Wednesday, 4 December 2013


The SNP government's White Paper on 'Scotland's Future' contains many welcome reforms, and certainly represents a massive step forward from the jail-house conditions working class people currently endure. But a Freedom Charter for workers it is not.

Many of the measures pledged by an aspiring SNP government in an independent Scotland would substantially boost the living standards of Scottish workers and their families. Abolition of the bedroom tax, calling a halt to the dreaded Universal Credit scheme, scrapping of Trident - such plans would halt attacks on the poorest, and potentially release a fortune for spending on jobs, public services and people's incomes that is currently squandered on devilish weapons of mass destruction.

The headline-grabbing promise of free childcare of 30 hours a week during term time for all 3- and 4-year-olds and vulnerable 2-year-olds is a powerfully welcome key to many, many women (and some men) being able to realistically choose to work - provided of course the jobs were created.

Promises of a Youth Guarantee of either education, training or employment as a constitutional right for all aged under 24 is in stark, glittering contrast to the wasted generation under Westminster rule, and is indeed something socialists have demanded for years - again, provided we fight to ensure it is based on provision of a living income or student grant and is not a device exploited by employers to displace unionized, older workers with cheap youth labour.

Renationalisation of Royal Mail has been welcomed not just by Communication Workers' Union members but workers in general, as a means to reverse profiteering and service cuts at the hands of the privateers.


With 630,000 workers organised in trade unions - and probably at least as many again willing to join but terrified of victimization, job losses and blacklisting if they openly joined a union - the White Paper was a golden opportunity to enlist the support of the working class majority population of Scotland. But for those hesitating, or even being dragooned into the No camp by the scurrilous Fear Factory that is Better Together and their offshoot United with Labour, a bold, striking vision of a markedly different future under independence is the necessary method of persuasion. 

Again, measured against what we suffer now under Westminster's rule by and for the millionaires, the SNP's prospectus is progress. But nothing like the advances the likes of the SSP or the broad-based Trade Unionists for Independence are striving for.

Labour's Social Contract provoked strikes‏


What do we face as a future if a No vote is cast next September? 

The UK already boasts the infamy of some of the lowest pay, longest working hours, shortest holiday entitlement and most savage anti-trade union laws in the western capitalist world. And things can only get worse! 

The Tory-LibDem boot-boys have slapped prohibitive fees on Employment Tribunal cases, pricing workers out of any measure of justice. They are hammering the right of union reps to function and represent members in the civil service. London's Tory Mayor Boris Johnston, an obnoxious reactionary disguised as a boisterous buffoon, has pioneered a drive towards banning the right to strike in the public sector, and for a 'review' of union balloting laws on industrial action whereby those members who abstain would be counted as voting against any proposed collective action. And as well as ushering in further cuts to the block grant to Scotland from Westminster, a No vote would embolden the Old Etonians to lay waste to what little workplace rights remain. 

So trade unionists don't even face a choice between the status quo and independence, but between a further clawing back of gains won by past generations of trade unionists and socialists in struggle - or a chance to improve our lot as workers by voting for the right to get whatever government the Scottish people elect!

Irish Social Partnership increased inequality


The White Paper rightly states that under Devolution, "the Scottish government is responsible for training the present and future workforce, equipping them with the skills and knowledge they need, but has no say in how they are treated once they are in a job." 

It makes the welcome pledge that an SNP government with the full powers that independence provides would "reverse recent changes introduced at Westminster which reduce key aspects of workers rights. For example, on independence we will restore a 90-day consultation period on redundancies affecting 100 or more employees." 

Likewise they will abolish the 'shares for rights' scheme recently initiated by the Coalition, bribing workers into surrendering fundamental redundancy and unfair dismissal rights, etc, for a few non-voting company shares.

Welcome promises, but very timid. Not a word about scrapping the bulging package of anti-union laws ushered in by Thatchers Tories in the 1980s, retained by Blair and Browns Labour regimes, brutally added to by the current Thatcherites - both Tory and LibDem!

No mention of the guaranteed right to be in a union, the right to strike without fear of victimization,  the right to take solidarity action with fellow workers.

No sign of Worker Director at First Scotrail RMT strike in 2010!


In sharp contrast to the vilification of trade unions offered by the Better Together parties, 'Scotland's Future' sets as its priority "working directly with the trade unions, employers' associations, employers and voluntary sector to build a partnership approach to addressing labour market challenges". 

The Paper goes on to promise "particular focus on encouraging wider trade union participation and recognition of the positive role that can be played by collective bargaining in improving labour market conditions."

The central proposals on offer from the SNP are the formation of a National Convention on Employment and Labour Relations, involving employers and trade unions, and a subsidiary Fair Work Commission.
The latter "will deliver the mechanisms for uprating the national minimum wage", with the "guarantee that it will rise, at the very least, in line with inflation, to ensure work is a route out of poverty".


Considering the UK minimum wage has lagged inflation for years, leaving workers at least £675 worse off than if it had tracked price rises for the past 5 years, this is better than the No campaign can offer hundreds of thousands of workers. 

But it is miserably timid, with no pledge nor proposal for a guaranteed living level of minimum wage, legally enforced.  

Matching inflation but starting with the current £6.19 an hour for those over 21 - and the White Paper is silent on the lower youth rate - would certainly not be 'a route out of poverty'. 

The SNP swear their allegiance to the Living Wage Campaign, and are right now funding a Poverty Alliance Accreditation Scheme - seeking to persuade employers to pay at least £7.45 an hour. 400,000 Scottish workers earn less than this. But again this is not a legally enforced government figure, merely an aim that they seek to cajole employers into paying, based on the core faith the SNP has in businesses big, medium and small.


These proposed structures are founded on a central philosophy of 'social partnership' between employers, trade unions and government. 

The SNP even raises the idea of worker directors - imitating the actions of 14 out of the 28 EU states where workers have some form or other of representation on company boards. They advocate "employee representation to bolster longterm decision-making and improve industrial relations". 

Given the way workers' trade unions have been cast out into an industrial Siberia the last 30 years, frozen out of important discussions, with dictatorial management all too common, this is a very seductive prospectus. But it is strewn with pitfalls and lethal traps. 


Of course, elected union representatives having direct access to discussions on their employers' plans would be a massive advantage compared to, for instance, the capitalist dictatorship on display by INEOS boss Jim Ratcliffe at Grangemouth. Access to secret company accounts would help unions restrict the shenanigans of employers.

But the problems arise because the interests of workers and those of their capitalist private employers clash; in essence there's a conflict over who gets the bigger share of the wealth produced, whether in wages and conditions for the workforce, or profits and dividends for the big shareholders. 


Social partnership amounts to the partnership of the rider and the horse - not two people with common interests, equals.

In many cases worker directors are gagged from speaking out on company secrets, or at the very least bound by the decisions the majority on the board. That seems to be the situation already in the NHS.
The SNP White Paper lauds First Group as a local example of their model for the future, mentioning the transport giant has had a worker director since it was set up in 1989. That begs the question: where was this 'workers' voice' when First Scotrail launched its savage assault on rail workers a few years ago - when in fact it was uncovered that the SNP government had secretly agreed to subsidise the company for any losses they incurred through strike action by the RMT union? Is that what social partnership entails?


In some retail companies, committees exist with handpicked workers on them, partly in an attempt to bypass the collective union and it's elected stewards, partly to pass down the message of top management to the shop floor, disguised as the 'decisions' of these workers on the carefully moulded committee. Despite all the window dressing, this is an attempt to undermine, not enhance, the collective bargaining of organised workers.


The proposed Convention is of course a welcome arena for the unions to independently advocate  measures that meet the needs of their members - ranging from advocating a formula for a living level of legally enforced national minimum wage for all over 16, to a charter of workplace rights. 

Scotland's trade unions should welcome the Convention, and use it to put forward the views of independent trade unions. But they need to thoroughly discuss the lessons of experience here and abroad when it comes to so-called social partnership and 'worker directors'.

Back in the 1974-79 Labour government, something very similar was implemented, named the Social Contract, initially popular with some of the lower paid who won wage rises in the first phase, but bitterly nicknamed the Social Con-trick in the following years - until it was smashed on the rocks of workers' strike action in 1978-9. 

The core problem was that the government could control (i.e. hold down!) wages, but they couldn't control prices in a capitalist economy, leading to rip-roaring inflation and a collapse in workers' real wages. 

Union leaders who were the architects of this earlier edition of 'social partnership' were discredited, workers confused, Labour defeated, and Thatcher elected by default!


More recently, workers in the South of Ireland have been hamstrung and made to pay the price of horrendous capitalist crisis because their national union leaders sold them a pup - successive National Agreements that allegedly ensured bosses and workers were 'all in it together', which drastically hampered their ability to fight back collectively and defend living standards.


Of course, in all probability an independent SOCIALIST Scotland would include properly elected workers' representatives on workplace committees, to control day-to-day operations, and a working class majority elected onto boards of publicly owned industries, services and cooperatives. But that is a far cry from what is on offer from this White Paper, which is rooted in the open continuation of privately owned capitalist enterprises, which in fact are promised cuts of up to 3 per cent in Corporation Tax.


Trade unions and their members cannot afford to be neutral on the Referendum. We have far too much to lose if we don't help win a majority for independence. More wage cuts. Even worse assaults on services. Catastrophic removal of the remaining rights we have at work. And all of these regardless of what colour of rosette the capitalist Prime Minister in Westminster wears.


The SNP government's White Paper is one version of independence, but only one. It says itself, "Each of Scotland's political parties will bring forward policy proposals at the future election to an Independent Scottish parliament." 

Absolutely. And the duty of trade unions, as the biggest single collective body in Scotland, is to seize the unique opportunity offered by national self-government, and combine with socialists to carve out a future that goes far beyond the vision painted in this White Paper. 

Fight for public ownership of key sectors like energy, North Sea oil and gas, the banks and industrial giants - with new forms of democratic control and management by working class people that go way beyond a few token 'worker directors'. 

With socialist change we could build a genuine social partnership. 

This White Paper is a very substantial improvement on what we have in the capitalist UK; it is pale and timid compared to what socialists and the trade union movement need to campaign for on the road to a Scottish workers' republic.


  1. I think one of the way forwards would be a school leavers programme that explain the role of Unions in the workplace. How unions are a integral part of protecting worker's rights. I listened to Osborne's speech today and the unemployed youth are to be punished again. The present government wants to take away benefits from anyone leaving school to going straight to benefits. Osborne and Co failed to address the issues of one of the highest youth unemployment in nearly a century. Once again, an attack of the working classes. Scottish Independence is the first step forward to disengaging the power centric base from Westminster. The next stage is to have effective union leadership at the top driving the changes. This is a role the members of TUFI (Trade Unions For Independence) can work on. We have seen the erosion of worker's rights go down the drain with the British government over the last 40 years. Hard gained rights fought for by our mothers and fathers over the last 100 years. They have past the torch down to us and now it is time to become a beacon of hope to everyone in the world. Scottish Independence and strong unions can achieve this. On 2014, we will have the chance to create a new heritage, one based on equality on pay, conditions and worker's rights.

  2. I believe one of the way forward for unions is for young people leaving education to be introduced to unions and the role they play. The right's of the working class continue to be eroded by the British government. Government policies have put the role of unions in to reverse to satisfy the needs of corporations and banks. A recent interview by Theresa May stated that if the Conservative Government get back in power in 2015. They will seek to remove the Convention of European Human Rights from the UK. It is clearly a attack on the working classes and will continue to be so. This can come to a end by voting for Independence in Sept, 2014. Replace minimum wage with a living wage that is attached to the rate of inflation. Abolish zero hour contracts and paying for taking a company to a tribunal. Have the right of union representation within the workplace and effective union leadership. All things are possible and the role of Trade Unions For Independence is elemental in the drive forward. It is important to dispel the fear that has been generated over the last 40 years in workplaces, where too much power lays in the hands of CEOs and Corporations. Governments have allowed items such as 'Special Interest Groups' to dictate policies. Unions are critical to the modern workplace to provide education and support to their fellow workers rights and protection. Time for a change, Time for Independence.


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