Thursday, 9 September 2021

TAX WEALTH, NOT WAGES: for a legal maximum income


Contrary to all the fuss and brouhaha, Boris Johnson's new taxation for health and social care is a pitiful failure to match the scale of monumental crisis in both social care and the NHS.

And equally damning, the Tories' new taxation scheme is one of the most unfair and regressive of all, in a state awash with taxes that hammer the lowest-paid whilst tickling the tummies of the grotesquely rich.

First, the headline facts. From next April, and for the three subsequent years, National Insurance Contributions will increase by 1.25 percentage points - which is a rise of over 10% on the current rate. In total that will raise an additional £36billion, spread over 3 years.

It's a UK-wide tax. In response to the backlash about this being Boris's 'social care poll tax', levied on Scottish workers to (allegedly) bail out social care in England, the Tories have conceded that £1.1billion a year will come to Scotland from this 'health and social care levy'. They furthermore 'magnanimously' granted the Scottish government the powers to decide how to use that extra funding, after being accused of undermining devolution.

Broken Tory Promises

In once again breaking a Tory election promise not to raise taxes – at the same time as also spitting in the faces of those who believed the Tories when they promised not to end the pension 'triple lock', whereby state pensions rise with inflation, average wages or by 2.5% - they try to fool people into thinking they are dealing with the catastrophe in social care, so blatantly exposed during 18 months of pandemic. They are not!

For starters, only £5.4billion of the total £36billion is to go to social care; the rest is to be poured into the gaping hole in NHS funding, which is facing its own escalating crisis. And of that sum, only £2.5billion is being allocated to funding of the social care workforce, training and associated council costs – despite England alone suffering 120,000 unfilled vacancies in that sector! Age UK reports that at least 1.5 million elderly people are not getting the care they need (and deserve).

The £1.1billion a year allocated to Scotland certainly puts to shame the pitiful £148million previously promised by Nicola Sturgeon – and now officially signed up to by the Scottish Green Party – in their entirely bogus claims of establishing “a National Care Service on a par with the NHS”.

But it still goes nowhere near tackling the crises in Scotland's care sector or Scotland's NHS.

Scotland's Health and Care Crisis

Shocking new figures by the nursing union, RCN Scotland, reveal that our hospitals are suffering the highest levels of unfilled vacancies in history. Almost 5,000 full time equivalent posts in Scotland's NHS remain unfilled – 7.1% of all roles in the service. In areas like the Highlands, Shetland and Dumfries & Galloway, over one in every 10 nursing and midwifery posts lies empty, unfilled, adding to the health catastrophe exacerbated by Covid-19. As a mental health epidemic sweeps the country, one in every 12 mental health nurse positions remains vacant, unfilled, unfunded.

And that says nothing of the terrible state of affairs in Scotland's social care sector.

NIC: Regressive, Unfair Tax on Wages

But as well as being nothing like adequate to the urgent tasks posed, the entire health and social care levy – the 1.25 percentage points increase on NIC contributions – is obscenely regressive, hammering those least able to afford it compared with the rich minority.

Under uproar about increased taxation of workers whilst share dividends were to remain untouched, the Tories have conceded that tax on share dividends will also rise by 1.25%. But let's not get too grateful! Let's look at the relative taxation rates, and how they hammer workers rather than wealth.

NIC is one of the most regressive taxes in the UK. The existing rate for all incomes between £9,658 a year and £50,268 is currently 12% - rising to 13.25% from April 2022. By stark contrast, all income above £50,268 only contributes a miserly 2% NIC – or 3.25% from April!

Wealth Inequality Even Wider

And of course it gets worse. Wealth inequality is infinitely greater than income inequality.

The millionaires and billionaires sink much of their wealth in mansions, yachts, super-cars, diamonds and the likes, and hire vast armies of accountants to devise devilishly ingenious ways to dodge paying taxes on their ill-gotten wealth – whereas you or I would face the jail for refusing to pay taxes on our wages.

Instead of walloping wages, health and social care should be properly funded by taxation on wealth. Here are a few illustrative examples of what could be done, in a fashion that would at least trim some of the worst excesses off the inequality inevitably produced by capitalism - a system that is constructed to create inequality.

Wealth Tax

Even a 5% wealth tax on all couples 'worth' more than £1million would raise £50billion a year – dwarfing the paltry £12billion annual income from the Tory scheme that disproportionately comes from the incomes of the lowest paid worker.

Or a puny 1% wealth tax on households worth over £4million would give the state an additional £20billion a year to fund health, social care and other public services.

Capital Gains Tax comes from selling something which has increased in value. But the highest rate of CGT is a modest 28%. If that was raised to 40%, it would give the state an extra £9billion a year.

Entrepreneurs Relief!

One of the lesser known, perfectly legal, tax schemes is called Entrepreneurs Relief! No, this is not some dodgy form of recreation, but legalised theft of public funds by the hard-at-profiteering. Over 50,000 business people benefit from this state handout. If it was included in Capital Gains Tax, and increased to 40% instead of being zero-rated, it would bring in £13billion a year!

The lowest paid millions unavoidably pay income tax starting at 20%. Just to show how 'equitable' capitalism really is, tax on earnings on stocks and shares is a puny 7.5% right now; we can hear the screams of agony from the big shareholders at facing a tax rate of 8.75% from next year!

Even a hopelessly inadequate rise to 15% taxation would gather £7billion a year extra for health and social care.

Legal Maximum Income

All these facts and figures are mere samples of what a progressive taxation system could do, at the expense of the millionaires, for the benefit of the millions.

But they also serve to highlight the need to transform the whole system with measures that would mean a vast transfusion of wealth and power away from the rich to the rest of us; the opposite to what has actually happened, particularly under successive Tory and Labour governments since the Dark Ages of Maggie Thatcher in the 1980s.

One of the policies pioneered by the SSP over the 23 years since our formation is a Legal Maximum Income, set initially at 10 times the legal National Minimum Wage. It's a policy which in turn I fought for and won as national conference policy in my own trade union, USDAW, the fifth-largest union in the country.

Frankly, the idea that a legally-enforced national minimum wage of at least £12-an-hour should be accompanied by a Legal Maximum Income equivalent to £120-an-hour is absurdly over-generous to the rich. But it would be a good start, in tackling inequality and providing Universal Free Basic Services.

And it could raise a fortune! At risk of boggling your brain, imagine such a policy applied even just to Scotland's 10 billionaires, whose combined wealth rocketed to £22.4billion last year. If a legal cap was imposed on them, at 10 times the proposed £12 minimum wage, that would leave about £21billion for Scotland's public services!

Or extend the geography of this Legal Maximum Income to the whole UK: the richest 250 people increased their wealth last year by over £1million a day, each, on average – every day!

A mere 171 people, the UK's billionaires, have a combined fortune of £597billion. Slap the cap on them, at 10 times the minimum wage, and you can do the sums for yourself.

Capitalism is Designed to Create Inequality

Capitalism by its very nature is a grotesque machine for creating inequality. As even the right-wing Sunday Times was moved to write when it published its annual Rich List in May 2021,

Many readers will feel uncomfortable that such astonishing fortunes have been created as Britain battled a virus that has so far claimed 128,000 lives, increased unemployment to 1.7 million, ramped up government debt, clipped civil liberties and heightened levels of depression and other mental health illnesses.”

Uncomfortable? Furious more like, but all the more resolved to overturn that system. Which would require democratic public ownership of the major industries and services to fully tackle, but which a Legal Maximum Income would certainly begin to transform.

Socialism – not Tinkering with Capitalism

The Tories are openly the political wing of capitalism and its inherent inequalities and exploitation. Labour under Starmer is the New Labour New Tories! It's led by the knight of the realm who led the opposition to mild increases in Corporation Taxes on the giant corporations in this year's Westminster Budget debates!

But neither the SNP nor Scottish Greens fundamentally oppose the continued rule of capitalism, and therefore satisfy themselves with minuscule measures to redress the balance of inequality; measures that are puny in their scale.

The health, social care and general well-being of the population will not be noticeably improved by the funds raised by the regressive taxation schemes just announced, which will serve to exacerbate inequality.

The SSP's policy of a Legal Maximum Income of no more than ten times a living, minimum wage, rapidly reduced to ratios of 5:1 or less – alongside our fight for democratic public ownership of energy, transport, construction, major industries, landed estates and the entire financial system – is what is required.

Successfully proposing Legal Max Income policy at 2018 USDAW National Conference


This video was made over 3 years ago, so a few of the statistics are dated: we need a MINIMUM hourly wage for all aged 16 upwards of at least £12. 

But the message and policy is even more relevant today than then, with galloping inequality, exacerbated by the Tories' 10% hike of NIC taxation of ordinary workers. 

Copy and paste this VIDEO link in your search, or right click on it for options:


Monday, 6 September 2021


There are growing signs that many trade union activists are seeking to break the strangulating ties with Sir Keir Starmer's Labour Party, seeking other means of struggle in defence of jobs, livelihoods and workplace rights. Two developments in the one week are signposts of this shift in outlook.

The three-way contest for the new general secretary of the giant Unite union was won by Sharon Graham, whose main campaigning slogans were ‘Back to the Workplace’ and ‘Payment by results’ for politicians, rather than blanket financial backing for a Labour party hell-bent on crushing the last remnants of socialism from its membership and its actual practices.

The right-wing candidate, Gerard Coyne, was the darling of most of the capitalist media, Blairite and Starmer's pet candidate.  He sought to play on discontent in the ranks with bogus calls for ‘change’, but his track record of cosying up to big business in partnership agreements and his virulent opposition to both Jeremy Corbyn and outgoing general secretary Len McCluskey did not inspire a right-wing coup by Unite members. In fact, Coyne’s vote crashed by 20,000 compared with when he stood against McCluskey in 2017.

UNITE: Sharon Graham Wins Despite Divided Left Vote 

Many workers understandably feared that Coyne might slip through the middle given the divided left vote, where initially there were three self-declared left candidates: Howard Beckett, Steve Turner and Sharon Graham. After putting up a vigorous challenge during branch nominations, with a powerful cache of left-wing policies and high-profile campaigning against the virus of Fire and Rehire, Beckett then withdrew and made the bizarre decision to support Turner. That left two candidates competing against the nakedly right-wing Coyne.

Although declared as the official United Left candidate in a hotly disputed vote, and supported by many of the Labour left and the Communist Party, Turner would have been a move to the right compared with the outgoing McCluskey regime, and much tamer in his approach both to employers and Starmer's right-wing cabal. For instance, Turner declared throughout that there was “no need for an attack dog general secretary”, advocating one prepared to do deals behind the scenes.

Workplace Organisation

Whilst the claims by an extremely well-paid full-time national official of the Union to be ‘The Workers’ Candidate’ is a dubious concept, nevertheless Sharon Graham's well-crafted message of building more powerful workplace organisation hit home with many of the best Unite workplace activists. It's true that a major part of her campaign team were actually full-time paid officials in her own Organising Department of Unite, but they were added to by a whole raft of shop floor fighters, attracted by her fighting talk. For instance, Manchester bus workers who recently defeated fire and rehire through prolonged strike action, and construction industry electricians who likewise defeated deskilling of their jobs by the employers, openly campaigned for Graham, as did hundreds of other workplace activists. 

For many Scottish Unite members, Sharon’s openness to the right of the Scottish people to a second independence referendum - in sharp contrast to her opponents - was an added attraction.


Loosening Ties to Labour 

But alongside her promise to pour resources into workplace organisation, her association with high profile campaigns to unionise - such as Action for Amazon – and leverage campaigns to bludgeon employers into concessions, the other significant appeal from her campaign amongst many activists was undoubtedly a refusal to give carte blanche to the Labour Party, including with Union members’ cash. 

She pledged to fight any local authorities, including Labour councils, which imposed cuts and to only support political candidates who side with the workers she represents: “payment by results”.

This undoubtedly points towards a rapid loosening of ties between many union activists and the Increasingly anti-worker, anti-socialist Starmer Labour Party. That process of course is miles further ahead in Scotland, where Scottish Labour is not even a shadow of its former self and is widely reviled amongst many of the most active trade unionists. 

Bakers Union Threatens Disaffiliation from Labour 

Even more stark evidence of the growing breach with Labour is revealed by the Bakers Union, which although small is one of the most combative, fighting unions around.

In April 2020, alongside the Fire Brigades Union and an array of left formations inside the British Labour Party, the Bakers Union launched ‘Don't Leave, Organise’ as an umbrella to resist the charge to the right in Labour, in the hope of reconquering the party for left-wing, pro-worker policies. Less than 18 months later, on 18th September, the Bakers Union are holding a recall conference to debate the possibility of disaffiliating their union from the Labour Party. 

That dramatic step, after helping found the Labour Party in 1902, follows the decision by the Starmer   leadership and their McCarthyite machine to expel Bakers Union President, Ian Hodson, from the party, as part of a wider purge of socialists. In a survey of members earlier this year the majority of Bakers Union members voted for disaffiliation from Labour. It remains to be seen whether the Union sticks by its ‘don't leave, organise’ philosophy or makes the break from a party utterly incapable of mounting serious opposition to the reviled Tories. As Bakers Union general secretary, Sarah Woolley, has said, “We will not accept bullying from any bosses or a party that seems to prefer to be on the bosses’ side.” 

Make the Break – Why Feed the Hand that Bites You?! 

The events in both Unite and the Bakers Union highlight what the Scottish Socialist Party has argued for over 20 years: the modern Labour Party, particularly since the Blair/Brown leadership, transformed into a nakedly capitalist party of New Tories. And although a brief interruption to that process occurred with the election of Jeremy Corbyn, his removal even from party membership and Starmer's gallop to the right have reasserted the anti-working-class nature of that party.

Increasingly, the demand first championed by the SSP over 20 years ago to ‘Make the Break from capitalist Labour’ will revive in popularity amongst trade unionists. 

Why should union members’ fees be used to prop up the party that at local government level attacks them, and nationally is incapable of seriously standing on the side of workers and prefers to cosy up to big business? 

To invert the ancient proverb, why feed the hand that bites you?!

Reject Non-political Trade Unionism 

The SSP firmly rejects the notion of non-political trade unionism. Every daily issue facing workers throws up political choices and questions. 

The battery of anti-union laws which suppress wages, conditions and workplace rights and permits vicious thuggery like Fire and Rehire are the result of political decisions - first by Thatcher's Tories and subsequently by successive Labour and Tory governments. 

Pay cuts and job losses amongst half-a-million Scottish workers employed in the public sector are decided upon by politicians, whether Tory, Labour, SNP or Scottish Green.

Workers need a political vehicle to defend and advance their rights and conditions. Individual members of Unite, the Bakers Union or any other trade union can assist that struggle for political change in favour of the working class by joining Scotland's socialist party, the SSP.

Active trade unionists can enhance the democracy of their unions by demanding rule changes that allow members a multiple choice of pro-trade union parties (including the SSP) which they can fund through the political levy.

Sharon Graham, the Bakers Union leadership and others can boost the struggles of workers against the onslaught by the employers and governments both through workplace organisation and militant collective action, and by helping to build a mass political alternative to the Labour Party which has so demonstrably abandoned workers. 

This article was written on 25 August 2021 for publication in the Scottish Socialist Voice. 

You can subscribe £10 to receive 12 issues on the Voice here:

Tuesday, 17 August 2021



On a hot 30 July 1971, the shop stewards in Clydebank’s John Brown shipyard took control of the yard gates as the historic UCS work-in began. 

Jimmy Reid declared to the mass meeting inside: “There will be no hooliganism, there will be no vandalism, there will be no bevvying, because the world is watching us.”

Thus began one of the most momentous showdowns by working people since the 1926 general strike.

UCS had been formed in 1968, comprising the yards in Govan, Linthouse, Scotstoun and Clydebank. The naked greed of shipbuilding dynasties had meant a refusal to invest and modernise, causing Britain's world share of shipbuilding to plummet from 80% during WWI to 5% in 1970. Mergers and mass redundancies in the 1960s ran alongside increased productivity by the workers. The 1964-70 Labour government refused to nationalise the industry, instead merging the UCS yards, with a 17% government share. 

In 1969, the notorious Tory, Nicholas Ridley, held a one-hour meeting on the Clyde with his pal Sir Eric Yarrow, owner of Yarrow’s shipyard and Scottish Tory Party treasurer. ‘Old Nick’ subsequently drafted his Ridley Memo: “We could appoint a government butcher to cut up UCS, hive off Yarrow’s and sell (cheaply) the remainder of UCS to private industry.” (December 1969)

Jimmy Reid addressing mass meeting 

Tory Spirit of Butchery 

Ted Heath’s 1970-74 Tory government proceeded in this spirit of butchery, consciously confronting workers and their rights, deliberately decimating industry and speeding up monopoly ownership of what remained. Tory Minister of Trade and Industry, John Davies, spelt it out with his infamous ‘lame ducks’ speech, declaring an end to state subsidies to industries in crisis, especially targeting Rolls Royce and UCS. 

In June 1971 the Tory government triggered the liquidation of UCS by refusing management’s modest demand for £6million to sustain it. They instead conceded £3million to keep UCS afloat until August, whilst conducting a bogus review by ‘The Four Wise Men’, comprising mostly merchant bankers. Their subsequent Report smeared shipyard workers and recommended the slaughter of 6,500 of the 8,500 jobs, with closure of Clydebank and Scotstoun, only keeping Govan and Linthouse on the basis of decimated conditions and halving of the workforce. 

The baying mob of Tory MPs who cheered these announcements badly underestimated the response of the UCS workers and hundreds of thousands who came to their side in a 14-month battle that engulfed society in Scotland and beyond. 

50,000 march in Glasgow on 23 June 1971 

Work-In, not Walk-Out 

In June 1971, the Union shop stewards from the four yards decided that instead of walking out to the Labour Exchanges (JobCentres) or being declared redundant they would occupy the yards and continue production of ships; a work-in. Their opening demands were “Not a man down the road - the right to work - not a yard will close.”

They sent delegations to the government, only to be ‘slung a deafie’. The fight was on. They called a West of Scotland conference of shop stewards, 800 strong, which announced a general strike and demonstration on 23 June. About 150,000 took solidarity strike action and 50,000 marched through Glasgow. Placards carried slogans like ‘Launch UCS - Sink Heath’ and ‘Nationalise not Paralyse - we shall not be moved’. The STUC at first called for nationalisation of the yards. 

When on 29 July the government tried to ride this storm and announced 6,500 job losses - with at least another 15-30,000 associated jobs to go - the working class of Scotland and beyond were inspired by the act of mass, militant defiance by the UCS workers. 

A conference of 1,200 shop stewards from Scotland and the North of England agreed financial support to sustain the work-in, and called a mass half-day strike and demo on 18 August. About 200,000 workers marched out of Scottish workplaces and joined the demo of 80-100,000 in George Square, the biggest since at least the days of Red Clydeside; some reckoned the largest since the Chartist movement of the 1840s. The themes of the right to work and the power of the working class in solidarity were combined with calls to kick out the Tory government. Industrial and political demands fused. 

John Lennon and Yoko Ono gave donation and solidarity

One of many Support Concerts 

Unprecedented Solidarity 

The UCS workers’ courageous defiance evoked unprecedented solidarity. Workplace collections and weekly levies came from across Scotland, Britain and as far afield as New Zealand. Combined with the 50p a week levy on the UCS workers themselves, this financial solidarity sustained the wages of the work-in and the campaigning costs. School students held jumble sales. Pensioners donated. A cleaner in Yorkshire sent a week's wages every month. 

Workers’ heads were raised because a group of trade unionists defied every law, every conservative norm, and waged the battle for the right to work from the stronghold of staying inside their own workplace. The occupied yards were their fortresses, with buses between the yards for mass meetings; a Coordinating Committee and several sub-committees, including ones for finance and publicity, and speaking tours of workplaces that trained hordes of orators. 

Even the middle layers of society were drawn to this mass workers’ movement, with virtually every local shopkeeper publicising the UCS struggle, and donations famously from John Lennon and Yoko Ono. 

Such was the ferment that Sir David MacNee, Glasgow's chief constable, phoned a Cabinet meeting to warn the government that the police couldn’t guarantee order in the city if the yards were closed. The government postponed the closure announcement by two weeks to allow them to bring troops back from Northern Ireland! 

General strikes developed against 1970s anti-union laws

Monumental Government U-turn

In the subsequent months the government tried manoeuvres to divide and conquer, especially by declaring a new Govan Shipbuilding Ltd, initially only embracing Govan and Linthouse. 

Eventually, by February 1972, they were forced into a monumental retreat. In contrast to their refusal to cough up £6million the previous June, the same John Davies told the House of Commons on 28 February 1972 that the Tory government would hand over £30million to Govan Shipbuilders Ltd, which would now also include the Scotstoun yard, and look favourably on subsidies to the impending buyer of Clydebank - the USA oil-rig giant, Marathon Manufacturing.

Months of negotiations did involve very substantial concessions by the unions, with loss of jobs and severe sacrifices of conditions, but the four yards remained and about 6,500 of the 8,500 jobs were saved. This was a massive victory compared to the wholesale butchery that any meek-and-mild response from their unions would have guaranteed. 

Perhaps the biggest significance of the UCS work-in was on the wider working class and political developments. It was part of a rising tide of industrial action engulfing the Heath government, but added impetus and confidence to it. A major factor in the February 1972 government U-turn on UCS was their bloody-nosed defeat just days prior by the miners, in their first national strike since 1926, which included the NUM's mass picket attracting 15,000 workers, which shut down the Saltley coke depot, near Birmingham. 

One of UCS worker Bobby Starrett's cartoons, a vital part of the publicity  

Wave of Workplace Occupations 

The UCS work-in inspired a wave of workplace occupations; one every fortnight at its peak! 

Many won unconditional victories, and mostly involved the even more radical tactic of sit-in strikes, rather than the continued production of the UCS work-in tactic. At Plessey’s in the Vale of Leven, the victorious sit-in included workers’ barricades!

The issue of a general strike was never far below the surface, particularly in the first half of 1972. This period included the government’s panic-stricken release of five jailed dockers' leaders from London's Pentonville prison - in the face of general strike action, organised from below despite the hesitancy of national union leaderships and the TUC. 

Young people were touched by the daring militancy of UCS, with school students staging strikes and demonstrations in the summer of 1972, over school conditions and job prospects.  

Ultimately, in a further showdown with the miners and an emboldened working class, Heath’s government was booted out in February 1974, and the incoming Labour government was obliged to nationalise at least most of the shipyards.  

Marching for the right to work 

Tony Benn amongst the marchers - driven to the left by UCS 

Mass Defiance Can Win 

The limitations of a work-in with continued production of ships – as compared with an occupation and strike - could be the subject of a whole separate article. This issue came to a head in January 1972, when the UCS Coordinating Committee reversed their earlier stance and agreed to launch one of the newly built ships (at the Govan yard) as ‘an act of good faith’, rather than a full-blown showdown with the government which had been their policy up until then. How many more jobs could have been saved and conditions protected if they had stuck to their original policy, combined with the battle for nationalisation of the yards, will never be known for certain. 

What was known at the time - by tens of thousands of working people - is that the mass defiance of occupying the yards built unprecedented workers’ unity and solidarity and forced a humiliating U-turn on a Tory government just as vicious in its desire to butcher jobs and conditions as the current Boris Johnson cabal. 

Over and beyond that, UCS demonstrated workers’ control in practice, and the managerial skills of working-class people - a glimpse of a socialist future where capitalist owners and their enforcers, in the form of senior management, would be redundant. 

Mass meeting in the occupied yards 

Lessons 50 Years On 

50 years on, as we exit the period of COVID-19 lockdowns, workers are confronted by closures, mass redundancies and systematic attacks on workplace rights, including the new capitalist pandemic of Fire and Rehire. Amongst the many lessons from UCS that need to be applied is that pleading with the bosses and their governments guarantees defeat for workers and their communities, whereas methods of mass collective struggle that brush aside the whole machinery of anti-trade union legislation can win victories. 

The brutal determination by Pladis multinational to close the McVitie's factory is a classic current example of where the methods of the UCS workforce would be required to reverse the butchery of jobs and livelihoods. 

As part of the crazed drive for short-term profiteering - through the conscious destruction of industry and the financialization of the economy - in the decades since UCS, the shipyards on the Clyde are barely a shadow of their former selves, and heavily dependent on production orders for war, rather than socially useful production. 

Socialism or Barbarism - a real and harsh choice today 

Socialism or Barbarism 

50 years on, the climate catastrophe and the capitalist economic crisis highlighted and exacerbated by COVID-19, both scream out for a green re-industrialisation of Scotland; a Socialist Green Recovery plan, embracing the skills and equipment of what remains of the shipyards. For example, to build the desperately needed fleet of ferries, and marine engineering equipment for the production of clean, green, affordable energy.

Everyone talks these days about ‘recovery’. But perhaps the most central recovery required is the working-class solidarity and fighting spirit epitomised by the UCS workers and their hundreds of thousands of allies 50 years ago. Without such a revival of collective action by organised workers and the solidarity which that would undoubtedly evoke, the capitalists and their hired governments will continue to wreak havoc and destruction on jobs, living standards, democratic rights and the very planet we live on. 

Socialism or barbarism is not empty rhetoric, but indeed the stark choice we face. And the lessons of UCS need to be studied and absorbed to help re-arm new generations of fighters, to make socialism the chosen future. 

Monday, 10 May 2021



My father was fond of telling the story of the labourer breaking stones on the road, given the news by a passing horseman that they'd chosen a new King of Ireland.

“Aye,” said the labourer, “but I'll still be breaking stones tomorrow.”

So it will be with the newly (re-)elected Scottish Government, with their enhanced mandate. The struggle of workers to survive continues the day after the election circus moves on.

But the advantage to workers fighting to protect their pay, conditions, jobs and workplace rights is that the newly elected administration cannot deny it was in large measure put in office by voters on the basis of not being Boris Johnson, not being the Tories, being anti-Tory and of pledging to tackle recovery from the Coronavirus crisis.

Whilst precious little was said about the savage economic consequences of the pandemic to the livelihoods of workers by the SNP or Greens, the new government now needs to be put on the spot, called out to take sides in the savage clash of interests between profiteering or axe-wielding employers and the workers they want to punish for the cost of Covid, whether that be in the private or public sector.

The class struggle continues; if anything intensified, as economic gurus wax lyrical about predicted ‘bounce back’ in the economy – but fail to explain upon whose backs the restoration of profits will rest.

Public sector disputes are where the Scottish Government has the most direct responsibility for and power over the outcome – given that transport, education, and local government are all devolved to Edinburgh, even without the full leverage available under independence. And they’ve been given a mandate by the Scottish people to demand the necessary funding from a Tory regime that hasn’t won the popular vote in Scotland since 1955!


ScotRail Strikers for Equality Face Management Scabs 

ScotRail staff continue to fight for pay equality and fair treatment for all different grades when it comes to enhanced payments for working on their rest days - which they received prior to the pandemic but which was since removed, for all grades bar the drivers.

Ticket Examiners have now joined battle alongside conductors/guards, with engineering staff currently being balloted for action. The latter are responsible for train maintenance, so even a work-to-rule - let alone strike action - would have a huge impact, as trains are booked in at set times for repair and maintenance.

Those trains which still have conductors/guards cannot move without one of these safety-critical staff on board.

That's why the tactic of Abellio ScotRail bosses has been to cancel all services on Sundays and then viciously twist and spin propaganda to try and blame the conductors - striking on their rest days! - for the lack of services to the travelling public.

However, this underhand method has largely backfired, with furious responses on social media to the naked propaganda pumped out by Abellio bosses.

Free Lunches for ScotRail Scabs!

The situation with Ticket Examiners is substantially different.

Under what is called the Strathclyde Manning Agreement, for example, which was signed years ago, there ‘should’ be two staff on a train.

Strictly speaking, drivers can run the train without a second member of staff on board, but in an act of solidarity they have refused to do so.

This has led to ScotRail planning to use ill-trained managers to substitute for ticket examiners; to scab on the striking staff, in a way they couldn’t possibly be ‘trained’ to do with the conductors.

Conductors/guards require extensive training, for instance on route knowledge and enhanced safety duties, whereas (lower-paid) ticket examiners do not require safety training.

They are primarily deployed to collect revenue for the company, checking and selling tickets. Abellio ScotRail bosses are quite prepared to play Russian roulette with public safety by drafting in scab managers – albeit on drastically reduced train services.

Those managers who allow themselves to be used to prevent fairness and equality of treatment should hang their heads in shame, particularly when it's become known they've been given free lunch boxes for their filthy services; a cut-price version of thirty pieces of silver!

Voice readers should bombard both Abellio bosses and Transport Scotland - an arm of the Scottish Government - with demands to meet with the RMT union and negotiate pay equality for rest day work.

As one RMT representative told me, “This strike has dragged on for so long that the concern of staff is not so much the money as fury at the contempt we've been treated with, where Abellio ScotRail are refusing to even meet with the union, hiding behind Transport Scotland as an excuse.”

The stance of the outgoing SNP government on this has been a disgrace, where they conceded Abellio have permission to negotiate, but insisted they cannot come to any agreement incurring additional costs.

That can only mean one thing: if these workers get restoration of enhanced payments for working and providing a service on their rest days, then they're going to have to accept other cuts to pay, terms and conditions, maybe even jobs.

The new government needs to be confronted with widespread, systematic demands from all trade unionists and the travelling public to drop this scandalous stance and show that their talk about focusing on a Covid recovery isn't just empty, deceitful election rhetoric. Because any genuine recovery has to include fair pay for workers and an end to the austerity passed on from Westminster via Holyrood during the previous three periods of SNP government.

Unite NHS and Council Workers' Battles 

Similar issues arise in the struggles for decent pay for the vast workforces in Scotland's NHS and local authorities.

During the past 13 years of SNP rule about £3billion cuts to local government funding, originating from Westminster, has been devolved by the Edinburgh government, alongside which NHS staff have suffered average pay cuts of 20 per cent.

At the time of writing this, the result of the ballot of NHS union members over the last-minute, pre-election 4 per cent pay offer by the Scottish Government is still unknown.

This offer in itself was a big retreat by the SNP administration compared with just weeks before the May elections, when they were still saying there would be no settlement until the summer of 2021, after they had refused to even meet with the health trade unions for negotiations over the previous year.

NHS Workers for Fair Pay

It was the relentless, courageous persistence of rank-and-file NHS workers - under the banner of the NHS Workers for Fair Pay campaign (Scotland) - which in particular forced this climb-down, combined with a desire to win votes by appearing distinct from the Tories, who had offered an even more contemptuous 1 per cent pay rise.

But as I said when speaking on behalf of the SSP at the rain-drenched NHS workers' Protest Rally on 3 May:

“If the best the Scottish Government can boast is that they are ‘better than Boris’, then how can we take them seriously in combating poverty pay and the ills of society which blight the working class?”

Anyone satisfied with being ‘better than Boris’ seriously lacks any ambition to end the situation where nurses and other NHS workers have had to resort to loan sharks and food banks to survive - particularly after the year of unmitigated hell they’ve faced, striving to keep people alive from Covid, working typically 12-15 hour shifts under the most dreadful stress, leading to an epidemic of mental illness and burn-out amongst NHS workers themselves?

They unreservedly deserve 15 per cent, and the real shame is that the different health workers’ unions didn't combined forces and vigorously campaign for the past year for such a restorative pay increase - and have since been divided on what they recommended to each of their memberships in the ballot on the 4 per cent offer.

The GMB and RCN both recommended rejection – primarily as a result of the fiery opposition of their shop stewards. Unite made no recommendation to accept/reject, with the absurd explanation that all their members are on different grades! And the Unison leadership went from a similar cop-out neutrality to actually recommending acceptance of the 4 per cent offer.

The latter position is even less honourable when compared with the situation in local government, where the Unison leadership recommended rejection of their pay offer and helped to achieve an 88% majority against what was offered by COSLA, the employers’ umbrella body - with 74 per cent voting in favour of industrial action.

Yet the difference between the two offers in concrete terms for most workers is minor: £800 over the year for council workers compared with £1,009 for most NHS grades.

As Mark Sands, Unison steward in Glasgow City Council said at the latest meeting of the Scottish Workers’ Solidarity Network, “We should unite workers in local government and the NHS in the fight for decent pay, and if that requires coordinated strikes, then so be it.”

The Difference is Striking!

To use a pun made popular during the recent FE college lecturers’ struggle, “the difference is striking!”

As we explained in depth in the recent Voice Extra, well-prepared, well- organised ballots for collective action - with teams of trade unionists formed in each workplace to get the vote out - in itself can force employers to the negotiating table where previously they refused to talk.

More to the point, when in turn actual strike action occurs, with full involvement of the membership, regular systematic communication - and an elected leadership from within the ranks of the workforce itself acting as the negotiating team - then strikes can win.

Such a victory is made even more likely if systematic solidarity is built, as happened during the FE college national strike action - with the Scottish Workers’ Solidarity Network playing a substantial part in that solidarity campaign.

The outcome of the lecturers’ strike is a victory not just for EIS-FELA members but every trade unionist facing an onslaught by the employers and government, as they seek to sacrifice workers’ terms and conditions - often including jobs and pay - to recoup the costs of the pandemic. Once again, making workers pay the price of a crisis not of our making.

The lessons of the FE sector victory should not just be studied but applied accordingly to the battles in the health service and local government.

The Valley of Fire and Rehire

However, despite winning a national agreement that forced college bosses to accept that somebody who prepares lectures, delivers lectures and assesses the learning of students is indeed a lecturer and should be on a lecturer's pay, terms and conditions, nevertheless the college where this fight all started - Forth Valley College - is still embroiled in battle.

There the principal, Ken Thompson and his board of management are digging their heels in, refusing to honour the deal reached at national level between the union and the employers’ association, Colleges Scotland.

In human terms that means 27 lecturers who were removed from their roles by means of ‘fire and rehire’ have still not been reinstated, even though that is the essence of the national agreement reached at the end of the national strike.

These college workers have been obliged to sustain strike action, and plan for it to continue right into June, because they cannot trust Thompson and his board to reinstate the FVC27.

They are not striking for the fun of it; as good professionals, they are worried sick at the  impact on their students, often riddled with guilt.

It's Ken Thompson and his board of management who should be guilt-ridden and ashamed of the way they are damaging education - not just short-term but longer-term - by replacing qualified lecturers with instructor/assessors on £10,000 a year less and near zero preparation and marking time. That’s a perfect recipe for disaster, both in terms of the educational standards offered to mostly working-class students, and to the mental health of those who've been fired as lecturers and rehired on these drastically worse conditions.

The Forth Valley bosses should realise the reputational damage they are doing to the college they have the privilege and inflated salaries to manage, now they are increasingly recognised as the pioneers of the obnoxious fire and rehire weapon, certainly in the public sector.

Readers should step up the pressure on these bosses, demanding they reverse fire and rehire and reinstate the FVC 27 to their rightful positions as lecturers, with the wages and conditions to go with that.


Whose Side Are You On?

The industrial temperature is rising, even if the Spring weather isn't.

With BT workers balloting for strikes, alongside the struggles already mentioned, and workers and communities start to resist a horrendous rash of closures to libraries, community centres and sports facilities by councils and their offshoots, such as Glasgow Life, there is increasingly no room to wriggle or dodge the question “Whose side are you on?”

For the Scottish Socialist Party there's no hesitation; it's a matter of principle that we combine with workers to defend or improve their living standards, as the one productive class in society. Which means we actively back them to the hilt when that inevitably leads to conflict with money-grabbing capitalist profiteers or axe-wielding, overpaid bosses at the tops of undemocratically-run public sector outfits.

The same challenge “Whose side are you on?” needs to be thrown down as a gauntlet at the feet of the newly elected Scottish Government. They are the people with the power to immediately defend or enhance the living standards of over 500,000 Scottish public sector workers directly, and vast numbers of others indirectly. For instance, as major contractors with the likes of BT (or British Gas), the Scottish government and local councils could use enormous leverage even on these privately-owned capitalist profiteers to end their vicious assaults on their workers.

Waiting for Nicola??

Workers cannot afford to ‘wait for independence’. We need action now, from a government mandated by the Scottish people to ‘lead us to recovery’, as Nicola Sturgeon endlessly promised during the elections.

In turn, workers and their communities cannot just ‘wait for Nicola’ to take the necessary action, judging by the experience of the previous three SNP governments. We need collective, coordinated action by workers, with fighting, determined leaderships, to force the Scottish government to provide the wherewithal to tackle poverty pay, mass underemployment and unemployment, threadbare public services and the obscene inequality that curses this rich nation. Otherwise, the labourer of my father’s story will still be breaking stones regardless of who is on the throne,



Melanie Gale, nurse, GMB union rep

“I ran a Covid Ward last year, one of the first. We had to put a brave face on it, not knowing what was coming through, trying to keep staff positivity up with Covid patients arriving.

We had ten patients with Covid, very bad Covid, where they couldn't breathe, didn't know where they were, frightened, scared, terrified. And they had no relatives or no way to even phone them or FaceTime them.

We had to watch our patients die. We were the ones holding their hands, sitting with them, comforting them, doing our best.

We had five staff members to care for 30 patients; disgraceful, disgusting.

But you know what? We still went to work, we still cared for patients and we still gave them the best care we could. We had the crappy PPE, the crappy masks. We went to work, not seeing our family members to care for other people’s family members and still we didn't have enough staff.

Management and governments don't give a shit about any NHS workers.

Experienced NHS staff don't want to be there anymore, we're burnt out, tired.

I've wanted to be a nurse since I was 10. I'm so proud of being a nurse, so proud of our NHS, but what I'm not proud of are the bigwigs and governments offering us this crappy 4 per cent.  Well, you can stick your 4% up your kilt! We're not accepting it. We deserve 15% and we're going to fight and get it.”


Brenda Eadie, nurse, NHS Workers for Fair Pay campaign

“We need to build up the NHS and this is not about a pay rise, it's about pay restoration. We've lost £6,000 through pay cuts in 11 years and then they offer to give us back £1,000 of it. That won't stop us having to work 60-hour weeks to make up the pay deficit. It won't stop staff having to use food banks.

And London Economics have done a report that even if we got 10% of our wages back, 81% of the cost of that would go straight back into the economy, through taxes and National Insurance.

It would increase staffing levels. It would reduce sickness and the use of costly agency staff. It would recruit and keep staff. Right now, our NHS is dying; we're losing it if we don't do something about it now.

If we need to strike, we need to strike. If we don't, the NHS would be gone in a couple of short years. I for one can't afford private healthcare. People won't be able to afford monthly life-saving medications. More people will die. If we have to strike, we should strike now.”

Anne-Marie Harley, Branch Convener EIS-FELA Forth Valley College and Vice-President of EIS-FELA

"The fight against 'fire and rehire' at Forth Valley College (a public sector organisation) continues. 

The EIS-FELA Union remain in dispute with College management where 27 members had their lecturing roles removed and they were given new contracts to do the same job on poorer terms and conditions. 

Despite offers from the union to suspend the strike action if they would reinstate the 27 members or agree to a joint review, management have failed to change their position. Instead, they will only agree to move the dispute into the hands of the National Bargaining Joint Secretaries as per protocol, when they have completed an internal review in mid-May. 

This dispute has gone on for over a year and we find these further delays unacceptable. 

With the full support of EIS-FELA nationally and the main body of the EIS, we will continue to fight to maintain our profession and the quality of education for our students."

Also published in the Scottish Socialist Voice.  SUBSCRIBE to the fortnightly Online edition here: