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.

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