Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Text message...

I just sent this text message to TUFI and SSP comrades...

"On train back from Aberdeen, after debating referendum at very well attended meeting of postal workers - CWU members - against local Labour MSP Richard Baker, member of Better Together Board. Very passionate, lively and sharp but respectful debate, with the socialist & trade union case for Indy winning a lot of support amongst posties. No vote taken, part of ongoing CWU consultation, but tremendous warmth for what I had to say on behalf of Yes (and SSP). Much nodding of heads, and handshakes at the end. Came out to find a text saying SPOA declared for Indy. Onwards, trade unionists for independence! Richie Venton"

Saturday, 26 October 2013



"Relief" is the most widespread feeling after the eleventh-hour reversal of the closure of the Grangemouth petrochemical plant on Friday 25 October.

Relief for the 800 workers directly facing unemployment without even an enhanced redundancy package 48 hours earlier, when INEOS bosses declared its closure and handover to the liquidators.

Relief for the 550 workers at the neighbouring oil refinery, which had remained on cold shutdown, with the real threat of it not surviving the liquidation of the petrochemical operation, given their interdependence. 

At least some partial relief, mixed with continued uncertainty about their job prospects, for 2,000 contract workers at Scotland's biggest industrial site - some of whom were already laid off by the INEOS bosses' lockout. 

And relief across the working class of Scotland that such a pivotal employer and economic 'powerhouse' - to use the phrase of UNITE's Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty - is not closing down after all, with all the devastation, poverty and social destitution such an act of shameless economic vandalism threatened.


But whilst having some kind of job is better than having no job at all, and much-reduced wages and conditions is preferable to having no wages, the outcome of the Grangemouth showdown should not be dressed up as anything other than a serious setback, a defeat for trade unionists - and not only those in the eye of the storm at Grangemouth alone. Not a defeat on the scale, for instance, of the heroic miners' strike of 1984-5, but a serious setback nevertheless.

In order to reverse the closure announcement on Wednesday, by Thursday night the UNITE union leadership offered complete acceptance of the savage cuts to conditions which INEOS had demanded - with a rocket-launcher held to the heads of the workers - over the previous week. 

This includes a three year pay freeze; an end to Final Salary Pensions (euphemistically called 'a move to modern pensions'); savage cuts to shift allowances and bonuses amounting to losses of £10-15,000 per worker; drastically reduced redundancy terms; removal of trade union facilities, including an end to full-time union conveners; unspecified 'head count reductions' (job losses to you and me); and a three-year no strike agreement.


In the 24 hours since this package of vast concessions by the workers - plus the concession of £9m in grants from the Scottish government and £125m in loan guarantees from the UK government to a tax-dodging multinational - big chunks of the media and commentariat have launched a festival of lies and vitriol against trade unions. 

They bury the facts and the real sequence of events to tell a fairytale of UNITE the union bringing the workforce and the entire economy to the edge of the abyss. These hired liars of the capitalist media either have short memories, or are blinded by their prejudices against any set of workers who dare to resist the slaughter of their livelihoods by multi-billionaires like Jim Ratcliffe, whose personal yacht alone is worth £130m. 

It doesn't occur to any of these overpaid hacks to ask why £134m of taxpayers' money should be handed over to a gangster capitalist who could get almost exactly that same sum if he sold his super-yacht!


The phrase "caught between the devil and the deep blue sea" doesn't even begin to hint at the heartbreaking choices imposed on Grangemouth workers, their families and communities in recent days. 

Choices imposed by the one-man dictatorship of tax-dodging Jim Ratcliffe, majority shareholder of INEOS, owner of Scotland's biggest industrial complex and the only oil refinery in oil-rich Scotland.

A choice between the death of entire communities through closure of the petrochemical plant - and in all probability the rapid knock-on closure of the oil refinery - with the loss of thousands of jobs, or slow agonizing crucifixion through the package of concessions the workers were bullied and blackmailed into giving.

Ratcliffe played the cavalier industrial thug, and ultimately got away with it. As explained in an earlier blog, he planned consciously with his cohorts back in March to provoke and defeat a strike - which he marked into the calendar for November! - as a means of decapitating the workers' union, decimating the workers' wages and conditions, and to blackmail £150million out of governments to shore up INEOS investment plans.


This investment plan is largely focussed on the import of shale gas ethane from the USA, where the destructive fracking industry is laying waste to whole communities and the environment. Fracking is something which the Westminster Coalition is likewise devoted to, with recent announcements of tax breaks for fracking fortune-hunting corporations, and the crude, outrageous suggestion by Tory Lord Howell (George Osborne's father-in-law) about the scope for fracking in "desolate areas like the North East of England"! 

And all that in the wake of the recent G8 summit held in my native County Fermanagh, where plans to frack in pursuit of profit threatens to not only wreck the natural beauty of Fermanagh's Lakelands, but infest the local environment with a range of poisonous byproducts - decimating local jobs in tourism and agriculture in the process. 

So the accusation by Grangemouth's local MP Michael Connarty of collusion between the Westminster government and Ratcliffe's INEOS is not wide of the mark.


In the past week, Grangemouth workers went through a stomach-churning series of twists and turns. They were provoked into voting to defend union convener Stevie Deans from victimization, with an initial 48 our strike, due to have happened on 20-21 October.

On discovering proof this was a long-planned provocation, the union canceled the strike. Ratcliffe took this as a signal of weakness, which invited his increased aggression, issuing 'sign or be sacked' forms to every worker at their home address, deliberately bypassing the recognized union, UNITE.


To their eternal credit, over 680 of the 1,000 union members at the site returned the forms unsigned to their trade union; a powerful display of courage, union loyalty and solidarity, a mandate for resistance to the butchers' assault on terms and conditions. 

The ball was back in Ratcliffe's court. In a high risk countermove - given the phenomenal importance of the site to the economy and as a source of profit for INEOS - Ratcliffe shut down the petrochemical plant, liquidating it. The workers and entire community, indeed the whole of Scotland, were thrown into a state of shock and devastation.

Now what to do? Nobody with any experience as a trade union activist or shop steward would envy the horrendous situation facing the 60-strong shop stewards organisation at Grangemouth. They must have agonized over how best to fulfil their responsibility towards the men and women who elected them, whose entire lives were thrown into meltdown by Ratcliffe's brutal, unhesitating vandalism.


In past days, the pivotal economic position of the site would have given trade unionists an almost invincible weapon in the form of solidarity action by workers at both ends of the production process - ranging from the pipeline into Grangemouth from the Forties oilfield, to the supplies of the overwhelming majority of fuel to Scotland, N Ireland and northern England, and the production of about 30% of Britain's needs of ethylene and similar materials.

But 30 years since Thatcher constructed the most repressive battery of anti-union laws in Europe, which 13 years of Labour governments retained in full, workers and their union leaderships were immediately confronted by a harsh choice: convince members to defy the anti-union laws and take decisive, appropriate forms of industrial action in defense of a vital enterprise and the communities dependent on it - or be hamstrung and paralyzed, beating a hasty retreat in the face of Ratcliffe's onslaught.


In the situation where a venture capitalist with absolutely no pretense of social responsibility to society - or to the skilled workforce that helped produce INEOS's £2billion in profit last year alone - had declared closure, permanent closure, a strike was not an appropriate tactical option. 

A more timely option would have been occupation of the site, to halt asset-stripping, and to use workers' control of the vast assets to mount a mass campaign for public ownership to save the jobs, conditions and enormous contribution to the national economy. 

It is an unfortunate irony that just a few days before UNITE general secretary Len McLuskey led the union delegation to offer wholesale acceptance of INEOS's brutal package, he had addressed the annual Jimmy Reid Foundation event with eloquent tribute to the inspiration to workers far and wide when Upper Clyde Shipbuilders was occupied by the workers to halt closures in 1971 - successfully. The spirit and lessons of UCS could have been an invaluable guide to the national UNITE leadership in the Grangemouth struggle for survival.


It would be irresponsible sectarianism to criticise the Grangemoth shop stewards or UNITE members who faced such horrendous dilemmas, especially in the context of the anti-union laws designed to neuter collective action. They showed great courage in a horrendous situation.

But the trade union movement as a whole needs to ponder the questions raised. How are we ever going to resist butchery by billionaire multinationals if the unions simply obey these laws? 

When are major unions going to take action in defiance of the anti-union laws, after thorough explanation and preparation of the members, and then build and demand solidarity from the wider trade union movement and working class communities?


As they announced their gracious decision to accept £134m off the taxpayer, and appalling reductions in the incomes and workplace rights of Grangemouth workers, INEOS bosses and their media sycophants made much noise about 'modern pension schemes', 'modern industrial relations', and 'accepting change in the modern world'. 

In the words of the mighty Paul Weller, "This is the modern world":

Capitalism in the modern world involves systematic lies about the 'financial distress' of the Grangemouth wing of INEOS's 51 manufacturing plants. Ratcliffe told us it makes a loss of £10m a month - although the annual figure pumped out by INEOS varied vastly with each new press release.

In fact the financial experts hired by UNITE proved that Grangemouth petrochemicals made them £7m profit last year, and £6m the year before. They found INEOS's own accounts forecast profits of £500m from Grangemouth by 2017.


And just to underline the lies used to stampede workers into thinking the place was 'worthless' (their word) and in need of a bounty from the government and the workforce to survive, Ratcliffe has declared to the world that Grangemouth now has a bright future for "the next 20 to 25 years".

Capitalism 'in the modern world' means it is in the gift of one man - a Swiss-based tax exile - to close down the only oil refinery in oil-rich Scotland; the power to obliterate an industrial site that produces at least £1billion a year towards the Scottish economy.

This is the modern world - one man lies, blackmails and bullies not only thousands of workers whose jobs depend on the place he owns, but holds the elected government of Scotland to ransom, demanding public subsidies for his private profiteering.


But there is something positive stirring in the minds of many ordinary people 'in this modern world', for the first time in years: the attraction to the idea of public ownership of vital national assets and public services.
The dictatorship of capital - in the form of one capitalist in this instance - has been revealed to millions in the past week, and reviled by most of them.

Added to Grangemouth, people are furious at the wider energy cartel, where the 'Big Six' suppliers of household energy carefully coordinate their crucifying 8-11% price increases just as the clocks go back for the winter months. The idea and demand for public ownership of energy is growing exponentially.

Likewise, the planned privatization of east coast railways, after its nationalisation led to over £200m being gifted to the government Treasury this year, infuriates people facing mounting fares and adds another strand to the attraction of public ownership.


When Ratcliffe and his cronies threatened the very existence of Grangemouth, the SNP government (in stark contrast to the Westmonster Coalition) quite rightly started to search for alternative ownership. How the hell could there be any justification in leaving the priceless assets, capital and workers' skills in the hands of JR and his capitalist vandals?

But why on earth did the SNP scour the globe - including China in particular - in search of a new owner? The answer was under their own nose: the Scottish government should have nationalized it, taking the assets off an outfit hellbent on rule or ruin. And they should have ushered in a new, democratic form of management, embracing the skills and expertise of workers' elected representatives, as well as the national government and appropriate scientists and experts.

Neither the SNP nor Labour openly or forcefully raised this blatantly obvious option - although individual MPs, MSPs and government ministers made some mild references to it.

And if the limited powers under devolution make that impossible (although Prestwick Airport's takeover by the Scottish government at least questions this), then surely combining support for nationalisation with the case for full-blown self-government under independence becomes all the more potent as an alternative?


The most disappointing aspect of the fight for nationalisation not being seriously pursued is that UNITE's central leadership did not vigorously expound it or campaign for it.

True, in a press release Len McLuskey called on Scottish and UK governments to give the site a new beginning "free of the tyranny of one man's whims. If this means securing financial assistance - or even nationalisation - then this must be done".

But referring to it in the passing in a press release is not campaigning for it!

Failure by either the trade unions or major political parties to champion the case for nationalisation, or indeed to carry it out in government, has left Grangemouth under the control and dictatorial fancies of Ratcliffe, a capitalist thug who has proven he shouldn't be let near the ownership of a burger van, let alone Scotland's biggest industrial complex.

The whole issue of democratic public ownership is one of the central issues that the Grangemouth crisis has thrown up; the trade union movement should seize the time, and popularize what is an increasingly attractive idea within the working class.


Although they have, to their great credit, promised renationalisation of Royal Mail under independence, the SNP Is not a party ideologically committed to public ownership. They are more inclined to rattle the begging bowl under the noses of multinationals, enticing them to invest in Scotland with promises of low business taxation.

But surely INEOS has given us a brutal object lesson in the folly of reliance on multinational capitalists for our prosperity and security?!


Labour has long since abandoned commitment to public ownership. That's what Blair's infamous 'defining moment' was all about: obliteration of Labour's commitment to public ownership of 'the means of production, distribution and exchange', as adopted in Clause Four, part 4 of Labour's constitution at the 1918 national conference. One hell of a series of betrayals have since happened under Labour, and they now reject the very concepts of public ownership or universalism.


So another profoundly important issue, thrown up in high relief by Grangemouth, is the outrageous absurdity of trade unions - including UNITE - devoting resources, members' money and members' activity to funding and shoring up the 'modern' Labour party.

JR and INEOS are the enemy of workers in this whole episode. They planned and stockpiled and provoked in a conscious effort to decimate the unions, in order to eradicate past gains in workers' terms and conditions.

But they were gifted the opening to apply their murky plans by Ed Miliband and the UK Labour leadership, when the latter witch-hunted Grangemouth UNITE convener Stevie Deans for doing what UNITE the union saw as their best political strategy: recruiting workers to Labour to make it the voice of workers. When Miliband & Co sent a report on Stevie Deans to the police - and treated Scottish Labour with imperial contempt by not even sending them a copy of their reports on the Falkirk Labour candidate selection row - that was the signal for INEOS to turn their guns on Stevie, to try and stitch him up and drag the whole workforce into a showdown that the union never planned for. The rest is recent history, with a detrimental outcome to UNITE's Grangemouth members, and indeed workers generally.


How many more examples of Labour in action does it take for the national union leaderships to abandon their utterly futile attempts to reclaim Labour for trade unionism, or even socialism? Even when Labour conference delegates voted unanimously to renationalise Royal Mail and the railways under a Labour government, by the time the union delegates who moved these proposals had returned to their seats in the Labour conference venue, Labour leaders and their spin doctors had reassured the media that there is not a snowball's chance in Hell of this happening.


The unions need to ponder much of what Grangemouth has taught us, not least the need to break from a party that has persistently acted as an opponent of trade union rights, public ownership and socialism - Labour - and to instead assist those of us striving to build a genuine, organised socialist voice of working people.

This really 'is the modern world'. If we study the experience of Grangemouth we can help to end the dictatorship of capital, and build a genuinely modern world, where the working class reaps the benefits of our collective efforts, with the most advanced workplace democracy and public ownership of major industries, services and banking. A democratic socialist one.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Statement on #Grangemouth by SSP National Workplace organiser Richie Venton

NATIONALISE GRANGEMOUTH: save jobs, conditions and the nation's wealth

Today's devastating announcement that multi-billionaire Jim Ratcliffe is walking away from the petrochemical plant at Grangemouth, putting this vital national asset into liquidation, means the loss of 800 skilled jobs, with countless hundreds more jobs threatened through the repercussions to the local economy.

And the same INEOS capitalist dictator has warned that Scotland's only oil refinery will remain shut down unless the workers in that part of the huge industrial complex accept cuts to pay, pensions, shift allowances and bonuses that would total a loss of £10-15,000 per worker.


This is feral capitalism at its blatant worst, red in tooth and claw, fangs plunged not only into the workforce but the wider Scottish population. And contrary to the lies peddled by Ratcliffe and his well-named PR company - Media Zoo - this has nothing to do with the 'financial distress' of INEOS, and even less to do with any refusal on the part of the workforce or their union UNITE to see sense. INEOS bought Grangemouth off BP in 2006 as part of a much bigger £6billion takeover. It helped INEOS become the 4th biggest chemicals company in the world, with 51 manufacturing sites in 11countries across North America, Europe and Asia.

INEOS - which in an obscene insult to language is Greek for 'bright new dawn'! - has plunged the Grangemouth workforce and the whole of Scotland into darkness and despair with their animalistic pursuit of profit at all cost.


Back in 2010, Ratcliffe moved INEOS headquarters from the UK to Switzerland, to dodge company taxes of at least £100m a year.

They've paid no UK taxes for at least the past 5 years. And again contrary to their lie-machine in recent weeks, in 2011 Grangemouth petrochemicals made operating profits of £31m - which rocketed to £49m last year.Globally, INEOS last year had a turnover of £43billion, and profits over £2billion. So pleas of 'financial distress' from Ratcliffe and INEOS wouldn't fool a child learning sums at nursery, let alone the adult population.


Hellbent on even steeper rises in profit, this one-man dictatorship over Scotland's only oil refinery and petrochemical site - employing 1,300 directly and 5,500 in the supply chain - issued a poisonous cocktail of blackmail and bullying. They demanded £150m off the taxpayer as a price for investing and retaining Grangemouth. They demanded cuts of £50m in operating cuts per year from the workforce - make the workers pay!

They perversely used the fact that Grangemouth accounts for 85% of Scotland's fuel supplies and 30% of England's to hold a bazooka to the heads of both Westminster and Holyrood, demanding public subsidies for their profits.


Within the workforce, Ratcliffe and INEOS saw one of the most powerfully organized industrial trade unions in the country as the enemy of their rapacious profiteering. So in the manner of Thatcher's well-planned confrontation with the miners in the 1980s, INEOS began to stockpile supplies in advance of provoking a showdown with the union and workers. Recently documents emerged proving that as far back as last March they were preparing for a strike this November!
But they weren't just indulging in the arts of Mystic Meg: these billionaire gangster capitalists were out to consciously provoke strike action and then isolate and vilify the workers and UNITE as they held the country to ransom in demand of public funds for private capitalist profits to thrive.
To their eternal shame, the British Labour party leadership supplied Ratcliffe with an opening when they started a political witch hunt against UNITE convener at the site, and local constituency Labour Party chair, Stevie Deans. Labour - and the police who they scandalously sent a report to!! - subsequently cleared Stevie of all wrongdoing, but INEOS persisted with new investigations, ploughing through his emails, hunting for misuse of company resources for political activity - all in an attempt to decapitate the union and provoke strike action as a smokescreen for their real strategy.


When the union stewards discovered management documents proving this long-planned provocation, they tactically withdrew the 48-hour strike due last weekend. Ratcliffe, besotted by his own wealth and arrogance, probably misread this as an act of weakness, and issued 'sign or be sacked' notices to the workers in their own homes - demanding that within 3 days they sign for new contracts involving £10-15,000 a year cuts to their incomes, or face the sack in 45 days. When workers refused to be browbeaten into submission - over 680 of the 1,000 UNITE members returned the forms unsigned to the union - Ratcliffe has stepped up the brutality even further, liquidating the petrochemical arm of the site (800 jobs), and still refusing to fire up the refinery unless the other 500 workers cave in to his dictatorship over terms and conditions.


Even the mainstream media, not usually sympathetic to the workers' side of any struggle, have overwhelmingly condemned the methods of Ratcliffe and INEOS. But the crunch question is what should be done now?

It is perverse in the extreme that an industrial complex that accounts for 10% of the nation's GDP, and 85% of fuel supplies in Scotland, as wells it's implications for the key Forties oilfield, is in the hands of one man; a tax-dodging multi-billionaire to boot. This one fact captures the lunatic immorality of capitalism as a system. Profit is all. People are pawns.

Ratcliffe declares the site 'worthless' and in need of huge public subsidies, and yet INEOS's own company accounts confirm that last year sales jumped by 50%; gross profits rose by 20%; operating profits leapt by an incredible 56%.

So oil-rich Scotland has only one oil refinery, and its fate is in the hands of one venture capitalist!
As columnist Ian Bell rightly says (Herald 23 Oct 2013): "Strategic national assets are not something that can be left to the markets, far less individuals with big money and small ideas".


Ratcliffe is pulling out, leaving devastation in his wake, because not even his obscene levels of bullying and blackmail have screwed the loot he wanted out of workers or governments. The SNP government is absolutely right to be looking at alternative ownership to retain the jobs, skills and vital economic output of this vast enterprise. But why, for instance, should they seek a takeover of Grangemouth by the Chinese state? The central bureaucracy of the Chinese Communist Party, who have rapidly transformed themselves into some of the most rapacious capitalists in the world, without a care for the health or safety of their workers - who are killed in the mines and elsewhere on an appalling scale - are already half-owners of the INEOS operations at Grangemouth. Is that where the Holyrood government seeks a new owner?


Anyone would welcome a rescue of the entire operation - the refinery as wells the petrochemical plant - but instead of seeking either another multinational capitalist or the Chinese state as saviours, it would make infinitely more sense for the Scottish government to nationalize the whole complex - bring it into the collective ownership of the Scottish people.

 That way they could also usher in new, democratic forms of management, incorporating the workers through their elected unions, and the Scottish government, in pursuit of the interests and well-being of not only the workforce but the entire population.
In the old phrase, they should nationalize, not subsidize; take over the huge assets of a multinational that has revealed the real nature of capitalism as a system, and deploy the skills and expertise of the workforce as part of a state-owned energy industry, which could begin to look after people and planet alike.


This whole episode also highlights the case for independence - for having the powers to take energy and other key industry into outright public ownership and control. But it also highlights the need for an independent Scotland based on the interests of the working class majority, not those of a few multinationals being bribed into investing here by low corporation taxes and public subsidies, only to bugger off again when it suits them.

We need to push for public ownership to save the jobs, skills, livelihoods and energy and industrial output at Grangemouth - and step up the argument that self-government for the Scottish people is the surest route to stopping modern pillage and plunder by capitalists with 'big money and small ideas'.

Friday, 18 October 2013

GRANGEMOUTH SHOWDOWN: defend workers' rights from gangster capitalists

A very important Demo has been called this Sunday 20th October at 12noon at Gate 4, (Bo'ness Road) of the INEOS plant in Grangemouth.

It's been called by the UNITE union, in support of workers facing crucifixion and blackmail at the hands of asset-stripping gangster capitalists.
See below the latest news from the union itself.
Everyone possible should attend.

This is shaping up to be one of the most critical and significant battlegrounds in Scotland for a while. Without having time to elaborate all aspects, we have:

1. A tax-dodging Swiss-based venture capitalist in cahoots with the primitive capitalists of the Chinese Communist Party bureaucracy - as the joint owners of INEOS - out to crush the rights of Scottish workers.

2. They have issued an ultimatum that unless workers sign a new set of contract conditions, with attacks on shift payments, bonuses and pensions that add up to £10,000 a worker, by this MONDAY 21st, they will keep the plant shut down that supplies Scotland and Northern England virtually all its petrol and diesel.

3. They have shut down the plant despite UNITE the union agreeing not only to cancel this weekend's 48 hour strike, but also to pledge no strikes until at least New Years Eve, provided INEOS reopen production.

4. The asset strippers say the place is worthless and loss making, and needs huge investment from taxpayers, or else it will close down altogether. They are using this blackmail to extort millions out of the government. Expert economists hired by UNITE have exposed all manner of 'creative book-keeping' to paint a false picture of the site's fortunes.

5. This begs several questions, including why should we allow society (as well as its own workforce) to be blackmailed over the future of Scotland's biggest industrial site?
It raises the whole issue of public ownership of all energy production and supplies - something of course neither Labour nor the SNP have raised, but is longstanding SSP policy.

6. We need an independent Scotland that enshrines the most advanced protection of workers' rights in Europe, to prevent this kind of shoddy dictatorship by asset-stripping venture capitalists being possible.
We need an independent Scotland with the powers to nationalize these assets - and if as they claim it's worthless, that removes any issue of 'the cost of compensation'!

This is another ugly exposure of the heart of capitalism, fangs bared as they devour workers' rights and public funds for private profit. It underlines why working people need public ownership and socialism as well as Scottish independence.


From Unite the Union latest news:

Unite to Ineos: Lift your threats to the Grangemouth workers so plant can restart

18 October 2013

Union calls again on Ineos to return to Acas talks

Pat Rafferty, Unite's Scottish secretary, called again on Ineos to abandon its plans to impose detrimental new terms on its Grangemouth workforce and to instead reopen the plant and return to mediated negotiations to secure the site's future: “At Acas talks earlier this week, Unite committed to conducting no industrial action ballots or industrial action before 31 December 2013.

“This was on the basis that the company would not impose cuts on the workforce during the same period. Unite also proposed that these negotiations over the future of the site during this period would be held under the auspices of Acas.

“Today, if the company lifts the cuts agenda that it is imposing on its workers, then our offer still stands. If the company can provide that guarantee then there is no reason why the plant cannot return to production and both parties can return to negotiations immediately to secure the future of Grangemouth.

“But it is absolutely vital that Ineos removes its threats to the workforce immediately. We cannot work on a secure future for the site while the workforce is in fear for their jobs".

Wednesday, 16 October 2013


The working class make up the vast majority population in Scotland. Over 630,000 of us are in organized trade unions. Tens of thousands more would join to improve their wages, health & safety, job security and rights at work if they didn't feel under threat of reprisals from employers emboldened by the most repressive anti-union laws in Europe. 

That makes the battle to win the hearts and minds of workers for Scottish self-government absolutely central to the tasks facing the Yes campaign.

The anti-independence parties recognize this. That's why their self-named Operation Fear desperately tries to scare the wits out of working people at the alleged consequences of daring to vote for the Scottish people to have the powers to shape Scotland's future - rather than letting anti-working class Westminster regimes impose their ruinous policies on us.

Labour - chief Unionist prop

Very few self-respecting workers in Scotland vote Tory. Those duped into voting LibDem under the illusion they were a fresh challenge in 2010 are deserting these treacherous yellow Tories, as 'Saint' Vince Cable leads the Coalition's assault on workplace rights - in addition to their treachery over student tuition fees, nuclear weapons, the bedroom tax, war on Syria, etc.

So the only real weapon in the hands of the Unionists - especially when it comes to fooling workers into voting No - is the Labour party component of Better Together. Hence Alistair Darling's role as poster boy for the Tory-funded front. Hence Gordon Brown's lumbering attempts to put a hairline distance between the Tory/LibDem/Labour cabal and 'United with Labour' - with it's spurious arguments about retaining workers' solidarity and looking after those most in need by pooling and distributing resources in a 'United' Kingdom.

Vote Labour - get hammered!

Ultimately their argument boils down to this: vote No to Scottish self-government and wait for a Westminster Labour government in 2015, to resolve all your problems of job insecurity, low pay, public service cuts, fuel price rises, bedroom tax. They trade heavily on the longstanding link between Labour and the trade unions to peddle this message, constantly spreading the lie that the referendum is a vote for or against Alex Salmond and 'the nationalists'.

But this argument is absolute bunkum; it takes no account of the real living experience of the recent 13 years of Labour governments at Westminster and how they treated trade unionists and workers generally - far less the stated intentions and policies of Labour for 2015 onwards.

No change – all change

The pro-independence movement needs to waken up to a brutal truth and act accordingly, gloves off: all the talk (from the likes of Alex Salmond) that things will remain the same after independence is a recipe for disaster. Workers are bombarded daily with bloodcurdling scare stories about the dangers of independence (most of them simply absurd) by the Westminster government and Labour, which are printed and broadcast as if they're gospel truth by the mainstream media. So why should workers resist this monstrous lie machine if the Yes camp merely replies "don't panic, nothing will change" - when for workers that means no change to poverty pay, rocketing prices, mass unemployment, vicious anti-union laws?

Union debates 

It is to the credit of unions like the CWU, PCS, GMB, RMT (and the STUC as a whole) that they are holding debates and forums for members to discuss the issues - something which the likes of USDAW, ASLEF and COMMUNITY utterly failed to do before hitching their wagons to the No camp. 

This is an opportunity that must be seized by Yes Scotland, with all its resources - as is being attempted by Trade Unionists for Independence (TUFI), with it's minuscule resources - to hammer the false Labour prospectus in particular, and spell out the positive, radical changes to working people's lives that are available through independence - and only through that route.

Every union or workplace will have particular issues of concern, but several key issues are common to many.

Anti union laws – keep or scrap?

The package of vicious restrictions to the ability to freely join a union, function as a union on behalf of members, and ultimately take united action in defense of wages, jobs, pensions and conditions has been added to by the unelected Coalition. But whilst the recent Labour conference tried to sound a bit more eye-catchingly radical on issues like energy prices and the bedroom tax, they didn't even pretend that on repressive workplace laws.

And why would they? Labour retained Maggie Thatcher's vicious laws throughout 13 years in office. Tony Blair boasted Britain had the most repressive workplace legislation in Europe. Glasgow Labour council threatened striking UNISON members with jail in the '90s, using those very laws. Nowhere has Labour pledged that voting NO in 2014 and voting Labour in 2015 would lead to repeal of any of these repressive measures.

Yes to workers' rights

In contrast a Yes vote would provide workers with the opening to have them scrapped, and the most advanced charter of workers' rights in the whole of Europe fought for.
The riposte of some trade unionists is that Alex Salmond has never openly declared for total repeal. True; and if he did, or if Yes Scotland as a broad umbrella body did, it would be dynamite in demolishing the fake objections of union leaders tied to Labour.
However, this Referendum is not about supporting Alex Salmond. It's about winning the powers to banish the anti-union laws - which neither the Tories, LibDems nor Labour have any intention whatsoever of doing - and then wielding the might of the organized working class to elect a government of the left that is prepared to legislate decent workplace rights. It's a stark choice.

Poverty Pay - or Living Wage?

Precisely the same arguments apply to this, one of the central concerns of most working people. Better Together and United with Labour have a lot of explaining to do! If remaining in Britain is such a rosy prospect for workers, how do they explain away the fact that in the past 40 years of successive Tory and Labour governmnets, workers' wages as a share of national wealth have plummeted? Why UK workers today get £60billion a year less in wages than they did in 1980? Why if someone currently on £12,000 a year had their wages at the same share of GDP as in 1975, they'd be earning not £12,000, but over £23,000? That the last Labour government presided over a massive increase in inequality - the biggest gap since 1864? That their legacy means one in 11 people today are left with a mere £10 a month disposable income, after paying essential bills?

Carve out our future

Voting Yes in 2014 would permanently rid us of Tory rule, with their conscious strategy of driving down wages. And no self-respecting trade unionist has ever sat back and waited to be liberated by one or other brand of pro-big business, capitalist politician. Rather, we seek to carve out the future we want, through collective organisation - for instance by demanding the government of an independent Scotland implements a living national minimum wage for all over 16, with equal pay for women. That would be a genuine measure to assist a race to the top! - and imagine the way such an achievement would embolden workers in England, Wales, Ireland and beyond to follow suit.

Public Services – cut or expand?

As part of their survey of members on the Referendum, the PCS union has found the biggest single concern is the future of public services - exceeding even pay and pensions. Leaving aside the rather important fact that only 20 per cent of the Coalition's cuts have been implemented so far, meaning an eye-watering four times as much is yet to come, what are the prospects for public services and the workers who provide them if Labour manages to win in 2015?
It was United with Labour's Gordon Brown who declared 100,000 job losses in the civil service a clear 3 years before the Coalition took office. And in contrast to the populist speechifying at Labour's recent conference, Ed Balls and others made brutally plain their intention to be ‘ruthless’, with ‘iron discipline’ in making cuts to jobs, pay and services. That's the prospects even if - and it's far from guaranteed - Labour wins Westminster in 2015 and Scotland remains under its control.
By contrast, a Yes vote opens the door to a mighty push by workers and their unions for a massive expansion of public services, with the powers to tax the rich minority to help fund them, expanding jobs in the construction of cradle-to-grave care, expanded education, health and public transport, alongside a massive social sector house-building plan. Without the powers that go with independence, this is impossible under devolution.

Labour's Welfare spokesperson Rachel Reeves says Labour cuts will be deeper than Tories'
Privatization - or public ownership?

Royal Mail workers - and millions more of us reliant on the service - are reeling at the naked profiteering of the sell-off of a service that's been state owned for nearly 500 years. Over £1.1billion was stolen by the speculators and profiteers on the first day after privatization. Already the head of Royal Mail has admitted the prospect of dearer postage stamps. The experience of privatized energy - where the recent price rise by SSE was even higher in Scotland's coldest northern regions than in the rest of Scotland - is a warning of regionally varied prices for mail services, on top of the threat to the universal service, especially in rural areas.
But what do we face under continued Westminster rule, if workers are persuaded by the likes of the CWU union leadership to vote No?

Labour privateers

If some combination of Tories, LibDems and UKIP win in 2015, the answer is too obvious to elaborate. But whilst Labour took £1.8m from CWU members since 2010, and graciously rewarded them with the opportunity to win unanimous support for the CWU's Motion to renationalise the service at Labour's national conference, Ed Miliband and Co immediately spat in their face, trampling on Labour's conference decision, declaring they will absolutely not take Royal Mail - or the railways, or the exploitative Big Six energy companies - into public ownership.
In contrast, not only has the SSP consistently fought for the past 15 years for democratic public ownership of all these services - and banks, big business, transport - but Alex Salmond has now also pledged re-nationalization of Royal Mail in an independent Scotland.
So the choice workers face is stark: vote No for continued privatization, profiteering, service cuts, rip-off prices, or vote Yes to reverse privatization and extend public ownership.
Again, the SNP's failure to call for extensive public ownership, including North Sea oil, misses the point. The 2014 Referendum is not a vote for permanent SNP rule, but for the first ever chance to elect a government of our own choice, where the option of a government of the left that is committed to such massive restructuring of power and wealth is available.

Workers’ solidarity and internationalism

The last resort argument of Labour scoundrels for retention of Westminster rule is that "independence will break the unity and internationalism of the working class".
That's rich coming from people like Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling or Anas Sarwar!
Since when did workers' unity depend on Westminster? In fact, under successive Tory and Labour governments, 'divide and rule' has been a favourite tactic to defeat workers' attempts to defend their jobs, wages, conditions and communities. For example, the toxic combination of privatization and laws against solidarity ("secondary") action has been used to stop railway workers doing the very same jobs from uniting in action, because they're hired by separate profiteers.

Internationalism - not British nationalism

And since when has the solidarity and internationalism of Scottish workers halted at the shores of Britain? What about their solidarity actions with the workers of Chile under Pinochet or apartheid South Africa? What about the solidarity tours I've personally helped organise in Scotland for trade unionists from Denmark, Nigeria, Ireland...or Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol? Did anyone ever decline solidarity with any of these workers in struggle because they're English, or because their country is not part of the UK?! Nobody but a reactionary British nationalist would put such a viewpoint.

And why would this genuine internationalism suddenly cease once Scotland's working class majority had won the powers to elect a left government able and willing to transform workers' lives?
In fact, by voting Yes and simultaneously fighting to carve out a Scotland based on workers' interests, a socialist Scotland, Scottish workers and their trade unions can give a massive push forward to workers' struggles everywhere, starting with our nearest neighbours. And the fact that unions like UNITE and the NUJ straddle the borders of Britain and Ireland - north and south - buries the lie that self-government equals division and isolationism.

Workers need independence and socialism 

The case for independence - and socialism - is there to be won amongst workers, the very people who stand to lose most under continued rule by Westminster's competing capitalist factions, and most to gain from shaping Scotland into an egalitarian socialist democracy.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Spend 30 seconds: demand MPs abolish the Bedroom Tax NOW!

The reviled Bedroom Tax is in a shambles, which is why everyone who devotes 30 seconds of their time to sign my online Petition could realistically add to the prospects of it being scrapped - now!

The ePetition is simple and pointed: it demands that Labour leader Ed Miliband moves an immediate Emergency Motion in the House of Commons for Abolition of the Bedroom Tax NOW - instead of waiting until some time after 2015, for the eventuality of Labour winning the Westminster elections a long, agonizing two years from now.

You can add your voice to this demand on Miliband to put his money where his mouth is by clicking here.

[and if you have problems with the link, simply go to and in the 'Search' box type 'Bedroom Tax Miliband'].

Coming Apart at the Seams

Those of us who for the past year have fought consistently and persistently to resist and abolish this obnoxious theft of benefits - tenants, trade unionists, socialists - welcome several recent decisions that undermine it.

We welcome various recent legal judgements that have found in favor of tenants - on grounds of room size and previous usage; disabled people's right to additional space for their needs; the human rights of the disabled, parents, children.

We welcome the decision of the Northern Ireland Assembly to exempt all current tenants for the next 4 years. Whilst the political forces in power in the Assembly are dangerously liable to pass on the £17m cost of underwriting the bedroom tax in the form of cuts to other services, this decision adds weight to the longstanding demand by the SSP, Shelter Scotland and anti-bedroom campaigns for the Scottish government to fund the guesstimated £53m loss of rent this year to social landlords, from tenants simply unable to afford the bedroom tax.

And given that right now - until such time as we win Scottish self-government - it is only Westminster which has the powers to abolish the tax they imposed on us, we welcome the recent political U-turns by two of the major Westminster political parties: the LibDems and Labour.

LibDems under Siege

The LibDems have played a disgusting role, abandoning their party policy of a mansion tax on the rich and privileged, whilst acting as the yellow Tory props to the blue Tories in an unelected Coalition - which has hammered nearly 100,000 families in Scotland with their vile, punitive Bedroom Tax. All the more reason to cheer the decision at the recent LibDem UK conference in Glasgow to slam the bedroom tax and open the door to Clegg being pounded into presenting a Motion for its abolition at Westminster. That decision was, let's not forget, in large measure due to the pressure brought to bear by the protest demo of tenants, trade unionists and socialists outside the LibDem conference.

Labour forced into U-turn

More significant still, that meant Labour was the only remaining mainstream party left standing alongside the Tories, refusing to call for abolition of the bedroom tax.

For the past year, Labour has done nothing to lead the battle for its abolition; refused point blank to promise abolition under a future Labour government, in fact saying they would keep it; refused for months on end to even pledge 'no evictions' in Labour-run councils; and stooped down even lower when they issued real eviction notices to a severely disabled mother of three in Labour-run North Lanarkshire council.

Now, a year after the Bedroom Tax was passed by Westminster, six months after it was implemented on April Fools Day, Ed Miliband has promised its abolition if Labour wins office in the 2015 Westminster elections.

Why wait 'til 2015?

A welcome step, but one which strips away all Labour's feeble excuses about 'needing to examine the cost of abolition', and poses the question starkly: why wait another two or three years? Why not fight for its abolition here and now?

The LibDem conference is supposed to be binding on their MPs. So if - as my ePetition demands - Ed Miliband and Labour were to put forward an Emergency Motion for its outright, immediate abolition, there should be an inbuilt majority of MPs that should vote for it, overruling Cameron's vicious millionaire razor gang.
Not another 2 years of Devastation!

If there's an ounce of sincerity in Miliband's promises - if it's not just a cynical electioneering ploy designed to win votes, and damage the case for Scottish self-government into the bargain - then why would Miliband and Labour make us wait another two years or more?

Why would they punish the poorest sections of the working class with another two years of cuts to their benefits, loss of family homes, upheaval, stress, even suicides? And why would they condemn even more staff in social housing to job losses and pay cuts of £5,000 a year, as has already been imposed by £100,000-a-year chief executives in some housing associations?

We need to demand that Miliband turns his grand speeches into decisive action - action that should be easily successful - action that would rescue 660,000 households from the pit of poverty and despair they've been tossed into by the Bedroom Tax.

NOW is the time for Abolition!

Sign the ePetition today. Encourage others to do likewise.

Sign the petitions at SSP street stalls demanding abolition NOW.

And raise Motions in your trade unions, community organizations, anti-poverty groups and anti-bedroom tax groups demanding that Ed Miliband and your own local MPs push for immediate abolition. That includes those trade unions whose leaderships insist on pouring £millions of members' money into Labour's coffers: demand some return on your money from Labour for once!

It's hardly asking the earth of them! But it could be a life-changer for hundreds of thousands of tenants and workers at the sharp end of this indefensible daylight robbery.

Spend 30 seconds of your day: potentially, if thousands of us do it, and pound Miliband into belatedly pushing for abolition, this could help change the lives of hundreds of thousands.