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

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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.

Popular Policies for a Just Transition

Tackling climate change is a global imperative, and Scottish Labour today has added its proposals to the clear set of targets that are being demanded of the Scottish Government.

Ambitious targets for decarbonisation of our economy are essential in the context of global climate change agreements to limit temperature increases to 1.5oC.[1] These targets must not be made at the expense of the workforce and communities which currently extract or depend on the use of fossil fuels. These are the principles of a ‘Just Transition’.

The Just Transition Partnership was formed by Friends of the Earth Scotland and the STUC in 2016. Its members include Unite Scotland, UNISON Scotland, UCU Scotland, CWU Scotland, PCS Scotland and WWF Scotland.

Substantial changes are needed to decarbonise our economy and support good quality employment. This will require large-scale investment in transformation of the production and consumption of energy, as well as reductions in overall energy use.

Done in the right ways, the transition to a low carbon economy can create good new jobs, yield significant economic and social benefits, as well as avert the potentially catastrophic environmental consequences of climate change.

That is the purpose of Just Transition, endorsed through inclusion in the Preamble of the Paris Agreement which takes into account the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities”.[2]

A Just Transition means moving to a modern low-carbon economy in a way which protects workers’ livelihoods, creates a new industrial base and delivers a fairer Scotland. This concept is central to a successful response to climate change, the implementation of existing Scottish greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets, and those proposed under the new Climate Change Bill. Bold targets need strong delivery plans, public enthusiasm and engagement in achieving them.

Any just transition needs to ensure popular support by taking the needs of workers and communities into account and bringing wider socio-economic benefits for citizens of Scotland.

The Scottish Government has accepted the case made by the Just Transition Partnership[3] and Stop Climate Chaos Scotland to set up a Just Transition Commission. Labour’s announcement today builds the pressure on the Scottish Government to make it robust.

A statutory Just Transition Commission, involving workers with real frontline experience in the development of a proper industrial strategy, offers the opportunity reduce emissions while creating new, good quality jobs and benefitting communities across Scotland.

[1] UNFCCC Paris Agreement 2015 Article 2

[2] Paris Agreement, Preamble


A Home To Take Pride In

Kris Hendry, from the Public & Commercial Services Union, looks ahead to the upcoming European Championships and LGBT+ equality on behalf of the STUC LGBT+ Workers’ Committee. 

This year will see Glasgow host its third major sports event since 2014 and, as was the case with the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and the Homeless World Cup in 2016, LGBT+ equality will be very prominent at the heart of the Championships thanks to LEAP Sports Scotland. 

In 2014 LEAP put together and ran the original Pride House Glasgow, the first to be held as part of a Commonwealth Games, and followed this up in 2016 Pride House Glasgow returned for the Homeless World Cup with over 5,000 people visiting between both events. 

This year Pride House Glasgow returns once again for the inaugural European Championships and promises to, yet again, make sure LGBT+ issues are a key focus of the Championships with a wide range of events planned between the 1st and 12th August. 

A Proud Nation? 

Scotland, in more recent times, has a proud history when it comes to LGBT+ equality, particularly in the context of wider UK LGBT+ issues. 

Our country was the first to repeal Section 28 (or 2A) which banned the “promotion” of LGBT+ issues in schools and was also the first to begin the introduction of same sex marriage rights. 

More recently the Scottish Government introduced automatic pardons for all men who had previously been convicted of homosexual acts when these were still criminalised, an issue our Committee was directly involved in taking forward. Additionally, as the Westminster Government is currently consulting on reform to the Gender Recognition Act, the Scottish Government is currently considering feedback, including our own, on their consultation which closed in the spring. 

However for all the legal equality our community has achieved, LGBT+ phobic hate remains an everyday reality for many of us. Whether it be in the workplace, at home or just out in the street, many within our community continue to suffer verbal and, occasionally physical, abuse just for being who they are. It is an issue that our Committee is committed to continuing to tackle, alongside the STUC General Council and our colleagues in the STUC’s other Equality Committees. 

A Rainbow Europe 

With this year’s Pride House Glasgow taking place during the European Championships, one of the major focusses will be on LGBT+ equality across Europe. 

Each year the international LGBT+ organisation ILGA-Europe produces their “Rainbow Europe” report which highlights the varying states of LGBT+ equality across the continent. The fact is that even within Europe, so many of our LGBT+ family continues to be persecuted by their own Government’s just for being who they are.

International solidarity has been a key staple of the Trade Union movement and our Committee will continue to stand alongside activists across Europe, and around the world, in challenging LGBT+ phobic attitudes in the fight for true equality for all LGBT+ people, wherever they are.

Get Involved

The STUC LGBT+ Workers’ Committee encourages everyone to visit Pride House during the European Championships and get involved. Pride House Glasgow is open to all, regardless of whether you identify as LGBT+ or as an ally to the community, with events for people of all ages.

We also encourage people to get active within their own Union’s equality structures and help feed into the work of the Committee through our annual LGBT+ Workers’ Conference and throughout the year.

“But know what isn’t gonna solve anything? Inaction.”

Declan Welsh performed alongside Emme Woods at the Trump Rally in George Square on Friday 13 July 2018. He shares his thoughts about Trump, the rally, and why inaction isn’t an option.

On Friday I was asked by the Scottish Trades Union Congress to speak at the rally protesting Donald Trump. I performed my poem Lads, in reference to the President’s “locker room talk” defence.

I was delighted with the turnout, and in response to those who say “where were ye during Obama’s drone strikes” or “what about May and her aggressive immigration policies”. Aye. I totally agree. But know what isn’t gonna solve anything? Inaction. If there’s one good thing about Trump, it’s that he is the ugly, brazen face of this system. He shows it for what it is. Obama, May and others were (to varying degrees) slightly more palatable versions of it, but immigrants were still treated as sub human, and bombs still fell on the world’s poor.

There are, however, things unique to Trump as a figure. The way he speaks about women, immigrants, foreigners, and multiple other myriad issues has shifted discourse to a point where now, fascists are no longer scared. They feel like they are winning. And in many ways, they are. This is why it matters to turn up to these things. It is not your only responsibility, but it is one of many. If we come out in force, we begin to create our own movement. In solidarity with immigrants, with victims of sexual assault, with those affected by American imperialism, with African Americans, with environmentalists. We can use Trump, and his odious, toxic, caricature of an existence to rally against. First, we defeat the man, then we defeat the system.

So, aye, me saying a poem to a big crowd of socialists isn’t gonna change the world. But that big crowd of socialists might. And I, for one, want to be a part of that.

You can watch the video of Declan performing Lads here.

TRUMP: Fascism makes progress by increments

STUC General Secretary, Grahame Smith, shares his thoughts ahead of Trump’s UK visit. An abridged version of this was published in the Daily Record on 13 July 2018.

Donald Trump arrives in the UK this week. His encounters with our PM are nothing more than a convenient pretext for the real reason for his visit, the most expensive ever Scottish golfing holiday.

To some Trump is a figure of ridicule, and he has given the late night American talk show hosts plenty of opportunity to do just that. To some, including many white working class Americans, he is a figure of salvation from the drudgery of global capitalism. And to some, me included, he is a figure of dread, someone to be feared, someone who poses a significant threat to democracy.

We Scots like to think we are a welcoming people. But there are limits, and we should draw the line with Trump – a narcissistic, misogynist, sexist, racist, authoritarian, white supremacist, Nazi sympathizer.

Trump and the other authoritarian leaders, in whose company he appears most comfortable, pose a serious threat to us, to our planet, to democracy, to unions, to progressives across the world.

We should never forget the many lessons to be learned from history and it’s not as if we haven’t seen this movie before.

The rise of ultra-right, populist, protectionist, authoritarian regimes, has consistently followed a global economic crisis – just like the one we suffered in 2008.

Fascism makes progress by increments. It feeds off economic discontent. It manufactures and stokes ethnic, cultural and national grievance. It concentrates power in the hands of its elites. It ostracises minorities or outsiders – those who do not conform to its definition of what is morally or culturally acceptable, who are ‘less worthy’.

It eliminates opposition politically, in the media or in civic society – including trade unions.

Fascist regimes hate international institutions that would hold them to account against collective standards for human, labour and civil rights. They prefer the company of their own.

They justify their actions as upholding the rule of law – the law they create, however outrageous, and however divergent from international standards. Any decent is condemned as lawlessness and is ruthlessly crushed.

Trump’s actions certainly conform to this sinister pattern:

pulling the USA out of the Paris climate accord and the UN Human Rights Council and violating the rules of the WTO;

consistently criticising international institutions like the UN, the EU and WHO;

preferring the company of authoritarian dictators like Putin, Kim, Erdogan and Duterte, on whom he lavishes praise;

threatening to ‘lock up’ his political opponents, condemning those who challenge him, including the press and media,  as anti-American;

disregarding evidence to justify policy decisions while making a virtue out of ignorance, including his own;

attacking unions, collective bargaining  and workplace reps;

justifying the separation of families on the Mexico border and the interment of children as upholding the rule of law;

referring to those seeking asylum as people who infest America;

demeaning, through his words and actions, women; people with disabilities, African Americans, and the LGBT+ community;

retweeting disgusting and bogus videos of the UK’s far right; and

defending the Charlottesville Nazi’s who marched with their torches in defence of pro-slavery monuments, and amongst whom, Trump said, were ‘good people’.

There is no moral equivalence between fascists and anti-fascists as Trump tried to assert. There are fascists and those who oppose fascists, only one of those groups is right.

Theresa May has much to be ashamed of, but her sycophantic tolerance of Trump, despite his total disregard for her and the so called ‘special relationship’ between the USA and the UK, is near the top of the list.

It was disgraceful that a British PM ran hot foot to the White House to beg Trump to undertake a State visit. It says something that even the Queen finds Trump so odious that she baulked at that prospect.

When asked in the Commons about Trump’s detention of children her response was anaemic. An appropriate response would have been to cancel his visit.

This week, May has the opportunity to tell Trump some home truths. I’m not holding my breath. Trump is dangerous. He should not be appeased or pandered to. He should be condemned.

On Friday and over the weekend, thousands of people will join people’s protests against Trump. These protests are not anti-American. We stand shoulder to shoulder with all Americans who fear Trump as much as we do and who are actively resisting: the Women’s March; Black Lives Matter; Planned Parenthood; progressive trade unions; the Human Rights Campaign; and many other groups and individuals from the political left; from industry, sports and the media.

The STUC and unions will be prominent in these protests. It is our responsibility to defend democracy at home and abroad.

Democracy is about more than putting a vote in a ballot box on Election Day. Political institutions need to be influenced and held to account by wider civic society of which unions are a central part.  We have a crucial role to play in defending fundamental human rights and civil liberties. Building union membership and organisation has never been more important not just to improve rights at work but to stand up for democracy.


Mandela Day 2018: Trade Unions & the Anti-Apartheid Movement

On Nelson Mandela Day (18 July), we are sharing the full text of our interview with Brian Filling, Chair of the Nelson Mandela Scottish Memorial Foundation and Honorary Consul for South Africa in Scotland. We interviewed Brian for our Congress Programme 2018. 

Can you tell us about the role of trade unions in the anti-apartheid struggle?

Trade Unions in Britain were great supporters of the anti-apartheid movement. The STUC was ahead of the TUC in many ways because they recognised the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) and the ANC years before the TUC. In comparison, the TUC tried to work with the “Uncle Tom” trade unions – the white dominated Trade Union Council of South Africa, but the STUC never did. It wasn’t until 1981 that the TUC changed its policy.

NALGO (now UNISON) Glasgow City Branch gave the Anti-Apartheid Movement Scottish Committee an office to use. Another notable example was the RMT – at that time the National Seamen Union – who staged an extremely successful boycott of shipping North Sea oil to South Africa. USDAW members in Dunnes Stores in Ireland held a very successful boycott of South African goods.

BIFU, the banking union, now part of UNITE the Union, and many others like the Civil Service unions, Transport & General Workers Union and the AEUW, the engineers’ union, also did a lot of important work. And of course, so many individual branches across Scotland invited speakers from the campaign to meetings, they raised funds, they hosted exiled South African trade unionists; it really did spread rapidly, and the trade unions were the bed rock of the support for the campaign, and often dug it out of financial trouble.

In later years, the STUC invited speakers from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and South African TUC (SATUC) to Congress, and Scottish affiliates would invite delegates from their sister South African unions, so there was always a lot of support and activity. In 1994, six months after the first election and the end of apartheid, we took a 30-strong delegation to South Africa, including six STUC General Council members. It was a fantastic experience for everyone – we were hosted in Parliament by the Deputy Foreign Minister, who had previously been in exile.  We were invited to visit a hospital and over 300 stewards were there to welcome us. Even though they were poor and didn’t have very much, they put on a party that lasted well into the night. It was unforgettable.

Can you tell us about the South African trade union movement during the apartheid period and its role in the struggle?

In the early 1960s, when Mandela was arrested along with the others in the Rivonia trial, it really decapitated the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Many leading people had been sent out of SA, like Oliver Tambo who moved to London in 1960, because it was so dangerous, they knew they were going to be caught and imprisoned.

This was the time of the Sharpesville massacre (March 1960), a watershed moment in the struggle, marking a move to a more violent, more intense period of state repression. In response, the ANC took up the armed struggle. Mandela became commander-in-chief of Umkhonto weSizwe (“Spear of the Nation”) or ‘MK’.  They were still organising underground, but they kept getting arrested, being killed in prison. It really was a particularly hard time for the struggle after Rivonia, but eventually a new generation emerged. A key date was 1976 with the Soweto uprising, a lot of students were killed, and it acted as a recruiting aid, a lot of people left to join the armed struggle, literally 1000s joined the armed struggle.

There had always been trade unions in SA but they were banned, of course, for much of this time, and trade union members suffered harassment, imprisonment, torture and assassination. A contradiction in apartheid was that you would get some groups of workers coming together and forming a union, and the employer would negotiate with them, even though they were banned. The Apartheid government was left in a difficult position, and of course they tried to clamp down, they could see that trade unions were a way in which South Africans could join together and claim some power. It was particularly common in mining – Cyril Ramaphosa formed the National Union of Mineworkers in 1982 and successfully fought for an end to the job reservation system, which ensured that the best paid jobs went to white people. The NUM became the largest union in South Africa. Of course, Ramaphosa is now the President of South Africa.

The SATUC was banned, but COSATU was formed and it really took off. In the mid-80s, it was very well organised, with literally thousands of people joining trade unions. It was formed by 33 anti-apartheid unions who were committed to a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa. It was one of the big elements that put pressure on the apartheid government in the 80s, that and sanctions.

What was the British state’s involvement at this time?

A number of countries imposed sanctions on the South African regime, but Britain – led then by Thatcher – was one of the last countries to take these measures. Thatcher was completely isolated in her position – every country in the Commonwealth was for sanctions on SA. Thatcher was, of course, close to Regan and they shared a similar view of South Africa, but even the US moved quicker than Britain.

 Once Mandela was elected in 1994 was that the end, or has there been a continued relationship between Scotland and South Africa?

The Anti-Apartheid movement discussed what would happen after the elections, and it was agreed that Action for South Africa (ACTSA) would be formed. Although there had a been an election, the country still had suffered under 300 years of colonialism and apartheid, and it was recognised that South Africans were still going to need international solidarity, albeit of a different kind.

Prior to the end of apartheid, we had twinned Anti-Apartheid Movement regions of the UK with ANC regions in South Africa: Scotland was linked with the Transkei for historical reasons. Scots missionaries had established the Lovelace Institute there, which was the longest lasting non-racial high schools in South Africa and a lot of leading South Africans had been educated there. The first principle was William Govan – Govan Mkbeki was named after him and went to school there. He was later jailed at Rivonia. Forthare University was also formed by Scots missionaries in this area, and still to this day is one of the leading universities for Black Africans. Mandela studied there along with many leaders from other African countries. So because of these connections, we were twinned with the Transkei ANC; it later became the Eastern Cape Province.

We encouraged local branches to link up with each other too. We had educational institutions, local authorities, churches all linked up. So, for example we twinned Glasgow City Council with Amathole District Municipality. They used Commonwealth monies to fund the exchange of good practice; staff would visit from each country to learn from each other and it went on for many years. We were keen to promote very practical support, not just symbolic actions.

Do you think that’s why the links are so strong, because it’s about practical solidarity not just protests and rallies?

ACTSA at a national level became very different from the anti-apartheid movement. It became about lobbying Brussels and London and had no interest in local groups so they unfortunately died. But we continued with this in Scotland and we tried to continue these people to people links, but often they are hard to maintain as people move on and connections are lost, but some very good things happened and still do. For example, Glasgow Caledonian University offered to give Mandela an honorary doctorate, but he would only accept it if they committed themselves to offering support to rebuild South Africa. Glasgow Caledonian University twinned with the University of Transkei and nursing staff were sent out on three-month secondments; over a couple of years they worked with South African nurses to develop a whole new curriculum for nursing students and this was eventually taken up across the whole country.

They then began to send over physiotherapists, podiatrists, and visual science specialists to help train people to work in public institutions. During apartheid, these specialists often only treated white middle class patients so there was a lack of skills and experience in the black African medical profession. GCU students continue to volunteer in South Africa on the Phelophepa Health Train which brings health care to millions of people who live in rural areas of the country. Visual science students have told me they often see 40-50 patients a day on the train, with some carrying out cataract removal procedures, just wonderful stories of people leaving the train dancing into the night with their sight fully restored. There are 55 students going out to work on the train soon and by the end of this year 400 students will have worked on the train. It’s known in GCU but probably not widely, it’s great example of the continued way we continue to provide practical solidarity to South Africans.

That brings us on to now and the campaign for the Nelson Mandela statue. Why do you think we need a statue?

Naturally, if people didn’t live through things, it just becomes history. History is often written by the victors, but in this case the state doesn’t want us to remember the role they played in apartheid. It’s the same people in power in the UK and America now, so they are rewriting history to suit their own agenda. Thatcher’s ambassador to the UK wrote in his memoir that she was the one who secured Mandela’s release, so they are attempting to rewrite this period in history, so that’s part of it.

But also, today, if you stop fighting racism it comes back, it never goes away. There are those who it is in their interest to keep racism alive because it divides people, and there are others who are just ignorant and don’t understand. The statue is just one part of it, but it also about education and the activity around the statue that we are planning.

The statue is a physical marker of the need to continue to fight racism, to remind us that people can fight for change in the world and win it, and to commemorate the role that Scotland and Glasgow played in the anti-apartheid struggle. When Mandela addressed the crowds in George Square in 1993 he said, “While we were physically denied our freedom, a city 6,000 miles away, and as renowned as Glasgow, refused to accept the legitimacy of the apartheid system.”

Glasgow was the first city in the world to give Mandela freedom when he was still in prison on Robben Island. We approached the Lord Provost Michael Kelly to launch a worldwide Lord Mayors’ petition calling for the release of Mandela. This was followed by the renaming of Nelson Mandela Place in 1986. In 1988, we began a march from Glasgow to London, with 24 marchers to represent each year Mandela has been imprisoned. It left from Glasgow Green and a crowd of 30,000. So that connection with Glasgow is worth commemorating. Freedom of the City is ephemeral, you can’t see it, but you can see a statue.

What can trade unions do to support the campaign now?

Donations are extremely important, not just for the statue but all the planning and legal processes involved, and all the educational activities we have planned. Branches can invite speakers to meetings and events, and we have lots of materials and information that can be shared on our website.

We think it is especially important for younger generations to learn about this period of history. It’s not just about the anti-apartheid struggle in SA, but the effects that were felt across the continent, the problems caused by colonialism. People need to understand the root causes of the problems we see now. Apartheid has been defeated but the capitalist rulers are still exploiting South Africa and other countries in the region. Look at the Bell Potinger case, he was Thatcher’s head strategist during the miners’ strikes, and he was brought into South Africa by the Guptas. Their undoing was attempting to stir up racial tensions to justify their exploitation of the South African working classes, to attempt to divide people further.

There is a big responsibility on us to remind people of the role of British capitalism in supporting colonialism and apartheid but we also need to record the role of trade unions taking action in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in South Africa. I have no doubt that the trade unions will wish to support our campaign to create a statue of Nelson Mandela as a commemoration of the struggle against apartheid and their role in solidarity.

The Nelson Mandela Scottish Memorial Foundation is holding a fundraising gala dinner, on 24th August 2018, to celebrate the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela in this centenary year of his birth, and to raise funds both for a permanent memorial in Nelson Mandela Place, Glasgow and for the educational activities which the statue is designed to promote. You can find out more about this, and other ways you can support the campaign, here.