Monday, 4 November 2013
I am moved to share my thoughts on the continuing debate within the Trade Union movement on Independence given the mysterious decision of the GMB to announce that they back a No vote. Mysterious in the sense of lack of clarity about how this decision was reached.
The GMB position as announced by their leadership is curious. Here's a resolution that the GMB put the Scottish Trades Union Congress this year;
"That this Congress notes the continual contraction of the Scottish Economy, the rise in unemployment, particularly youth unemployment and the clear evidence that Austerity is NOT working. What jobs there are, are temporary, insecure, part-time and low wage....
Congress believes that there is an alternative path based on a people-centred economics, which puts democracy at the heart of it.
Congress calls for the development of credible, popular alternative based on common ownership. Investment in public services based on need, a manufacturing renaissance and full and fulfilling employment as an urgent macroeconomic goal, greater industrial economic democracy, including co-operatives, pension fund reform and proper investment in and the reconstruction of, our industrial base. This requires a wide- ranging STUC led campaign, building on the platform of, There is a Better Way."
Also reads like the Common Weal project to me.
Last week the Scottish Council of the GMB voted to support the No campaign. How does this motion square with the statements by both Labour and the Tories that over £2 billion of cuts are on the way in 2015?
Having spoken to many GMB members over the last two days, I can say that they are in shock at this decision. Claims of an extensive consultation appear wide of the mark - a consultation can only be a consultation if members feel involved - and can be described as patchy at best.
Here's some of the questions GMB members have been asking;
(1) How were consultation meetings advertised, and why do so many members claim they didn't know about them?
(2) How many attended meetings?
(3) Were both sides of the debate asked to send representatives to engage in hustings?
(4) Was a vote taken at these meetings?
(5) Why make the decision now, before publication of the White Paper, and the Labour Party's report on further devolution of powers?
(6) What was the level of engagement?
(7) Why were members not balloted on an issue of such importance?
(7) How does this square with the STUC stance of asking both sides questions, and keeping a neutral approach?
GMB members deserve answers to these basic questions. If the process has been found to be flawed, they have a duty to re-open the consultation.
We now have 5 Trade unions, traditional full time official led - as opposed to lay member led - making decisions on members behalf on how their money will spent on the Independence Referendum. In each case, the level of trade union member engagement and consultation is open to question. In most cases, these Trade Unions have lost members - usually to other Trade Unions.
Other Trade Unions should think very carefully about how they engage with their members on this issue, and should serve as a warning that top down diktats will alienate their members.
In a time of deregulated markets, a low wage economy, attacks on health and safety legislation and cuts to the public sector, the role and function of Trade unions is as important as ever. The Trade Union movement, as the largest part of Scottish Civic Society, has a duty to full engage with members on the biggest political decision in decades. Those Trade Unions backing No appear to have done members a disservice.
Finally, I am curious as to where Trade Union funds will go. It was my understanding that United with Labour was created to give trade union activists and labour party members some space to campaign to remain in the UK in the absence of Conservatives. What exactly is the relationship between United with Labour and Better Together?
Union members are entitled to know where and how their money is being spent on campaigning and what exactly is funded by whom to do what. In other words...follow the money ?
Tuesday, 9 July 2013
Whilst the aim of "opting-in" is entirely laudable, and to a certain degree already operates in practice within UNISON, a key statistic not widely reported in the media is that over 360,000 UNITE members do not pay the political levy to Labour.
Other Trade Unions correctly take the view that their political fund should be used to fund campaigns of candidates of various political parties - for example the Fire Brigades Union who have funded campaigns of the last two parliamentary elections campaigns I have been involved in. The RMT similarly fund campaigns in this way, both unions choosing to support candidates who have a track record in supporting fairness at work.
The problem,( depending on your point of view), is that explicitly funding a candidate of a political party other than that of the Labour party results in that trade union being expelled by Labour.
I am prepared to wager that the above scenario will remain the case in this so-called Labour reform.
UNITE have a point when they criticise their arch-nemesis Progress for indulging in the same sort of candidate fixing that they are accused of in the Falkirk case. Actually, a glance at any Left labour blogs can provide chapter and verse on the inglorious history of New Labour fixing to purge any candidates with anything other than strict adherence to centre right orthodoxies. Ironic that Falkirk is the seat under the spotlight as the deliberate exclusion of Denis Canavan in the run up to 1999 is the prime example of this so the double think airbrushing of history that the current leadership are hoping to achieve.
All of which leads to the following conclusions;
Firstly with New Labour, supporters of austerity, taking a similar path to the Tory-led Government, why shouldn't trade unions, in this age of multi-party politics not fund campaigns of those seeking political office whose views and values are sympathetic to the Trade Union Movement - SNP, Plaid Cymru, the various Socialist Parties, and indeed Labour candidates. It's tempting to label those as "what's left of the left" in the Labour party, but it's simplistic and trite to label those who support workers rights, decent working conditions and fair pay as "Left" - but let's leave challenging the language of the right wing media for another day.
Secondly, if candidate fixing is ok for Progress and not the Trade Unions, what legitimate voice and role remains for the trade union movement in todays British Labour Party?
Thirdly, if this is a step to reduce trade union influence (openly admitted by the leadership) then surely it is time for unions to look elsewhere? Members may wonder what precisely their hard earned subs are going toward if unions will carry less influence than a think tank or lobbying firm when looking to advance their cause of protecting jobs and conditions ?
Surely now, more than ever, it is time for trade unions to ditch New Labour.
Monday, 8 July 2013
Saturday, 6 July 2013
Monday, 3 June 2013
Today's statement from Ed Balls demonstrates that things won't change anytime soon, if Scotland retains its place in the UK. The statement that only a Labour Westminster Government can deliver social justice and so wait till 2015 is now a fanciful and risible notion.
The attack on universalism is a dangerous course, - how far does mean testing go, if we start with winter fuel payments, then what is next? Surely Peter Hain is correct when he says " if middle Britain ceased to benefit from the welfare state through some of the few universal benefits that are left, how can we convince them to fund the larger part of that budget through their taxes?”
Surely providing some universal benefits for everyone is a matter that encourages citizenship and electors to fund the welfare budget through taxation?
And how much does means testing cost?
Curiously, Peter Mandelson outlined in his book The Third Man, the debates which took place in 2010, where he persuaded Gordon Brown that cuts had to made rather than grow the economy out of the crisis. This being the case then, Brown was correct and Mandelson was wrong.
If Labour do support a continuance of austerity where does that leave them with their European colleagues?
In my recent visit to Brussels I listened to the former Minister for the National Economy for Greece, who advocated massive cuts to the public sector, including cutting jobs, wages and welfare payments. (perhaps a good reason why he was the former minister). This proposed medicine would only make the Greek situation worse.
As the European Union realises that austerity measures aren't working, why are Labour going down the same road as the Conservatives? What is noticeable is the tired and dreary vision being recycled by a shadow cabinet led by former policy advisers who are stuck in a 1990's timewarp, convinced that what won the election in 1997 was "iron discipline" i.e. sticking to Tory spending limits - and that this bitter medicine should be prescribed again. Once again proving that Labour are a party with a past, and not much of a future.
It is a grave error indeed to suggest that demonstrating you can be trusted to run the economy means more cuts and more restraint. The answer to austerity is to grow the economy and invest.
At a fundraiser in the City Chambers for his charity, Community Heart, a packed room listened intently to his recollection of the ANC's struggle to overcome apartheid, and the challenges facing South Africa to transform a society and how this can be a long and slow process.
Denis demonstrated his love of poetry and in particular, Rabbie Burns reciting A Mans a man for a' that (one of my favourites).
The discrimination faced by black South Africans in schooling, medical care and housing was highlighted, as well as the campaign called African claims - a forerunner to the UN Human Rights charter.
Denis thanked those around the world for the support and international pressure, which he believes kept him and other ANC leaders alive during the Rivonia Trail - the 50th anniversary of which is this year. Denis survived 22 years in jail, which he believes was worth it to see the end of apartheid.
He made a statement which has stuck with me since Friday night - Dreams become reality when you mobilise people.
Although he accepts that South Africa faces many challenges, he correctly in my view articulated the advances that have been made in that 90% of South African children go to school (half didn't under apartheid), that universities are now populated by people who under apartheid were denied the choice, the millions of South Africans who now have access to running water, and the massive house building to accommodate its people. These are huge advances in the lives of South Africans.
He also spoke about the complexity of transforming a country into a functioning democracy and that this would be a long slow process.
The night would not have been complete of course without highlighting the excellent work undertaken by Community Heart, and his encouragement of children to read and to take up music.
I am delighted that Glasgow City UNISON continues to fund these projects, and that the Scottish Government has provided support.
A very serious man, who reminded us all that the roots of injustice and poverty lie in the unequal distribution of reward for those who labour and those who own - and that struggle is universal and not confined to one country.
Thursday, 23 May 2013
I am not sure what mechanisms of consultation were used to engage their membership, but I find the claim that not one member will vote for Independence incredibly silly.
Other Trade Unions are correctly taking a longer term view and engaging with their members through the STUC "A Just Scotland" consultation, which correctly challenges all sides of the debate to demonstrate how the options will benefit the lives of working people.
But lets come back to ASLEF. Simple research uncovers a rather offensive article in their Newsletter last year, where a certain Tom Burns of their Perth Branch wrote in inflammatory terms.
Among the gems of criticism were
(a) no guarantees that the heirs of Queen Elizabeth would be head of state in an Independent Scotland
(b) the stated intentions of multinationals to relocate south of the border - without naming anyone in particular
(c) That Holyrood is a single legislative chamber with no checks and balances - but the devolved parliament isn't a stand alone institution and ignores the ongoing debate about where powers should sit at an even further local level in Scotland
(d) That the SNP Government discriminates against English Students - ignoring legal context
(e) The SNP is anti-English - despite the existence of English born parliamentarians and Government Ministers and activists who are entirely comfortable with campaigning for independence - as it's about the right to self-determination not tribalism
It is of course the prerogative of ASLEF to publish such arrant nonsense, but leaves serious questions as to why such an article would find itself in a Trade Union news sheet, as is the decision to show their hand in the constitutional debate now.
Interestingly the debate within the Trade Unions is beginning to heat up after STUC Congress and UK Conferences due to take place over the Summer.
The Jimmy Reid Foundation also has very useful suggestions, in its new document "The Common Weal", on the type of economic and social renewal that can take place in Scotland - looking at examples in the Nordic and Germanic countries. Dealing with issues such as Tax reform, welfare, a proper investment bank, and various models of company ownership are just some of the issues which should lead the debate over the next year or so within the Trade Union Movement.
The level of the debate within Trade Unions has the capacity to lead the way, and perhaps ASLEF will regret showing their hand and their arguments so early on - as all it would take to completely undermine their stance is for one single ASLEF member to come forward and express their support for independence.
Sunday, 19 May 2013
My first real engagement with them was last month at a Strathclyde University debate where I was on the side of the UK remaining in Europe - which won handsomely in a vote at the end.
During the debate the UKIP spokesperson in answering what was a reasonable point on the success of ERASMUS - a body which enables higher education students to work and study abroad as part of their degree stated that this body was designed to "enslave today's students to be part of the EU bureaucracy."
A rather dangerous and eccentric view to put it politely.
There is something deeply troubling about their rhetoric on immigration, their outlook to our partner countries in Europe, and their simplistic approach to leaving the EU. Indeed it appears to have passed them by that joining the European Free Trade Alliance would result in them having to sign up to their pet hates of European Regulation to be part of that body too.
UKIP are on the side of those who see workers rights and hard fought protections such as the Social Chapter (deemed too left wing incidentally, by Major, Blair, and Brown) as troublesome regulation, whilst opposing a financial transactions tax and the capping of bankers bonuses.
On your side? No chance.
The mutual talking up of a Conservative/UKIP arrangement in a future UK election demonstrates that the electoral survival of Tory MP's is more important than being part of a rational debate about our relationships in the world and having a positive vision for our future.The case being put forward to leave the EU is based on a fantasy of turning back the clock to 1973 without consequences - a fanciful delusion.
The case for staying in an institution that has improved the lives and working conditions of millions of working people in Europe, now needs to made in a concise, clear and positive way.
The case for leaving the EU, is a classic case of the race to the bottom.
Monday, 6 May 2013
Two immediate thoughts spring to mind. Firstly, on this showing, Labour will not be elected as the next Westminster Government in 2015. The rule of thumb from considered political experts is that they needed approx 500 gains to be in a position at this stage of the political cycle to be heading in that direction. Labour gained half that total.
This fact will no doubt worry Labour activists, and will I am sure lead to some debate as to whether they continue the Tory-lite approach favoured by the Westminster Front Bench , or do they start to provide a clear narrative articulating their differences with the Tories?
Secondly, and perhaps related was that the rise of the UKIP vote demonstrates that Scotland and England are becoming two, distinct, political countries. As a regular delegate to the UNISON UK Conference, the reaction from Scottish TU colleagues listening to the challenges faced by TU members elsewhere in the UK, is met with support but also relief that some of the attacks facing public sector workers - for example the abandonment of the two tier workforce agreement by the Tory led Government - are not being faced here in Scotland.
Whilst the defeat of the BNP in Burnley is most welcome, the results indicate a move to the right. The UKIP agenda of playing to prejudice and grievance, of trying to blame someone else for the country's problems rather than the Government plays into the Tories hands.
The sight on Friday afternoon of Simon Hughes of the Liberal Democrats discussing anti-immigration measures is testament to that.
But perhaps the harshest lesson is that the rise of the UKIP vote, and the pandering to it by the Tories, is that the biggest threat to Scotland's place in Europe, is not an Independent Scotland, but by staying in the UK.
Lets consider this, there is no doubt that Cameron will veto measures such as, a financial transactions tax, limits on bankers bonuses, and extensions to social protections. Are these not policies that a Scottish Government and most Scots find favour with?
Wednesday, 1 May 2013
Indeed - the New Labour Project with its figurehead Tony Blair won in a landslide 16 years ago. My thoughts today turn to the mess the Labour Party finds itself in now.
What was once a confident looking, positive party has been reduced to a small minded, vitriolic, inconsistent shambles.
In my time at the STUC Annual Congress when talking to delegates their real concern was the association with the Tories in the Better Together campaign. A perfectly justified concern, given the many public pronouncements from Better Together come from a centre right political position - witness the huge publicity afforded comments from the CBI yesterday as a classic example. As one Labour activist commented privately " I didn't come into politics to wrap myself in the Union Jack and campaign alongside Tories ".
Add in a very public attack on the UNITE General Secretary from Ed Miliband and it's little wonder that many Trade Union activists are supporting Independence.
With the Westminster Labour front bench being led to the right by the Tory-led Government on the economy and welfare (and can we reclaim the language by using "Social Security" whenever possible ?) , the joy and relief on that morning in 1997 when the Tories had been ousted, seems generations away.
This week Labour have a difficult juggling act to pull off - attack the Tories in England to win council seats in the local elections (but not frighten the horses aka Daily Mail readers who might vote UKIP instead), but at the same time retain the base vote being hardest hit by public spending cuts, but not be tagged as Red Ed, but keep the trade union funding and support (by verbally biting the hand that feeds you through the subscriptions of low paid workers - very odd, Ed) - and at the same time have your Scottish party members campaigning using materials funded by questionable sources and working Better Together alongside Tories ? Tricky..
Their desperation to secure a No vote in 2014 and the increasingly tribal, bitter nature of the attacks on all independence campaigners (and even against the thoughtful, not made their minds up, willing to have a decent debate people ) is entirely down to one clear dynamic - the survival of the Labour party as an electoral force is dependent on Scotland's votes and a cohort of MP's ( Cohort is the kind word) to boost the Labour numbers on the green benches in Westminster. Victory (or a negotiating mandate with any Libdems that are left after their ride into the valley of electoral death in 2015) is not a given - and without those Labour Scottish MP's Miliband minor will never walk through the door of number 10.
16 years on, the conclusion can only sensibly be - don't let the survival of the "people's party" (largely populated by shiny clones who've never worked outside of the political career bubble) be more important than a decent debate about Scotland's future and let's not have the largely self centered and biased worldview of the Labour tribe get in the way of the facts.
Saturday, 30 March 2013
Sunday, 24 March 2013
Tuesday, 19 March 2013
This was the statement made to me earlier today on Twitter from Lynn Henderson, Scottish Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union. (and best wishes to civil service workers on strike tomorrow).
Todays vote in the House of Commons which saw the Labour Front Bench abstain from the Workfare vote was yet another dull thud on the bruised body of the wider labour movement. A timely reminder that the shiny shiny New Labour bureaucrats still have their clammy hands on the tiller to make sure that their managerial agenda for servicing business first, working people second, isn't too compromised in opposition by such tricky things as principled positions.
To stand back whilst the Tory Government unilaterally and retrospectively change the law to ensure the continuation of unpaid labour, and see workers wages undercut by Workfare is a dereliction of duty and against the very principles of the Labour Movement and the historic aims of the Labour Party.
Todays events remind me of Jimmy Reid when he said "I didnt leave the Labour Party, the Labour Party left me", I am sure that there are many who feel like that today. Co-inciding with the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War , it's an unfortunate reminder for many who've stuck with the party despite everything - it's not that there ever was a golden age and the battles between left and right in the party are legendary, but the rights of working people were one of the key principles that the 20th century Labour movement held dear and fought hard for. The Labour party in the 21st century is a different construct and no amount of singing the Red Flag and celebrating its history can hide that, waving banners and turning out to parade on May Day is a faint echo of past struggle rather than a proud celebration of current principles. (With some exceptions that prove the rule).
The Labour Party has a great history, but surely now for many - the party is over
It is to my complete astonishment that I read this week, that the Labour Front Bench abstained on a vote to remove from 2500 PCS members, the right to strike in Customs and Immigration.
The honourable John McDonnell probably puts it best when he says
"This is the first time in the Labour Movement - the first time ever in the history of the Labour Party - that his party has supported in Parliament the removal of trade union rights for trade unionists"
Had it not been for John McDonnell's intervention the Labour Front Bench would have supported the measure!
News also reaches me that the Labour front bench are likely to abstain in tomorrow's vote on Workfare.
What on earth is going on?
Have we really reached a point for no return where the Labour Party at Westminster now see the rights of workers and Trade Unions as expendable? Are they so cautious and sensitive to accusations of "Red Ed" being held hostage by the unions that they are prepared to sit back and let those self same members who actively support the Labour party (by choice and opt-in) through the trade union levy go to the wall ?
This is the enduring mystery at the heart of the Labour party - significant sums of money and resource support the party and individual MP's, MSP's, councillors and constituency parties - cheques written from political funds established though the political levy from the wages of many low paid workers. And what exactly do they get in return for all this support - other than warm words ("Comrades .. as a democratic socialist of course I support you..But...) and cool distance when councils set budgets, and parliamentarians cast their vote.
This ideological right wing Coalition Government must be laughing all the way to the bank.
Who do working people support now.
Westminster has failed working people. If the Government and the main opposition cannot protect workers, then surely only Independence can.
Only the SNP support the removal of anti-TU laws, with the rights of workers to begin on day one of their employment.
Surely now, only Independence can protect workers in Scotland through the European Social Chapter, which the Tories are desperate to ditch.
I would encourage everyone to sign up to Trade Unions for YES - facebook page up and running.
Westminster has repeatedly failed in the protection of working people in Scotland.
Sunday, 24 February 2013
I had the privilege of listening to Dennis Canavan at the Glasgow UNISON AGM Independence Hustings. At the same time the Better Together were preparing for a big campaign weekend around the issue of stability - the proverbial "don't frighten the horses" visionless unionist argument. Perfectly encapsulated in the desiccated persona of Alistair Darling.
Only hours later the news that the UK has lost its AAA Credit Rating became public.
I personally support the view of many that the media obession with credit ratings and the Better Together campaign's use of their status as a weapon of choice gives them a validity and credibility that they do not deserve. After all, the judgement of the international global financial institutions they serve is so sound and reliable.... Alice in Wonderland casino economy forecasts are barely worth the ticker tape they're printed on these days.
In any event, whilst at a Euro Hustings in Ardrossan on Saturday I was advised that the Better Together campaign were handing out a leaflet stating amongst other challengeable assertions - "Scots save billions on the costs of mortgages due to the UK's credit rating"
Er...unfortunate timing, but perhaps the Better Together crystal ball was a little cloudy when the order went to the printers - remind me again, who's the main economic genius figurehead leading the campaign? Therein lies the Labour contradiction at the heart of their involvement in Better Together - on the one hand arguing that UK PLC delivers stability, certainty, reassurance, on the other hand campaigning as a party against Gideon Osborne and his bunch of Eton chums not being fit to be in charge of the school tuck shop funds...
The official position from the Better Together is that the leaflet being referred to is "one year old".
If this is correct then why.....
(1) Was Better Together 2012 Ltd Incorparated at Companies House on the 1st June 2012?
(2) Was the leaflet distributed in Glasgow Pollok this weekend? (along with Double Agent Ian Davidsons infamous Clyde Yards leaflet - Doom ! Gloom ! Independence will cost you your jobs and a stable future...)
(3) make the claim that the leaflet was one year old and was not being distributed?
As momentum switches so do the questions and the claims. The politics of this of course are that if the AAA credit rating is a reason for staying in the UK, now that it no longer has this rating why stay? The online gymnastics from the Better Together spin meisters frantically try to say..nothing to see here, move along...
Incidentally is it just me or does an argument for a secure future for everyone and prosperity all round based on endorsing the status quo of global exploitation, greed, mass poverty and inequality seem a bit..odd ?
In closing the over-arching feeling is how does the UK result in stabilty when the arguments have to change every few months?.......
Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Wednesday, 6 February 2013
The clause (Clause 61) was inserted at the Report Stage of the Bill, has not been subject to public consultation, and overturns what has been established law for over 100 years.
Currently regulations under the Health and Safety at Work Act contain statutory duties that ensure employers maintain safe workplaces. The Westminster Government wishes to remove what is known as strict laibility. For example as the employee does not have control over the selection, buying or maintenance of work equipment, the employer takes the risk if the equipment injures someone or is defective.
If the proposed change remains it will remove all opportunities for an injured worker to seek compensation from an employer for breach of a statutory duty, and employers will no longer be liable in civil court for breaches of Health and Safety at Work regulations. The only remedy available will be to prove employer negligence.
The Westminster Governments own impact assessment demonstrates that negligence is more difficult to prove.
The reality of this situation is that fewer claims will be pursued and fewer injured workers will receive compensation, and they and their families will have will pick up the consequences whilst Insurance compnaies will be the gainers.
Compensation is not a prize or bonus for employees, it is simply compensation for injury suffered. If this proposal is allowed to stand it will be a further eradication of workers rights in the UK, a dangerous, pernicious, and ideological backward step and a signal to bad employers that they have a better chance of getting away with poor health and safety provision.
This is quite simply a scandalous piece of legislation hidden under the disguise of deregulation.
Thursday, 31 January 2013
The evening started with a peculiar prelude outside the venue of Govan Old Parish Church. I was handed a leaflet from “Glasgow South West Labour” which attempted to make the case that Independence would inevitably result in shipyard job losses. The tone was literally “doom and gloom” (words actually used in the text of the leaflet) , asserting that jobs are always safe under the UK umbrella, and anything else will lead to disaster and unemployment. This alarming assertion flies in the face of reality - as I know from personal experience. Family and friends have lost their jobs in shipbuilding whilst being continually told that only remaining in the UK protects the industry. A rather clunky and simplistic message designed to provoke a “No” vote, and more proof of my pet theory that Iain Davidson is an active Double Agent for the Independence movement. The campaigning tactics of fostering fear and anxiety , overlaid with a paternal and patronising tone are the blunt instruments of the last century and conjure up a dismal vision for the future under “ Scottish” Labour.