Category: Trade Unions

Scottish Independence – there are no shortcuts to a British working class response.

By Vince Mills, Campaign for Socialism and Red Paper Collective

In an UK mired in austerity it is hardly any wonder that some sections of the Scottish left, as well as individuals who want a more just society, are attracted by the argument that they would be better placed to achieve socialism, or at least a move in that direction, if Scotland were independent of the UK.

What are the underpinning arguments for that position and what left strategies have emerged on the basis of these assumptions?

The first argument in favour of this position is that there is a significant difference between the Scots and the English in terms of the extent to which they favour progressive politics with the argument being, on balance, the Scots are more favourably disposed than the English.

In fact the evidence argues in quite the opposite direction.

A Nuffield foundation report in 2011 by Curtice & Ormston, concluded that in terms of being ‘more social democratic in outlook than England, the differences are modest at best’. They also note that “Like England, Scotland has become less – not more – social democratic since the start of devolution.”

DifferentUpHereAs Stephen Low points out in the Red Paper Collective website, the data extracted from British Social Attitudes (BSA) Surveys suggests that when it comes to our fifteen million closest neighbours, the 3 Northern regions of England, we are no different at all. Perhaps I should add ‘unsurprisingly’ since they are areas of high unemployment and industrial decline just like Scotland and surely this played a significant part in shaping attitudes to the welfare state and neo-liberalism.

The second argument to emerge from the left, the more revolutionary left, is that if Scotland left the UK it would lead to the break-up of the British State. Alex Salmond by contrast has been at pains to stress continuity. In the Andrew Marr show after the SNP conference last October he said:

“The state we currently live in is not Great Britain, it’s the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. ‘Britain’ won’t disappear as a geographical expression no more than ‘Scandinavia’”.

Former Labour MP and MSP, John McAllion, and now SSP member by contrast sees independence as a way of smashing the British sate where the British left has so signally failed. Writing in Red Pepper in 2012 he states:

ric“The choice is really very simple. Go on as before inside an antiquated and reactionary state that legally shackles trade unions and has no political space for socialism. Or begin to break that state apart in the name of progress and social advance and in doing so release the energy and the potential of a left across Britain that has for far too long been in retreat.”

It is very clear from what John writes that he believes that the power of capital somehow depends on, and is sustained by the constitutional relationship that exists between Scotland and the United Kingdom. Neither John nor other socialists who make this case explain how the power of capital, which would remain vested in the City Of London would be undermined by what Salmond recognises is a mere geographical re-arrangement, not social and political transformation of society.

As the Red Paper 2014 points out The Scottish Business Insider list of the Top 500 companies in Scotland in January 2013 showed a Top 20 dominated by wholly-owned subsidiaries of foreign multinationals and London Stock Exchange quoted corporations.

A secession by Scotland would not change this. Quite the reverse, according to Eric Hobsbawn in Nations and Nationalism, it increases small state dependence on global capitalism.

“They are economically dependent in two ways: generally, on an international economy they cannot normally hope to influence as individuals; and specifically – in inverse proportion to their size – on the greater powers and transnational corporations… The optimal strategy for a neo-colonial transnational economy is precisely one in which the number of officially sovereign states is maximized and their average size and strength…is minimized”

Undeterred The Jimmy Reid Foundation, has come up with a detailed strategy for pushing an independent Scotland towards the Left but hardly one that grips the socialist imagination. It is called the ‘Common Weal’.

On ownership of the economy it says nothing about the top 20 companies and instead emphasises the role of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in transforming the Scottish economy. There are upwards of 80,000 such firms with a range of employees between 2 and 250 in Scotland and they are mainly in services. Few export directly. Many are suppliers to a single, larger firms like Ineos Grangemouth or BAE systems and hence vulnerable to changes at that level – hardly the engine of economic transformation.

Furthermore in so far as the Common Weal promotes Public ownership it is not primarily in class terms – giving democratic control of the economy to those who produce the wealth -and there is no serious discussion of how, for example, key sectors of the economy like transport and energy could be brought back into public ownership. Instead the Common Weal focuses on state interventions necessary because of market failure.

20131003020508-cw-alanbissett_1_From a left wing perspective the section on democracy and governance is positively alarming. It adopts an unashamedly partnership model for trade unions. It argues for “strong trade unions working collaboratively with employers not only on employee remuneration issues but also on strategic management issues”. This is the model which some Irish Trade unionists would argue has been devastating in terms of their capacity to resist austerity. It sits very well, by contrast, with the corporatist thinking of the big business backers of the SNP.

The Red Paper Collective is only too conscious that exposing the limitations of arguments for a Yes vote from the Left might be taken as counsel for despair.

On the contrary if the English working class is, as it must be, as likely to challenge the exploitative nature of capitalism as their brothers and sisters in Scotland, then together we can challenge capital at its heart in the City of London. I say this without the slightest doubt that winning the people of Britain to a radical anti neo-liberal project is enormously difficult. But if we want to challenge the power of capital that is what we must do. There are no short cuts.

peoples-assemblyWe need a strategy built on existing working class institutions, primarily the trade unions, but growing beyond that into a British wide People’s Movement that the People’s Assembly aspires to, a movement that advances the case for social ownership of the economy starting with the banks , and financial institutions, the energy companies and the communication and transport infrastructures that will give us the basis for transforming this rotten, unjust society into one which is fit for human beings.

http://www.redpaper.net

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The Red Paper on Scotland: Dave Moxham, Deputy General Secretary STUC

Class, Nation and Socialism – The Red Paper 2014
The Red Paper Collective http://www.redpaper.net
Recorded at the STUC, Glasgow 2013.

ISBN 978-1-905-86668-7
£7.99
Glasgow Caledonian University Archives
Available by post from Scottish Centre for Work Based Learning, Glasgow Caledonian University, Cowcaddens Road, Glasgow G4 0BA £11.00 including postage payable to ‘The Red Paper Collective’.
Also available in Waterstone’s

The Red Paper on Scotland: Lynn Henderson PCS Union Scottish Secretary

Published on Sep 19, 2013

Lynn Henderson PCS Union Scottish Secretary

Class, Nation and Socialism – The Red Paper 2014
The Red Paper Collective http://www.redpaper.net
Recorded at the STUC, Glasgow 2013.

ISBN 978-1-905-86668-7
£7.99
Glasgow Caledonian University Archives
Available by post from Scottish Centre for Work Based Learning, Glasgow Caledonian University, Cowcaddens Road, Glasgow G4 0BA £11.00 including postage payable to ‘The Red Paper Collective’.
Also available in Waterstone’s

Grangemouth, Class Aggression and the ‘National Interest’

By Stephen Low, Labour Party Member

grangemouth

It is in ‘the national interest’ that Grangemouth remain open say the Scottish Government, refusing to countenance closure. They are however seemingly content with the idea that this be accomplished by the Ineos workforce sacrificing wages and pensions and redundancy terms and shift allowance. The national interest is being defined as the continuation of production at the plant and the refinery across the road, and only this. It’s an illustration of who counts as ‘the nation’ and gives us an idea of whose interests count as national priorities.

Reactions to what’s been going on in Grangemouth brought to mind this observation by Neil Davidson, it comes from a (decidedly lukewarm) review of a book by Gregor Gall

First, Gregor regards the strength of Scottish national identity as an advantage people in, say, Yorkshire do not possess. But the opposite is true. One of the greatest problems which faces the left in Scotland is precisely the way in which virtually every issue is viewed through the distorting lens of the ‘national question’, even when that has nothing to do with it.

(The full review is here)

Regrettably this has been much in evidence in relation to the situation in Grangemouth, were this happening in say Millford Haven or Ellesmere Port it would be being discussed as a naked act of class aggression. Instead we have, as the merest glance at #Grangemouth or #ineos on twitter show, the situation being viewed, as through a glass (labeled referendum) darkly. Airing constitutional grievances takes precedence over condemning the naked greed and social criminality of Jim Ratcliffe and his management team.

(Of course if this were happening in Ellesmere Port or Millford Haven some of the loudest commentators on this outrage would have little to say – but that is a separate matter)

Alex Salmond, is at time of writing saying he hopes to find another buyer – but even if one cannot be found the plant is too important to close. This is to be welcomed – not least because it seems to not rule out nationalisation. Obviously the key lesson in all this is that significant elements of national infrastructure should be in the hands of public and not private interests, however the First Minister has been an enthusiast for the business community for some time so let’s not get too ambitious. For the moment this is the best we are likely to get.

Welcome though Salmond’s comments of Wednesday are, he was significantly less than even handed last week. It’s not being parti pris to suggest that then it was Johann Lamont who was on the side of the workers, she said that Ineos should withdraw the new contracts and then negotiate. Salmond meanwhile was saying that the plant should reopen and Unite should honour their no strike offer whilst talks took place. The withdrawal of the, desperately unfavourable new contracts wasn’t mentioned. Whilst this gives the appearance of even handedness it would have made Unite’s negotiating position untenable (conceivably of course it might have delayed the unlovable Mr Ratfink’s decision to put the plant into liquidation.)

It’s extremely unlikely Alex Salmond has no care for the workforce in Grangemouth (he’s not a monster whatever Better Together say). That said, proletarian solidarity isn’t his guiding principle either. The concern of Mr S is the national interest. It is how this is defined that should be the point of interest for socialists.

The wages, shift allowances, redundancy payments and pensions of the workforce who carry out that production are not matters on which the First Minister (or anyone in the UK Government) has seen fit to comment. “Which is as it should be” it will be argued. These are matters of between employer and employee – not for a government to determine. Save that the Government has expressed its concern (via John Swinney on Newsnight Scotland) for the 800 workers directly employed in the Ineos chemical plant as well as for the industrial future of Scotland. The maintenance of decency in employment is surely a legitimate component of both these concerns.

A buyer may be found, and as I write the media are talking of a ‘last ditch offer’ from Unite to Ineos accepting many of the conditions the company has proposed. Perhaps this will keep the petrochemical plant open. Ineos meanwhile will certainly pursue a union busting attack on terms and conditions on the workforce at the refinery across the street. Will such a settlement really be in the interests of the nation?

The real national interest surely would be served by Government enforcing a situation that preserves not merely the jobs, but the living standards of Stevie Deans and Mark Lyon and the thousands of other ordinary men and women who work along the Bo’ness Road. Any truly national interest would put the interests citizens above shareholders – and it is to the extent that politicians do this over the days and weeks ahead that they should be judged.

Press Release on Ed Miliband’s Speech

Press Release on Behalf of the Campaign for Socialism for Immediate Use

Today Ed Miliband put forward several proposals in a major speech on the relationship between the Labour Party and the Trade Unions. The link between these organisations is almost unique in western society in terms of its historical significance and its achievements. Being able to change and adapt is vital in a shifting economy, and, in particular, an economy beset by a radical project of austerity from a Conservative-led government. Recognising the need for change and successfully navigating it, while also maintaining that significant link, is a sign of strength within the Labour movement.

Labour Left welcome call for Trade Union members to get involved with party

A spokesperson from Campaign for Socialism*, said:

“We welcome Ed Milibands’s call for Trade union members to get actively involved in the Labour Party – we look forward to campaigning with him to encourage just that. As well as this it is important that unions who are part of the Labour Party maintain their capacity to participate as organisations. We know that almost all Labour party members want us to keep the link with unions as now more than ever we need a broad-based, grass-roots campaign to fight back against austerity.”

“Sadly Mr Miliband linked a call for more participative and open politics with events in Falkirk. If Ed is going to use Falkirk as an example of anything he should, as Unite and local party members are urging, release the report into events there.”

Warn that primaries a danger to the open participative politics that Ed Miliband wants

“It’s disappointing that on the day Ed Miliband urges union members to get active in the party he announces that he wants to see Primaries which would make party membership redundant. This announcement about Primaries is actually a step away from the open participative politics that Ed Miliband calls for. These would take the vital decisions about who our candidates are out of the hands of those who do participate (giving, time, energy and commitment to Labour) and put it in the hands of whoever has the backer with the most amount of money or is friends with Rupert Murdoch”

ENDS

For further informaation please call:

Stephen Low, Campaign for Socialism Member – 07956852822

Martyn Cook, Campaign for Socialism Member – 07827962960

*NOTES

The Campaign for Socialism was set up in 1994 to campaign against the removal of clause 4 from the Labour Party’s constitution. Since then it has campaigned for democratic renewal and socialist policies for Scottish Labour through events and its journal, The Citizen.http://www.thecitizen.org.uk It is currently heavily involved in promoting the people’s Charter and campaigning against the bedroom tax. Its convener is Elaine Smith MSP.

Press Release on Falkirk MP Selection

Press Release on Behalf of the Campaign for Socialism for Immediate Use

Scottish Labour Left attacks London interference in Falkirk Selection Process
The Campaign for Socialism* is calling on Labour Party Leadership in London to allow the Scottish Labour Party executive to manage the Falkirk bye-election process. This follows reports that party officials intend to produce a new short list of candidates. The CfS accepts and supports the case being made by Unite that they have not been allowed to see, never mind address, the allegations made in a report to the National Executive of the Labour Party.

Paul McFarlane, Secretary of CfS, said:

“What makes this issue all the more frustrating for the rank and file of the Scottish Party, particularly those on the left, is that only recently were Neil Findlay MSP and Drew Smith MSP offered positions in the shadow front bench team in Scotland. Both MSPs are known as strong supporters of the STUC’s Better Together Campaign and the People’s Charter. It seemed at last that we (Scottish Labour) may have been beginning to put some clear red water between ourselves and the SNP. However, following on from Ed Balls and Ed Miliband’s reconversion to austerity, this episode looks more like a co-ordinated re-guard action by those on the right of the party who are intent on severing Labour’s relationship with the trade union movement. This cannot be allowed to happen.”

ENDS

For further information please call:

Paul McFarlane Secretary on: 0780 085 1638
Vince Mills, Chairperson: 0781 461 5224

*NOTES
The Campaign for Socialism was set up in 1994 to campaign against the removal of clause 4 from the Labour Party’s constitution. Since then it has campaigned for democratic renewal and socialist policies for Scottish Labour through events and its journal, The Citizen. http://www.thecitizen.org.uk It is currently heavily involved in promoting the people’s Charter and campaigning against the bedroom tax. Its convener is Elaine Smith MSP.

SNP MSP on blacklisting

From Daily Record: http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/politics/snp-msp-chic-brodie-claims-1954287

Chick Brodie MSP

Chick Brodie MSP

A MSP has sparked fury by claiming blacklisted workers might have been trying to hurt their employers.

Hundreds of Scots were put on illegal blacklists by sinister group The Consulting Association, who were paid by construction firms.

Many of those who lost their livelihoods were targeted because they were union members or had raised health and safety concerns.

But SNP MSP Chic Brodie – who was a Lib Dem for many years before defecting – appeared to defend the practice when the issue was raised at Holyrood.

He asked union leaders: “Do you believe all the people blacklisted are bona fide good employees or do you think they might – just might – have had a different agenda?”

His comments were slammed by Labour and the unions.

Neil Findlay MSP

Neil Findlay MSP

Neil Findlay MSP, who is campaigning for a full public inquiry into blacklisting, said: “He should apologise for this slur on workers whose careers and family life have been devastated.”

Unite Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty said: “Chic Brodie’s comments are ridiculous and unacceptable. His outrageous implication seems to be that some people deserved to be blacklisted.”

An SNP spokesman last night distanced the party from Brodie’s remarks.

He said: “The SNP is totally opposed to blacklisting or the compiling of a blacklist.

“Trade Unions – who have a proud history and significant future in protecting workers rights in Scotland – have been invited to work with the Scottish Government on the development of guidance for public bodies on addressing the issue in future procurement processes and public contracts.”