Wednesday, 30 July 2014

TIDE IS TURNING: workers most to gain from independence

Huge swathes of working class people in Scotland, including many who cling onto their Labour voting habits despite years of bitter disappointment, are shifting over in favour of independence. And by Christ the working class needs self-government if we are to avoid some of the worst assaults and setbacks in modern history!

For two years, the working class has been fed a daily diet of fear, lies and blood curdling tales of the Apocalypse in the event of Scotland doing what umpteen nations at the Commonwealth Games did long ago - elect its own government to decide its own future.
The mass media bombardment and incitement of uncertainty has been relentless.

Fear incited  

No wonder some people fear public services would lack the funding in a smaller country - despite the fact the UK has some of the worst services, fourth lowest pensions and worst child poverty in Europe. And despite the fact Scotland is a net exporter of taxes to Westminster, to the tune of £4.4billon in 2011/12 alone.

No wonder many older workers fear for their pensions - despite the fact they are being dismantled and devalued by successive Westminster governments, and despite Coalition Minister of State for Pensions, Steve Webb, admitting in May that pensions would be safe and secure under independence.
No wonder the wee old woman in Greenock today told our SSP stall "We'll have no yards if we vote Yes" - despite the fact the former shipbuilding centre of the world has been reduced to a fragile shell, slashed from 35,000 jobs in Scotland in 1979 to 5,000 today, with constant job insecurity for those shipyard workers who have survived wave after wave of redundancies under Westminster rule.

So with the thickening fog of lies and scaremongering, it is all the more remarkable and significant that big chunks of workers have seen the truth and swung over to voting Yes - including stalwarts of the labour and trade union movement.

UCS veterans for Yes

No set of workers in Scotland know more about the value of workers' unity, solidarity and internationalism than those who lived and fought through the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders battle of 1971-2. In the face of wholesale shipyard closures, the work-in staged by these men and women electrified the whole working class, built a monumental movement, which straddled national borders and continents, and forced the Tory government of the day to retreat and save the majority of jobs.
So when seven prominent veterans of the UCS struggle - shop stewards and union conveners during that historic class confrontation - publish an open letter in favour of a Yes vote, appealing to today's shipyard workers to do likewise, it is a moment of profound significance.
It blows to smithereens the Labour leadership's arguments that voting Yes would endanger workers' unity, or that it's a vote for 'separation' or 'narrow nationalism'.

Labour monolith in meltdown

The British and Scottish Labour party leaderships thought they could impose a No vote on Labour voters and the trade unions, with the help of the dirty lie that voting Yes makes you a Salmondista, a fan of permanent SNP rule, and an enemy of workers in England, Wales and Ireland. 

But their monolith is cracked, falling apart, with a big swing to Yes within the Labour party itself, which is in turn a sure sign of the even bigger pro-independence trend growing inside the trade unions, which Labour heavily relies on for cash and votes at elections.

As Ed Miliband visited Scotland recently to tell us all again the "value of pooling resources in something bigger, the UK", two contrasting Labour figures on Merseyside came out in favour of Scottish independence. Principled left-winger, former Labour MP Les Huckfield, was one who spoiled Miliband's unionist party. The other was right-wing reptile and anti-socialist witch-hunter-in-chief Peter Kilfoyle, former Labour  government Minister. Each in his own very different way is a clear reflection of the growing mood for self-determination for Scotland amongst Labour voters.

UNISON leaders for Yes 

Far more significant entirely was the recent declaration for Yes by a large group of senior workplace and branch leaders in UNISON Scotland. Despite being pounded by fake radical general secretary Dave Prentis with offers of UK union funds to back Better Together, UNISON in Scotland has remained formally neutral, campaigning for 'A Fairer Scotland'. The Scottish UNISON leadership are astute enough to know siding with the Tory-funded unionist camp would wreak havoc in their ranks and provoke mass resignations.
And now many prominent UNISON activists, including Scottish Deputy Convener Stephen Smellie, have openly called for a Yes vote as the best route to 'a fairer Scotland'.

As Stephen, a Labour party member, explained,
"In an independent Scotland the trade unions will be far more influential than is possible at a UK level. Having spent years campaigning for a better, more just and fairer Scotland, I don't believe all those people and organisations who have worked for fairness will let the politicians get on with it. In alliance with communities and progressive forces, trade unionists will be able to ensure that decisions taken by government will be more often in favour of working people, of sustainability, of peace, of justice."

A recent TNS Poll found 28 per cent of Labour voters are intending to vote Yes, up from an average of 21 per cent over the previous three months.

Least to lose, most to gain 

As we have persistently argued for years, it is precisely the working class who have least to lose by ending Westminster dictatorship for and by the rich, and most to gain from self-rule, where the working class majority can organize and insist upon a radical redistribution of wealth to banish poverty pay, breadline benefits, and reliance on foodbanks in this food-exporting country.

The central lie peddled to cow working class people into voting No is that we face a choice between the status quo or endless uncertainties under independence. The Status Quo is not on offer. Only One Direction is - backwards, at a frightening speed!

The Tories have still to implement at least 70 per cent of their planned cuts to public sector jobs, services, wages and benefits.

They boast that the economy is 'back on course' by GDP growing by 0.2 per cent above the pre-2008 banking crisis level. What they prefer to hide is that while profits and the wealth of the billionaires and millionaires is booming, pay increases only average 0.3 per cent compared to 1.9 per cent official inflation (itself an absurd under-estimate of daily price rises for life's essentials). And GDP per head of population is still 5 per cent below its 2008 level and will take at least another 3 years to catch up. The alleged recovery has been built on the backs of millions suffering low pay and Zero Hours Contracts. Workers are far worse off now than we were six long years ago.

Strike ban - Labour silent 

When a million public sector workers across the UK took strike action on July 10th to demand a share of the alleged recovery in the form of pay rises, the Westminster Coalition responded with repeat threats of even more vicious anti-union laws, designed to effectively ban strike action - the first step towards dictatorship by any other name.

And where were the denunciations of this by the (union-funded) Labour party? Their deafening silence spoke volumes about their intentions if (a very big if!) they get elected in Westminster in 2015.
The same week, Miliband spewed out economically illiterate garbage about Labour "transforming the economy without any increase in public spending", in a tortured attempt to win back some working class voters whilst keeping sweet the middle class swing-voters of so-called Middle England. 

And the following week, closer to home, the Labour city council in Glasgow went to court to get a ban on peaceful protests called by council workers' unions outside the City Chambers during workers' lunch breaks or outwith their shifts - after the same 'people's party' had refused bonus payments for anti-social hours worked by staff to make a success of the Commonwealth Games. That's a taste of the 'justice with Labour' we keep being promised as a reward for voting No in September!

No means hell for workers 

Workers face a hellhouse if a No vote is cast. The slaughter of incomes through Universal Credit. Attacks on young people's housing benefits. Enforced daily visits to JobCentres on pain of escalating sanctions that drive people into destitution. Attacks on pensioners' rights. Savage cuts to jobs and wages in the public sector, including revenge attacks on Scotland's block grant from Westminster. A drive to spread student tuition fees north of the border. Dismantling of the NHS through the knock-on effect of Westminster NHS cuts on a devolved Scottish NHS via the Barnett Formula. Increased use of Zero Hours Contracts to brutally maximize profits. The destruction of a vast expanse of Scotland by fracking, which the Tories have now authorised for about a third of our land mass. And the squandering of at least £1billion a year of Scottish taxpayers' money on Trident weapons of mass destruction, instead of potentially transforming childcare, education and elderly care.

Yes opens door to socialism  

A No vote is what should induce massive fear and insecurity, not self-government. To spell out this is not negative campaigning, it's telling the truth - before it's too late.
In contrast, a Yes vote would guarantee several things to the working class majority. Escape from dictatorship by the Tories. The chance to escape the looming assaults on our incomes, rights and conditions. The chance to shape Scotland's future, by sustaining the energy, creativity and determination displayed by tens of thousands of people who've participated in Yes campaign events, and by fighting in turn for a socialist majority in the 2016 elections.

Those older generations who were reared on the socialist aspirations of Labour and trade union pioneers have the chance to see those ideals pursued in an independent Scotland, where their voice can count. Young people raised to their feet by the Referendum campaign have the chance to help build a genuinely democratic, inclusive, socialist Scotland that acts as an international beacon.
And the SSP will remain as steadfast in fighting for not just independence but also socialism after the Referendum as we have for the past 16 years. Join the growing forces that reject the dictatorship of capital, the dictatorship of the Tories, the dictatorship of Westminster. Our day will come!

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Ructions after the Referendum

- workers, Labour and Scottish Independence

The Scottish Referendum has added substantially to the stresses and strains between Labour and the trade unions.

On one side of the potential for clashes we have the blind, unthinking loyalty to Labour of the tops of many of the trade unions; either blatantly through affiliation to the Tory-funded, Labour-fronted Better Together, or increasingly in recent months via the United with Labour front for unionism.

Lined up against such trade union 'leaders' is a growing battallion of union activists and members who see Scottish Independence as a rapid escape route from the dictatorship of the Tories. 

At a UK-wide level within the trade unions this might not be an issue of prime importance; but within the Scottish union memberships it is a decisive turning point, another factor in the abandonment of Labour by big chunks of the working class.

Mass political education 

Scottish workers and working class communities have been engaged in the politics of the Referendum debate like no other issue in living memory. Questions of profound significance about what kind of society we live in and what kind of society we want to construct under Scottish self-government have been debated in community halls and school assembly rooms every night of the week, in every corner of the nation, with tens of thousands participating. It is a mass political education system that means nothing will remain as it was after September 2014.
And the exposé of Labour as open collaborators with the avowed Tory enemy of workers has added immensely to the process of workers unshackling themselves from their old Labour loyalties.

Labour the chief obstacle

The British and Scottish Labour leaderships are increasingly the chief barriers to Scottish independence. As the battle for the hearts and minds of the working class majority population heats up, the Tories, LibDems and mainstream media are more hindrance than help to the unionist cause; they are widely recognized as workers' enemies.
Hence the rolling out of Gordon Brown as newly-discovered evangel of workers' solidarity, promising "justice with Labour", etc.!

Of course many workers are liable to fall for Labour's lies, given the residual roots of what used to be Labour in the mass of the population, going back several generations. That danger is heightened by the same Labour leaders' cynical portrayal of the Referendum battle being between them and the SNP - another lie! 

A substantial minority of workers, traditionally Labour voters, have had these myths burnt out of their consciousness at public meetings of the SSP, or other Yes meetings with SSP speakers. Socialists are in the best position to crush the lies of Labour mis-leaders in working class audiences. 

We have exposed the fact that when Labour claims independence would break the unity of the working class, it was 13 successive years of Labour governments that banned workers' solidarity, legally outlawing the right to take action in support of fellow workers, under threat of seizure of trade union funds. 

We've exploded Labour leaders' lie that voting Yes is condemning workers in England and Wales to permanent Tory rule: only twice has the Scottish vote been essential to a Labour government being elected, one of which was the brief 8 months of Harold Wilson government from February to October 1974. 

We've explained that far from abandoning the working class down south, independence would usher in the opportunity to lead by example, by shaping a society in favour of the working class that would act as a beacon to fellow workers in our neighbouring states.
And SSP speakers have been instrumental in reminding thousands of the realities voting No and then seeking "justice with Labour" at Westminster in 2015 would mean: it was Labour in office under Brown, Blair and Alastair Darling that announced 100,000 civil service job losses; abolished the lower 10p tax rate for the lowest paid; implemented rampant privatization; destroyed Final Salary Pension Schemes; and presided over the most unequal division of wealth since 1886, according to Oxfam.

Labour: another capitalist party

Labour's attachment to the UK state is an expression of its deeper ideological devotion to capitalism and it's state institutions. Since at least the 1990s, Labour has transformed into an openly capitalist party. But precisely because of its working class origins of a century ago, and the remaining institutional Iinks between Labour and the majority of the trade unions, that makes Labour the chief political obstacle to the advancement of the working class, let alone full blown socialism. 

By clinging onto traditional working class voters, whilst preaching and practicing neo-liberal capitalism, Labour is involved in a monumental deceit that upholds the power and profiteering of the capitalist elite - the billionaires who rule Breadline Britain.
The same applies to foreign policy, which is only an extension of domestic policies: it was Labour that dragged Britain into the killing fields of Afghanistan and Iraq, clinging onto the coat-tails of USA imperialism.

The debates at trade union branches and public meetings on the Referendum have raised issues that can't simply be bottled up and put in cold storage again after September. These include the call for control over trade union decisions by the Scottish membership; the formation of industry-wide shop stewards committees across national boundaries (and not just restricted to the borders of the current UK, in this age of multinational capitalism); and the treacherous role of Labour in their undisguised collaboration with the sworn Tory enemies of the working class.

Ructions after the Referendum

After September 18, we are likely to see eruptions, schisms and a haemorraging of members from Labour in Scotland.

If, as we hope and expect, a Yes vote is won, the tops of Labour at UK and Scottish level will never be forgiven for their anti-working class collaboration with the Tory enemies of democratic self-rule.

If their efforts were to succeed in getting a No vote, hundreds of thousands will neither forget nor forgive their role in blocking workers' escape route from brutal Tory dictatorship. And after a while, those in uproar at the Scottish and British Labour leaders would include tens of thousands conned into voting No who then realized their betrayal, as the assault on jobs, pay, benefits and services began to bite deep.

If, with the assistance of the growing Labour for Independence trend, we win a Yes vote, all hell will break loose in and around Labour in Scotland.
MPs will vie with MSPs for parliamentary seats in an independent Holyrood - mostly unprincipled jockeying for parliamentary ambitions; rarely if ever as a principled left/right split.
Those Labour members who've had the courage to campaign for independence will face stark choices in an independent Scotland: join with other genuine socialists in the SSP to fight for a socialist majority in the 2016 elections, or stay in the Labour party in the hope of transforming Scottish Labour into a socialist force.

Socialist programme

Of course a political programme for radical socialist transformation is at the heart of this question, rather than names and party labels. Policies that could mobilize working class people in a movement built on the shoulders of the Referendum campaign and that challenges capitalism would include a decent living minimum wage; reversal of Westminster's cuts; massive increases to pensions and benefits; defense and extension of a modern public welfare state; abolition of all anti-union laws and introduction of workplace democracy; reversal of past Tory and Labour privatisations; democratic public ownership of Royal Mail, energy, transport, construction, banks; progressive taxation of the rich and big business; full employment through creation of decent, well-paid jobs and apprenticeships in housing and the green energy sector; removal of Trident and opposition to involvement in imperialist wars.

Unprincipled readjustments 

But where would such a programme leave 'Scottish' Labour? The Labour Party in Scotland under Westminster rule is a mere appendage of a British party that is firmly hitched to capitalism and besotted with winning middle-class swing voters in so-called Middle England. In other words, fundamentally and utterly opposed to any suggestion of socialism.
In the event of independence, Labour in Scotland would be obliged to reposition itself. Not a principled autonomy or independence from the capitalist British Labour party - based on the principles of the right to national self-determination and therefore pursuit of an independent Socialist Scotland - more an unprincipled readjustment driven by self-preservation and parliamentary ambitions in an independent Scottish parliament.

Johann Lamont: a very strange 'socialist'!

The central question would still remain: what ideology and political programme would drive such a Scottish Labour party in an independent state?
The performance of the parliamentary wing of Labour in Scotland bodes ill for those dreaming of a socialist revival in Scottish Labour's ranks. For instance, only two Scottish Labour MPs voted against the recent Tory cap on welfare benefits. 

I've witnessed some in Labour for Independence claim - in their argument that independence would revive Labour as a socialist force - that Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont is actually a socialist, but hampered by the London-based domination of Ed Miliband et al. 

It's a strange version of socialism that denounces Scotland as a "something for nothing society", threatening to remove free prescriptions, over-60s' bus passes or free school meals; or that besmirched the Scottish working class as "not genetically programmed to make political decisions" - both declarations being made in the past year by the same 'socialist' Johann Lamont.

Workers won't flood into Labour

A Yes vote may embolden some in LFI and the Labour Campaign for Socialism in challenging the Scottish Labour leadership. But the fundamental problem they would still face is the lack of any groundswell in the working class towards joining the Labour party en masse to reclaim and convert it into a socialist party.

In fact, the opposite is the trend. At least a whole generation of trade unionists and working class communities have experienced nothing but disappointment, disgust and despair at their experience of Labour in government at council, Holyrood or Westminster levels. 

And their most recent experience is of the same Labour being on the wrong side - united with the Tory class enemy - during the Referendum battle. 

Far from any movement of workers being attracted to join the Labour party, unions like USDAW have had members resigning and threatening to resign due to the union's ultra-Labour loyalist affiliation to Better Together; a mistaken, but entirely understandable conclusion by workers who are furious, and a graphic indication of the deepening chasm between the trade union ranks and Labour. 

A clear and growing majority of activists and union reps in the likes of UNISON and UNITE are for Yes, which brings them into conflict with the party their unions are still affiliated to.

Trade unions: Make the Break!

Regardless of whether it's a Yes or No majority in September, the case for breaking from Labour has grown in the trade unions; exponentially so compared to when the SSP launched our 'Make the Break' campaign in January 1999. 

Trade union branches and especially union activists are key to the renewal of socialism in Scotland, alongside young people and those currently not in a unionised workplace. 
But that won't be achieved by trying to breathe life into the Labour party. The severe limitations of that strategy - even when applied by the biggest trade union in the country - were highlighted in Falkirk, with all the consequences for Unite the union and it's activists at Grangemouth refinery. The limitations - indeed the futility of that strategy - were further underlined by last year's Labour conference voting - unanimously! - for public ownership of Royal Mail and the railways, only to have the Labour leaders spit in the face of their own party conference, declaring within minutes that they will do no such thing on winning power at Westminster.

Build a mass socialist party

Workers convinced of the need for radical change, including through the mass learning process of the Referendum, would do much better to devote their talent and energy alongside those of us already organised in the SSP, in constructing a mass, working class socialist party. Realignments on the Scottish left in the event of independence will strengthen that strategy immensely. 

Socialists in SNP: Make the Break!

That is especially so given the thousands of socialists who have up until now chosen the SNP as the biggest vehicle to travel to independence in. On reaching that destination - the raison d'ĂȘtre for the SNP over 80 years - they will then confront the choice of what kind of Scotland to build with the powers of independence. Whether to surrender to a tartan capitalism, 'more of the same' but under the Saltire - or do battle for a full-blown socialist programme for Scotland, as part of the international struggle for socialism?

Thousands of SNP members on demos, rallies and public meetings have said to the SSP: "When we get independence, we'll be with you."

These pro-Independence socialists need to 'make the break' from an SNP party whose dominant leadership have shown their dedication to capitalist economy and capitalist institutions through policies such as lower Corporation Tax; membership of the nuclear, warmongering NATO; support for a medieval monarchy; and their implementation of Westminster austerity through cuts imposed by SNP-led councils.

Make nothing remain the same!

Together with the SSP - which for all 16 years of our existence has persistently fought for socialism and Scottish Independence - socialists in the Labour party and trade unions, plus newly awakened socialists in RIC and Yes groups across Scotland, socialists currently in the SNP can help forge a mighty force for fundamental socialist change in Scotland and beyond.

Nothing will remain the same after 18 September - provided we fight to shape Scotland into the socialist society workers need it to become.