Trade Unions and the National Question

by Pauline Bryan, Campaign for Socialism and Red Paper Collective


The Yes Campaigners start from the assumption that the nationalist position is correct and that anyone who disagrees has to make the case to stay within the UK.  I would argue the opposite.  The whole history of the working class has been within the UK.  The Scotland of feudalism that existed at the time of the Union has little bearing on those whose lives are largely dictated by the power of corporate capitalism.  Scotland was part of the British empire in much the same way as Liverpool.  Its local capitalists gained from slavery, exploitation and wars while the majority of its citizens lived a hand to mouth existence often in terrible working and living conditions.

The labour movement was built up throughout the UK gradually winning better conditions by being able to link across workplaces to support each other in industrial action.  The labour movement was far from perfect.  It was sexist, often racist, it favoured the labour aristocracy and was sometimes corrupt, but it did begin to gain a greater share of GDP for workers, reaching a peak in the mid 1970s.  The struggle to achieve that was on the basis of a united trade union movement across the UK. 

The attack on trade unions that began in earnest under Thatcher was not reversed under Blair and in Scotland neither the Labour-Lib coalition nor the SNP Government challenged Westminster to reverse anti- trade union legislation.  Alex Salmond famously said “there is no appetite in the Scottish Government for anti-trade union legislation” – hardly a solid commitment and more like a desire not to scare his industrialist friends.

I do not argue that the trade union movement is not capable of organising across borders, but I would argue that we should start from the question what is best for our class (regardless of nationality).  I hate the argument put forward by nationalists in Catalonia and in Scotland that as a country they are richer than the rest of Spain or the UK and that their wealth is stolen from them by Spain or England.  As is the case everywhere, the fruits of working people’s labour are stolen by those who own and control the means of production and those people have no country.


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