150 years of TUC and women workers fight on for equality

We are all Rosa's daughters...

This week we celebrate the 150th birthday of the Trades Union Congress (TUC),the first coming together in 1868 of trade unionists from all over the UK at the Manchester Mechanics Institute to form the annual Congress that we hold to still. At that time women made up around 10% of union membership.

Women have always played a significant role in the workforce though. From agricultural labour to the jute mills of Dundee, factories and works, women have also been natural leaders at work. Women’s war effort on the two world wars is well documented. We know of the women munitions workers, engineers, communications, transport and infrastructural workers and land girls. We were taught that women were expected to give up their skills and shelf their abilities when the men returned from war.

Unionised labour is stereotyped as male blue collar heavy industry workers. How things have changed. Today more people…

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The Offshore Horizon: unions and the future of Oil and Gas

As the debate develops on the future of offshore work, our policy team considers the role for workers, unions, companies, and the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Affairs Committee is undertaking an inquiry into the future of oil and gas. It comes as the number of jobs related to the oil and gas industry has fallen by 160,000 between 2014 and 2017. Further losses are predicted in the next ten years.

Companies have also used the downturn to move from a shift rota of two-weeks on, two-weeks off to three-weeks on, three-weeks off. This raises potentially serious health and safety concerns, including fatigue and increased potential of severe accidents.

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The Scottish Affairs Committee is seeking submissions to their inquiry

Our response makes clear that the Offshore Coordinating Group, made up of Unite the Union, RMT, GMB, Nautilus and Balpa, need to be given a central role in outlining workers’ concerns to industry and Government.

Those on the front-line recognise the need for both short-term assistance and long-term strategies. Yet the UK Government has not delivered effective measures to help offshore workers affected, nor has it produced comprehensive strategies for decommissioning and transitioning to renewable energy sources.

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Source: http://gcaptain.com/photos-shipbreaking-in-alang-india/

Standards in the decommissioning sector are deeply concerning. The sector receives significant tax relief from Government, and yet offshore unions have received reports of sub-minimum wage pay rates on specific projects. Rigs are often towed to Bangladesh and Indian beaches where there are serious concerns around environmental and labour regulatory standards. Earlier this year the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) prevented three rigs being towed from Cromarty Firth to South Asia due to environmental concerns. Scotland has a number of perfectly suitable, high-quality decommissioning sites, but unless Government takes steps to improve standards, hedge fund-backed companies will still seek to exploit lower regulatory standards on the other side of the world.

Similarly, to date, renewable energy developments in Scotland have been dominated by the big energy companies, developers and large landowners, and the green jobs boom has not appeared to the extent promised. Where green jobs have been created, they are too often poor quality and non-unionised. Worryingly too are the dramatic falls in the rate of investment in low-carbon energy, as reported by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee.

Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 15.05.30The announcement by the Scottish Government to create a Just Transition Commission provides an opportunity to rectify this. It must drive forward a proper Industrial Strategy that supports offshore workers and the development of renewables and decommissioning in a way which captures value within the Scottish and UK economy, supports post-industrial communities, and provides good quality, unionised jobs. To do so it must be established with an ambitious remit, a long-term vision and a suitably independent role. It must also have worker engagement at its core.

We would urge the proposed Scottish Government-owned energy company to focus on energy generation, such as offshore wind, rather than simply the retail side of energy supply.

In this transition, lessons must also be learned from North Sea oil, in which the profits were all but captured by private companies. The UK’s experience in this regard is in stark contrast to countries such as Norway, where publicly owned-energy companies have provided returns to Governments’ and taxpayers for decades.

To this end, we would urge the proposed Scottish Government-owned energy company to focus on energy generation, such as offshore wind, rather than simply the retail side of energy supply. Such a model could help companies such as Bifab, who provide the jackets for offshore wind and be an important step towards the extension of public ownership throughout the system.

Alongside municipal energy companies which promote energy efficiency, district heating and low-carbon electricity generation, Scotland could transform its energy system in the coming decades.

However, if it is meet its climate targets and provide good quality unionised jobs, then radically different models to the current privatised system need to be considered as a matter of urgency.

Cuts, jobs losses, money for the bosses.

Since the collapse of Carillion, which saw the loss of directly employed staff as well as job losses elsewhere in the supply chain, there have been numerous other firm closures and resultant jobs lost across the Scottish labour market in the last five months.

Yesterday’s announcement of 287 jobs going at Crummock’s engineering firm in Bonnyrigg is another blow to the construction sector in Scotland. The multidisciplinary construction company went into receivership after last year’s budget noted the absence of contracts from the Scottish Government and shrinking local authority budgets were the biggest risk to the business which had previously been involved in a number of civil engineering projects around Scotland, including the installation of concrete slabs in St Andrews Square for the Edinburgh Trams

Outwith construction, jobs have been lost across Scotland in our primary market: the service industry. The Royal Bank of Scotland’s 62 branch closures in Scotland will result in 179 job losses. The list of retail stores announcing closures and redundancies across Scotland includes Toys ‘R’ Us, Maplin, New Look, Bench, Jaeger, Marks and Spencer’s, and Poundworld. The proposed merger between Asda and Sainsbury’s is likely to see further jobs lost.

Scotland’s recent job losses have been across many fields, from those classed as unskilled to highly skilled roles at Rosyth and BiFab which cut to the heart of the Government’s economic, industrial and energy strategies.

Whilst a new South of Scotland enterprise agency is proposed, Young’s Seafood has just announced the closure of Pinneys fish-processing plant in Dumfries and Galloway. Coupled with the proposed closure of Two Sisters meat processing plant in Annan, this will mean a loss of 900 jobs in the South of Scotland.

In an era where we already have stagnant wage growth, rising housing costs, and increasing mental ill health which is in part caused by economic conditions of precarity and insecurity, further job losses in Scotland are going to have a significant impact on our lives and communities.

There is an urgent need to assess current activities around enterprise, skills and industry in order to identify a strategy regarding areas and sectors to be invested in. This investment must be in workplaces which mean Fair Work jobs. Not only does this drive inclusive growth in the economy, but goes a long way to addressing people’s everyday life issues. Reducing poverty, decreasing addiction levels, reducing the education attainment gap, and increasing money in people’s pockets will not happen if thousands more jobs are lost in Scotland or are moved from secure to precarious positions.

Scotland desperately needs a comprehensive industrial strategy which takes heed of our trade union values. We cannot continue to have an ad hoc response to industrial closures and job losses. Instead, industry sector forums should be established which ensure genuine collective bargaining across sectors which are able to strategically plan for our import and export industries. This is particularly important considering the uncertainty around Scotland’s constitutional future post-Brexit.

Only by ensuring a coherent and planned industrial strategy which is backed up by investment in research, skills and training, as well as by worker involvement in this planning through collective bargaining and alternative forms of ownership, can we begin to tackle the issues at the heart of our economy, tackling inequality and raising living standards. We simply cannot afford, nor can we accept, Scotland’s people facing another generation of penury.

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.

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‘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.

[1] https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/press-release/two-thirds-people-glasgow-experienced-loneliness-campaign-end-loneliness-launches-scotland/

[2] https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/the-lonely-society


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: https://www.facebook.com/events/196170321186990/
RFN event: https://www.facebook.com/rfnscotland6818/

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.