time buyers and boost house building across the UK. A mini-boom in building followed.

Last year it became clear that the chief executive of Persimmon, one Jeffrey Fairburn, was due to trouser £120m as a result of the bonus scheme he and his boardroom pals had set up following the “Help to Buy” offer. The top 100 managers at Persimmon will share a £300m pot, in addition to Jeffrey’s jackpot.

Fairburn has relented, to a degree, and is now only going to cash in £75m over 2018 and 2019. Given all this is a result of taxpayers footing the bill for house buying this amounts to grand-scale looting of the state in a style that would make a Russian Oligarch blush.

According to Shelter, Fairburn’s pay off is enough to build a new house for every homeless person in York where Persimmon’s HQ is based. But as any trade unionist knows Persimmon is only one of the latest fat cat scandals to escape from the balance sheets funding the bonanza for Britain’s chief executives.

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On average their pay packages are now so generous that they only need to turn for work for three or four days and they’ll have put as much in the bank as the ordinary worker takes home in a year. The average pay of a British CEO is now a bundle that makes up more than £5m. That makes their take home ratio 129-1 when compared to that of the average worker.

These facts all come from a new book, just published, titled “Are chief executives overpaid?”. It’s written by Deborah Hargreaves, one time business editor of the Guardian. It is a bombshell of a book which explodes all the myths about executive pay and why these levels of moolah are justified.

What about the one that if we don’t stuff the bosses mouths with gold, our top people will up sticks and go elsewhere to exercise their extraordinary talents? Hargreaves argues with facts from the Fortune Global 500 companies that out of 489 appointments made in these companies, in recent times, only 4 chief executives were recruited from an overseas company. So having to pay chief executives top dollar to guard against losing them to international markets is tosh.

Hargreaves is excellent on explaining how we got here and has a host of policy offers including higher corporate taxes, mandatory workers on the board, binding shareholders voting on executive pay, even binding workforce votes on executive pay. And mandatory maximum pay ratios between the bosses and workers in companies bidding for multi-million Government contracts.

Mind you we have been arguing for these policies for years. The central issue is that there is a direct correlation between the decline of the power of the unions in the UK and the outrageous rise and rise of chief executives’ pay. So maybe the most important thing to be done, without waiting for political ‘manna from heaven’, is to build the power of the unions again. Relentlessly.

 Deborah Hargreaves “Are Chief Executives Overpaid?” (Politi) October 2018 £9.99

Former BBC journalist, Bob Wylie, is currently writing a book on the Carillion scandal.

 

 

Solidarity with the Equal Pay Strikers!

All eyes were on Glasgow this week and we have been inundated with messages of solidarity for the Equal Pay Strikers from across the globe. In this blog post we share just a selection of the messages we have received: 

“Glasgow women are the backbone of the council and the city cannot function without them. The strength and unity these women have shown is inspirational. Firefighters will be standing in solidarity with you today, tomorrow and for however long it takes for this injustice to be resolved. Keep strong and united sisters.”

Denise Christie, Scottish Secretary, Fire Brigades Union

“On behalf of the TSSA I am sending our solidarity and support for all our sisters in Unison and GMB in their fight for Equal Pay. And I congratulate both unions for their extended fight with the Glasgow Council over the last 12 years. The fight for fairness and equality of pay is central to the union movement. Unequal and unfair pay, which so often affects women more than men, is a scourge that should have been wiped out years ago and I have no doubt that it will be wiped out in Glasgow Council because of this action. Solidarity sisters!”

Manuel Cortes, General Secretary, TSSA

The EIS sends its solidarity to all Unison and GMB members involved in Equal Pay strikes in Glasgow on the 23 and 24th of October. We support your campaign and we believe that it is outrageous that women still need to take industrial action in order to achieve equal pay for equal work for women. We wish you well with your action and hope that you are successful in your campaign – which is in the vanguard of defending women’s rights at work.”

Larry Flanagan, General Secretary, Educational Institute of Scotland

“Our members believe that it is only right that workers should be paid for the job that they do and that there should be no discrimination or disparity in pay on the basis of gender, as has been the case for many years.

“We hope to continue working with UNISON and GMB who represent the striking workers to ensure that older people are cared for in the manner they deserve and by workers who are being paid fairly and honestly for the work that they do.”

Eleanor McKenzie, Scottish Pensioners Forum

“Women’s work is undervalued and underpaid. Without the vital roles undertaken by our sisters, communities would grind to a halt.

“Women should not have to undertake long legal battles for what is rightfully theirs. For years they have been forced to endure more work for less pay. We stand with all those women who fight to have their voices heard.”

Agnes Tolmie, Scottish Women’s Convention

“Solidarity with all my sisters on strike for equal pay.

“Nothing can describe what I felt when I saw the coverage on the news of how many women were on the march. Inspired and proud to be a woman.

“Women are the backbone of our society they deserve equal pay and are right to demand equal pay.”

Andi Fox, TSSA member

“On behalf of UNISON Cymru Wales members, we send our warmest best wishes and solidarity to those UNISON members on strike at Glasgow City council. It is simply unacceptable in 2018 for work undertaken by women to be valued less than work done by a man. Your fight for equality is our fight and your principled stand is inspiring. No to sex discrimination! Unity is strength!”

Stephanie Thomas, UNISON Cymru Wales Regional Secretary

Peter Crews, Regional Convenor

 

“Berwick upon Tweed and District Trades Union Council sends solidarity to the women strikers in Glasgow. We wish them success in winning their demand for equal pay.”

Phil Thompson, Berwick Trades Union Council

Glasgow women’s strike

We are all Rosa's daughters...

Today I marched with 8,000 striking women workers through thexstreets of Glasgow.

I offered solidarity onbehalf of the Scottish Trade Union Congress, and the hundreds of thousands of workers in this movement that are trade union members in Scotland.

I am so very, very proud of the women workers of Glasgow City, standing up for what is rightfully theirs.… and for what rightfully belongs to all women workers – equal pay.

The workers on strike cook, clean and care for our children and our elderly. They look after those most important to us. So it is high time their important work was recognised by awarding them the equal pay they have long been denied.

I waa honoured to join the women singing and dancing in George Square

I stand with them as the daughter of a strong working class woman.

My Mum, like many woman did loads of different…

View original post 299 more words

Busting The Myths Around Glasgow Equal Pay Strikes

As Glasgow gears up for what will be the biggest withdrawal of labour for equal pay in the UK since the 1960s, UNISON Scotland have provided some FACTS to counter the MYTHS that are doing the rounds. 


MYTH:  The unions agreed to the Glasgow pay system but are now suing against their own agreement.

FACT:  UNISON’s local branch and equality team vetoed the Workforce Pay and Benefits  Review (WPBR). The tribunal decision records that the unions walked out on the job evaluation process, took a grievance and formally complained to the council  leader. The council admitted in the litigation that the jobs were graded by managers and consultants alone. In no sense is WPBR a union scheme.

“Nothing agreed, nothing offered, nothing proposed.

We demand real negotiations.”

The council approved WPBR on 16th October 2006. The committee report reflects the fact there was no agreement. Instead the report recommends imposing WPBR and contemplates doing so by mass dismissals. Under a Labour majority,  the report was approved. Workers got three chances to accept WPBR over the winter of 2006/07. Then it was imposed.

All this is “on the record”. In 12 years of argument over WPBR, including 14 disputes, 10 strikes and over 12,000 legal claims, no council official has ever said this was a union approved scheme. Anyone saying that now is making mischief.


MYTH: If the unions had employed their industrial muscle on this long before now we wouldn’t be in this position.

FACT:  No current Scottish pay system has faced more disputes and legal conflict than WPBR. There have been 14 separate WPBR disputes in 11 years and 10 strikes.

“Start looking at settlement proposals so negotiations can finally start.

All we have had for nine months are talks about talks.”

Nearly 6,000 workers have been balloted in WPBR disputes and 3,500 have taken strike action. In parallel with the strikes there are 12,500 legal claims, many of which date back to 2008. Are the council honestly saying we could or should have been MORE aggressive?

Militancy is not the issue. None of this conflict would have been necessary if the council had not suppressed the findings of the statutory investigation by the Equality & Human Rights Commission in 2010.

In 2010 the EHRC conducted a statutory investigation of WPBR and told the council it was discriminatory. That report was suppressed. In 2018 Councillor Aitken correctly ordered the release of the secret report. Although that instruction has not been met in full we know enough from the material released to say that discrimination should have ended long before now.

What was needed to resolve this dispute in 2010 was not greater union militancy or legal wizardry, but simply the regular transparency of a council meeting. The officials were able to block and suppress the EHRC until 2018 because councillors never met to discuss equal pay issues between 2006 and 2018. Councillor Aitken exposed the fact that all Glasgow councillors failed, and failed badly. That is something we agree on. The big questions are simple – who knew what about the EHRC, when did they know, and what did they do? How did they silence a statutory agency that held expert evidence of discrimination at the council?


MYTH: The reasons for the strike do not justify strike action.

FACT: The reason for the strike is clear – the claimants have lost faith in the willingness of senior officials to deliver Councillors Aitken’s instructions. In December 2017, the parties agreed to adopt a joint timetable with clear stages or milestones. The workers were already low on confidence in March 2018 when they told Anne Robinson’s BBC documentary that they were going to the union to demand a strike.

“The women know the reason for the dispute because it was the women who called the strike.”

In May, a consultative ballot extracted a council commitment to adequate funding, a new joint timetable with milestones and a deadline of Christmas. In August the council missed their milestones, tore up the timetable and told the unions there would be no money until April 2019. We don’t know if the officials had councillor approval for the actions that triggered the strike vote. We shared that information openly with the members, as a trade union should, and the reaction was as clear as it was predictable. The call for strike action was overwhelming. This is a member led campaign and the members are angry. Very angry.


MYTH: The women don’t know why they are striking because the union misinformed them.

FACT: The council get irritated when we advise them how to address equality issues but it has to be said that publicly patronising powerful women who have high value legal claims is a high risk strategy. The members meet at least once a month to plan and execute their campaign. The members went to the Court of Session and there were over 30 claimants at the recent tribunal hearing. They know how the scheme was designed, they know about the EHRC cover up, they know the detail of the 42 point settlement plan and they know the council tore it up. They have battled through 14 disputes over 11 years and they know this is the conclusion of a long slow battle. The women know the reason for the dispute because it was the women who called the strike. It’s that simple.


MYTH: The unions know that council officers are carrying out the instructions of the council leader.

FACT: Cllr Aitken told the officials to end the EHRC cover-up and produce the report in full. In fact she told them three times. But we are still waiting for the truth behind the cover up. Councillor Aitken asked for a time table with milestones and dispute resolution. The officials missed the milestones, tore up the timetable and refused to go to mediation before 2019. Was that what the officials were instructed to do? We genuinely don’t think so.


MYTH: Any delay in making payments is due to the strike, not the actions of the council.

FACT: The claimants’ representatives have been available to talk, without condition, since December 2017. It was the council who left the talks in response to the strike notice. The strike does not delay settlement. What delays settlement is the council’s attitude to the strike – their decision to walk away shows a lack of respect for low paid women. Every dispute is settled by discussion. The only way forward is to talk.


MYTH: The unions escalated the campaign when the SNP defeated Labour in 2017

FACT: With 6000 workers in 14 disputes, 10 strikes and 8,000 legal claims the campaign was very assertive against the Labour administration. What escalated the scale and significance of the campaign even further was the Court of Session decision in August 2017. Labour presided over the WPBR years and the SNP administration has set a course towards equality. Accepting the Court of Session ruling and removing WPBR were strong decisions that have received credit from the workforce and their representatives. But the unions are clear – we are in dispute with the employer, not the elected members. Party politics is irrelevant.


MYTH: The unions are covering their backs for their discrimination over the last 12 years

FACT: This briefing sets out our actions. We vetoed WPBR before it was adopted. We commissioned the leading UK expert to analyse its impact after it was imposed and went straight to mass litigation. Every member received advice and we encouraged them to join the campaign. Although we lost the tribunal and the first appeal we kept fighting. In parallel with the litigation we organised Cordia workers against the discrimination within the ALEO policy and Cordia’s daily practices. We closed Cordia down and took the workers home to equality within the council. Working with Action4Equality we had to change the law of equal pay to bring equality to Glasgow. UNISON organised the mass participation of low paid women and removed the discrimination of tribunal fees to restore access to justice for all – in Glasgow and across the UK. We succeeded where the EHRC failed. This is not “union back-covering”. This is pay equality & pay justice.


 

Challenging poverty through trade unions and collective action

On the fifth day of Challenge Poverty Week 2018, Francis Stuart from our Policy team looks at how labour market trends are contributing to poverty in Scotland, and why rebuilding trade union power is key to tackling inequality.

Much has been made of Scotland and the UK’s ‘record levels of employment’. Yet real wages remain lower than they were ten years ago and one in ten workers are in insecure forms of employment such as zero-hour contracts, temporary work and low-paid self-employment. More still are underemployed – working part-time but seeking more hours.

These labour market trends feed into the picture of poverty in Scotland today.

More than one in five people in Scotland live in poverty. The likelihood of being in poverty is higher still for women, lone parents, ethnic minorities, and disabled people and their families.

In-work poverty is also on the rise, increasing from 440,000 in 2011-2014 to 540,000 in 2014-17.

That paid work is no longer a guarantee against poverty should concern us all. So how can we address this?

Well a good place to start, whether you are a policymaker or a professional, an activist or an academic, would be to promote trade union membership and collective bargaining coverage.

There is a strong body of evidence to show that high trade union membership and collective bargaining is associated with lower levels of economic inequality. This can be seen historically in the UK where inequality, particularly at the extreme end, has risen at the same time as trade union membership has fallen.

Trade union membership and top 1% share of income in the UK

graph blog 1

It can also been seen across the developed world, where countries with higher collective bargaining arrangements, have lower levels of extreme inequality.

Collective bargaining and top 1% share of income in EU countries (2010)

blog graph 2 

While the current labour market and trade union membership trends are concerning, they aren’t fixed. Trade union membership levels only began to fall in 1979 due to a concerted and deliberate political attack by Government and elites. It can be undone through workplace organising and political support from outside the workplace.

Rising poverty isn’t predetermined either – it is driven by low-paid, precarious work; high housing costs and a diminishing welfare state. Yes addressing these issues requires policy change from Government but, as the link to trade unions shows, it also requires institutions and political movements that fight for that change.

Positively, there are a range of inspiring efforts underway. Only yesterday, workers at Wetherspoons, TGI Fridays, McDonald’s, Uber Eats and Deliveroo walked out on strike in a day of action coordinated by trade unions.

Later this month more than 8,000 Glasgow City Council workers – mostly women carers, cleaners and caterers who’ve been historically discriminated against – are set to strike after Unison and the GMB members overwhelmingly voted to take industrial action over equal pay.

Out with the trade union movement, a number of anti-poverty groups, disabled peoples groups and groups such as Living Rent, are led by those with first-hand experience of challenging those responsible for discrimination and exploitation.

Let’s learn the lessons from these organisations and movements. Not to stop making the case for policy change but to ensure that it is sustained by a fundamental transformation of the power dynamics within our economy.


Challenge Poverty Week is organised by The Poverty Alliance. Find out more about their work here.

Where Does Free Speech End and Hate Speech Start?

Julie Ferguson, EIS rep and member of the STUC Disabled Workers’ Committee, writes for the STUC blog:

In June this year, it was announced that in Scotland hate crime against disabled people increased from 188 in 2016-17 to 284 in 2017-18.  This is a worrying trend, especially in the current political climate of austerity, leaving the EU and its Human Rights Convention, and general labelling of disabled people as “benefit scroungers”.

Disabled people are regularly insulted, and challenged aggressively, simply for being different:

“You don’t need that wheelchair, you can walk.”

“Why should you get money from the government?  Earn it like everybody else!”

“You’re a retard.”

“Get out of my way, blind bitch.”

“Disabled people should be sterilised.”

“Cripples shouldn’t be allowed out.”

“I hope you choke on your plastic straw and die.”

So.  Where does free speech end and hate speech start?

On Twitter, this is a common view:

Julie_blog quote 1

[Tweet reads: “Even though some opinions are REALLY out there, they’re still not YOUR opinion.  People need to accept that free speech includes all; not just the one that line up with theirs”]

Well, let’s check that.

Amnesty International UK states thatFreedom of speech is the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, by any means.”.  As Amnesty International UK points out, we have the right to look up, listen to, write, and say anything we want.  Within reason.  The UK and Scottish Governments both have an obligation to prevent free speech from becoming hate speech, i.e. a hate crime.

Police Scotland defines a hate crime as one “motivated by malice or ill will towards a social group by: race; sexual orientation; religion/faith; disability; transgender/gender identity” This definition includes the use of intimidating or threatening behaviour (including obscene calls and gestures), verbal abuse or insults (including name calling), and online bullying and abuse.

The boundary between free speech and hate speech/crime lies somewhere between those two definitions.  I can’t give you legal advice about whether something you or someone else has said is definitely free speech or hate speech.

I am asking you to think about it more, to consider what you’re saying, or what someone else is saying, with this in mind.

Here’s some examples of ‘free’ speech:

Collin Brewer, a councillor in Cornwall, said disabled children should be put down because they cost the council too much money.  Afterwards, he said that he didn’t think he’d done anything wrong (4).

On Twitter, a photo of a nine year old girl with disabilities was used in a pro-eugenics campaign.  The message read, “It is okay to think that every child matters however a lot of them do not”.

While campaigning to become President of the United States, Donald Trump mocked a journalist for being disabled, and he was filmed jerking his arm spastically.

On Reddit, there are several threads (you may not want to click the following links) discussing whether disabled people, particularly mentally-disabled people, should be euthanised (killed).  A lot of people think we should be killed.

Another Twitter example:

julie blog image 2

[Tweet reads: in case youre wondering YES I am prejudiced against the mentally disabled and mentally ill, id kill them myself if I could, w an uzi w “GOOD INTENTIONS” engraved into it !”]

Why am I worried?  There are people out there who advocate the right to say anything they want without consequences.  Perhaps these people won’t take it further into physical violence, but they’re opening up the potential for others to do so, thinking that they will have support for their actions.

Two years ago, 19 people were killed in a care home in Japan, because they were disabled. 25 more were wounded. If we let hate speech against disabled people become normal, not only do we have to deal with the mental damage of that behaviour, we’re also normalising violence against disabled people.

Don’t believe me?  Boris Johnson recently made derogatory comments about burkas and niqabs, and violence against Muslims often increases after politicians hold forth like this.  Watch the news, pay attention to the people around you.

The bottom line is, nobody gets to abuse another person for being disabled, or for any other protected characteristic.  If you think you’ve experienced a hate crime, report it to the police.  Police Scotland must log and investigate any incident as a hate crime if the crime is seen by the victim as caused by prejudice.  If it’s a hate crime, they’ll take it further.  If it’s a hate incident, they’ll use the information to identify trends and target resources more effectively.  Either way, reporting it helps you and other people.  If you think you’ve witnessed a hate crime, report it to the police.  You do not have to be the victim of the crime to report it.

If you’d like to read more about hate crime legislation as it currently is in Scotland, with recommendations for improvements, please have a look at Lord Bracadale’s “Independent Review of Hate Legislation Crime in Scotland”, which was published in May this year.  The report can be downloaded as a PDF.