Wednesday, 22 April 2015

After the General Election: FOR WORKERS' ACTION, not pleas to capitalist politicians

The woman serving me a coffee at the STUC Conference in Ayr racecourse spoke volumes in a short chat. After asking where I was from, and me explaining I was representing the SSP, she said: "I've always been from a Labour family, but I don't know who to vote for. I can't stand Labour, but I'll never vote SNP. I don't trust Nicola Sturgeon," she added in a whisper, as if in fear of upsetting polite society. 

But her most telling comment was her parting shot, after we exchanged views and experiences of low pay in retail and catering. "No matter which of them wins I'll still have to come to work on the 8th of May."

Do any of the main parties represent workers?

The election and media circus will move on, but reality will remain for the working class majority: the struggle to survive on poverty pay, Zero Hours Contracts, part-time and insecure jobs, and the ongoing brutality of savage cuts to vital public services.


But the potential power of the working class to change all that is reflected in the language of the competing parties. Back in the 1990s the fabulously rich Tony Blair declared "Now we are all middle class"! In the 2015 General Election, all manner of political parties have suddenly discovered the need to harp on endlessly about "hard working people" and how much their rival brands of capitalist visions 'represent' us.

Even the Tories shamelessly claimed to be "the party of working people". 

Jim Murphy and Ed Milband have borrowed their spin doctors' phrases, e.g. "Scotland succeeds when working people succeed". 

The SNP bid for traditional Labour voters with talk of being "the voice of working people", alongside their central slogan of "standing up for Scotland."

Looking beyond May 7th, workers (and their unions) need to cut through the fog of slick spin and vague promises, and get back to basics. Those joining the annual May Day celebrations of international workers' solidarity need to recall the fundamental features of the society we live in, and how workers internationally have ever won any improvements in life, living standards and rights.


The SSP quite consciously entitled our Election Manifesto "Standing up for Scotland's Working Class Majority."

We are courageous enough to tell the truth. There are two Scotlands, divided by a chasm of class differences.

The Scotland of the richest 100 with combined wealth of £25billion, and the Scotland of 5 million others depending on £30billion from Westminster's block grant budget for the Scottish government to provide jobs and services.

The Scotland where 432 landowners have grabbed half the nation's land, including arable land, and the Scotland of food banks, where 100,000 (36,000 of them children) rely on food handouts to avert starvation.

The Scotland of millionaires like Brian Souter who fund the SNP from the fortune gained through privatisation of transport, and the Scotland of workers socially isolated because they can't afford the fares.

There is a party for the Working class in Scotland...


Class is at the heart of society. Class exploitation is the very nature of capitalism. Soaring profits are sourced from the unpaid labour of the working class. 

It requires collective organisation and collective action by the working class majority to overcome that exploitation, that class division, where the richest 10% of Scots own 20 times the combined wealth of the poorest 30%.

Yes, we need to demand the maximum reforms and redistribution of wealth from the millionaires to the millions through whatever combination of parties takes over the reins on May 8th. And the seismic upheaval of Labour being swept aside by an SNP that stands a bit to their left will immensely increase expectations of radical wealth transfers from the rich to the rest of us.

But to secure that requires lighting bonfires beneath their backsides, with rallies, demos and even strike action, or it won't happen - because every single one of the parties likely to be in that government ultimately stands up for big business, for capitalist Britain or capitalist Scotland - not for the working class who produce the wealth of goods and services. 

It's wise to not forget the basics.

The class system - your life in their exploitative hands...


The growing clamour for an end to poverty pay, the modern plague of working people, has forced the rival parties into a bidding war - for votes.

The hateful, upper-class Tories claim the minimum wage will 'naturally' rise to £8 by 2020. 
Labour promises an £8 minimum, with whispered asides "by 2020" - which would make it virtually no rise at all on today's pitiful £6.50.

The SNP have very belatedly gone beyond - or at least given the appearance of going beyond - their previous mantra of "supporting the Living Wage", £7.85. That cleverly appeals to workers desperate for a pay rise, without upsetting big business, because the Living Wage is entirely voluntary! Now, to outbid Labour, they've declared for an £8.70 minimum wage, but again not until 2020. In reality that would be less than today's £7.85 Living Wage, although with the saving grace of being legally enforced.

£10 NOW!

Standing out from all this noise about what they'll do for us in five years' time, the SSP has unequivocally demanded a living minimum wage, legally enforced, of £10 NOW, in 2015. Based on the modest formula of two-thirds median male wages. The other critical difference is that we demand it for all workers and apprentices over 16, whereas both Labour and the SNP would retain the monstrous age discrimination of lower youth rates.

Read the latest Scottish Socialist Voice HERE


The same milk-and-water promises are made into headlines by Labour and the SNP on the modern serfdom that is Zero Hours Contracts. 

Both of them repeatedly talk of "tackling", or "clamping down", on what both Labour and SNP insist on calling "exploitative Zero Hours Contracts".

When are they not exploitative? Why not just pledge to abolish the lot, and bring in secure contracts with guaranteed hours, full-time or part-time?

Labour has elaborated that they will introduce a system where after 12 weeks of regular hours worked, that would become the contract hours. But what's to stop employers dodging such 'regular hours', or simply shedding workers and replacing them after 12 weeks - like the avoidance tactics used towards improved agency workers' rights?

The truth is that it's only because some unions and the likes of the SSP have spearheaded persistent campaigns demanding £10 NOW, and outright abolition of Zero Hours Contracts, that these mainstream parties have gone as far as they have. 

And the underlying reality is that only collective action by workers, up to and including strike action, will enforce either a decent living wage or secure job contracts for all.


That's where the strangling repression of workplace rights - the most vicious anti-union laws in Europe - play their part in holding down workers' conditions. Which makes it all the more significant that in contrast to the noisy bidding war of words between Labour and SNP over wages, there is deafening silence from both of them on repealing the anti-union laws - invented by Thatcher's Tory governments of the 1980s, fully retained by Labour from 1997-2010, and made substantially worse since by the Tory/LibDem Coalition.

It is no accident that wages as a share of national wealth, GDP, peaked in 1975. That was an era of massive union membership and several waves of strike action for better wages. The reign of terror of the last 30 years has reversed that process, leaving wages at their lowest share of GDP on record. 

It is no accident that inequality was at its lowest when 83% of workers were covered by collective bargaining, through their unions, whereas inequality is now at its worst, when only 23% are covered.


Workers learn from international experience too. In the heart of the capitalist beast, the USA, wages have plummeted since the 1970s. For most of that time, labor union leaders capitulated, merely begging the capitalist Democrats to be their friends. 

Since 2012, a wave of courageous actions have been taken by brutally low-paid workers in the fast food and retail sectors. Several strike days and protest marches by Walmart workers and fast food staff have won more concessions on wages from their multinational employers than 40 years of pleading by union bureaucrats. 

Wednesday 15th April saw the biggest fastfood strike in history with 60,000 workers involved in over 200 cities, demanding a minimum wage of $15 (£10). Walmart recently conceded $10 and McDonald's pledged to beat each state minimum wage by $1 an hour. Cities like Seattle and Chicago have agreed to phase in $15.


So as we head for the ballot box, and march on May Day events, working class Scots should take inspiration from the struggles of our own past, and the present struggles of fellow workers in the USA. They have defied anti-union laws, taken militant action, marched for decent wages, and at least won substantial concessions. 

Those are the methods of struggle, the collective action, that will be required to squeeze something out of whatever government is elected, and off the unelected, obscenely overpaid boardroom bosses of companies whose whole source of profit is the wages they don't pay workers.


The anti-union laws have been instrumental in enforcing a reign of terror on the 'shopfloor' in recent decades. That's why they need to be repealed, and replaced with a Charter of Workers' Rights. 

That's why those workers rightly abandoning the Labour Party that long ago abandoned them, should not in turn be blinded by the SNP's kindly rhetoric.

Not once, ever, has the SNP or Nicola Sturgeon pledged to dismantle the anti-union laws. 
They make welcome noises about "embracing the unions", "respecting the unions' voices", "recognizing the value of collective bargaining". 

Compared with Labour, both in words and deeds during 13 years of Labour government, this is very welcome, and sounds "progressive", to use Nicola's current buzz word. But it's mostly all candlelight and mood music, a wooing of the working class, with no sharp, defining, concrete measures to guarantee workers' rights and ability to organise collective action. 


It's very akin to the Social Contract of 1970s Labour governments, with their talk of partnership between employers, unions and government, denying the fundamentals of conflicting interests between the profiteers and the workers who produce the profits. 

That ended in massive strikes by the lowest-paid, and massive disillusionment with Labour, as prices and profits rose like a rocket, whilst wages fell like a stick.


Post-election, workers need to organise in action for a living minimum wage, secure jobs, redistribution of wealth, resistance to escalated austerity cuts, and workplace rights - with collective action, where necessary in defiance of the anti-union laws concocted to help the capitalist minority rob wages and public services off the working class majority.

Workers will need to organise and demand concessions from a government that will be in crisis, as the ruling-class panic at the demise of their most reliable prop in the working class - Labour. Not as spectators at an election circus - heavily populated by clowns and opportunist politicians juggling words and principles - but as the one reliable active force for change and progress. 

The socialists of the SSP will continue to stand up for and with the working class majority in pursuit of a fundamental redistribution of wealth and power. We will not plead for crumbs off the capitalist politicians, but advocate and take workers' action to win a decent life for the likes of the woman at the STUC coffee bar. No matter who wins on 7 May, we will be back to work for socialism on the 8th!

Tuesday, 7 April 2015


It was Easter Monday. As I drove to work, the car radio announced the next programme, 'Wake up to Money'. Aye, right, is that what they call £7.13 an hour, at this hour of the day, on a public holiday?

At least many of my workmates get double time for working a public holiday, but I arrived in the job an infuriating five weeks too late; five weeks after they altered the contracts to just pay plain money on a day when many other people enjoy a day off. Nothing unusual about that nowadays, unfortunately. It's all too common in the private sector, but also chunks of the public sector.
And our national union did absolutely nothing to challenge it at the time; they claimed not to even know about the change of contracts when I contacted them about it as a new member, seven long years ago. Weak national union leaderships plus profit-hungry multinationals equals working for £7.13 an hour at anti-social times on a Bank Holiday.

Still, it could be worse. I could be on the £6.50 minimum wage paid to the contract cleaners in our place - with absolutely no nightshift premium when they start before 6am, and a miserly £7.50 for all the additional responsibilities of being a supervisor.

Back to 'Wake up to Money'. Some analyst from Aberdeen was bemoaning the latest report by KPMG on the profits of the five biggest banks. Apparently he found it disappointing they only mopped up profits of £20.6billion in 2014 - a 62 per cent leap compared to 2013.
Seems like some people really do 'wake up to money', mountains of it!

But they're a tiny handful, the 1 per cent: the wealth owners, not the wealth creators. We live in an ill-divided world, a class-divided Scotland, with 510,000 workers in 'severe poverty' whilst a handful of bankers 'wake up to money'.

Which brings us to the general election campaign. A spat between the Tories and LibDems has erupted - is there an election or something, forcing the spineless, treacherous LibDems to try and appear different from their Tory partners in crimes against the 99 per cent?

Apparently a 'senior Tory' told LibDem Coalition Minister Danny Alexander: "You take care of the workers and we'll take care of the bosses".

Well, one part of that is true: witness the 100 top bosses publicly declaring how good the Tories are, calling for their re-election. They wouldn't be doing that if the Tories were clipping the power, profits and privileges of the bloated rich.

On the other hand, did the 'senior Tory' fail to notice it was ever-so-Liberal Vince Cable who has spearheaded many of the vicious anti-worker laws introduced by the Twin Tory Coalition, such as Employment Tribunal fees, which charge a minimum of £1,200 to take a case towards a hearing, pricing workers out of justice?
But this incident inadvertently highlights one simple, central truth: we live in a society made up primarily of millions of workers and a very few, but very rich and powerful, bosses.

So since Labour's Jim Murphy launched his leadership bid for the Scottish branch office of British Labour a couple of months ago with the preposterous slogan "Standing up for the prosperous and the poor", he has some explaining to do.

Is Murphy really standing up for the low-paid Usdaw union members in retail whose votes he relentlessly courts, workers who 'wake up to very little money', on wages hovering around the pathetic national minimum wage? Or is he doing what he and his Blairite Labour Party have done for decades, standing up for the supermarket bosses, bankers and billionaires, who have plundered society's wealth for booming profit margins - with the help of the Thatcherite anti-union laws kept by 13 years of Labour government, and the most deregulated labour market in the whole of Europe, as his mentor Tony Blair boasted, when Prime Minister? 

Has Murphy ever attacked his erstwhile collaborator and co-thinker Peter Mandelson for infamously declaring himself to be "Intensely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich", now that Labour needs to salvage the votes of 'people becoming intensely poor' as a result of basement level wages and benefit cuts which the Tories proposed and Labour MPs voted for?
What are Murphy and Labour planning to do to enhance workers' rights, including the ability and facilities for unions to organise workers in battles for better wages? 

Labour has belatedly discovered some rhetoric about 'working people', after years of telling us, in the infamous phrase of Tony Blair, "We're now all middle class". Not so much a conversion on the road to Damascus, as on the road to Downing Street.

In their desperate bid to con workers into voting for them, these Labour chancers are making a couple of carefully choreographed claims about what they'll do for us 'working people'. They promise "an £8 minimum wage", and to "tackle exploitative Zero Hours Contracts". 

Two immediate, vital health warnings are required to protect the ill-informed from Labour's trickery.

An £8 minimum wage seems attractive to those who do NOT 'wake up to money' - including the 1.2 million languishing on the pitiful minimum wage, or the millions more below anything like a living wage. Well, it would be a substantial improvement if it was introduced now, immediately, in 2015! But Labour has no intention of such a bold gesture towards fighting the scourge of poverty pay. They only pledge £8 by 2020 - leaving millions to struggle with the bills for another full five years, with the promise of a minimum wage which by 2020 wouldn't be worth much more - if any more - than today's £6.50! 

And as we have forewarned in previous articles, when it comes to Zero Hours Contracts, these Labour vote-seekers speak with forked tongues. What do they mean 'exploitative' Zero Hours Contracts? They're all exploitative! They should be abolished outright, straight and simple.
But Labour curries the favour of working class voters whilst dodging this clear, honest solution of unqualified abolition. They want to amend Zero Hours Contracts, rather than abolish them. To have a scheme where after 12 weeks on one of these contracts, you'd get a contract for the average hours worked. Certainly, when or if that happened it would represent an improvement. But it leaves the power with employers to dodge and weave, cutting down average hours worked, or dismissing and replacing workers after 11 or 12 weeks to avoid this clause, especially as many of the jobs involved are relatively low-skilled, fairly easily replaced by a new batch of temporary workers.

In any case, we can be forgiven for doubting Labour's promises on Zero Hours Contracts; Blair promised to abolish them back in 1995 at the Labour conference, but in contrast to the rhetoric, despite 13 years of subsequent Labour government, Zero Hours Contracts have in reality rocketed to an estimated 200,000 in Scotland alone.

Labour's lamentable stance on these issues makes life easy for the SNP, making it easy for them to sound much more radical and worker-friendly than the party originally founded by trade unionists and socialists over a century ago.
But before giving carte blanch to Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, workers need to listen carefully, both to what they say and what they do. 

£8.70 - BUT NOT 'TIL 2020!  
On the issue of poverty pay, the SNP make all the right attacks on the uphill struggle to cope faced by working people in 21st century Scotland. Up until their very recent conference, the SNP confined themselves to their headlined support for the so-called Living Wage - currently £7.85 an hour. A very welcome short-term boost to many workers, but with the fatal flaws of being entirely voluntary, at the whims and fancies of employers, unenforceable by law - and still far too low to merit the name 'Living Wage', given the current cost of living.
At their recent pre-election conference/rally, the SNP sought to outbid Labour's cooing sounds towards workers by pledging not £8, but an £8.70 minimum wage. At least that would have the merit of being legally enforced. But again, not for another 5 years, not until 2020, at the very best making it worth no more than today's £7.85 'Living Wage', but in all likelihood worth substantially less than that when inflation rises again, as predicted by the economists. 

At least up until now, the SNP has regularly used the same phrase as Labour's about 'abolishing exploitative Zero Hours Contracts'. So far, no unequivocal announcement of total, unqualified abolition of them all.

And whilst the SNP have spoken and written about 'embracing the trade unions' and 'the advantages of collective bargaining' - in positive contrast to the words and deeds of modern Labour - they have nowhere and never committed to outright repeal of the battery of anti-union legislation that makes this country the most repressive, in terms of workplace rights, in the whole of Europe.

The SNP make much of 'Standing up for Scotland'. Sounds good, to people downtrodden by undemocratic diktats from Westminster for decades, suffering the theft of our natural wealth and taxes by a business elite concentrated in the City of London and the stockbroker belt of the Home Counties.

But which Scotland do the SNP claim to 'stand up' for? 

Over the past four years, in contrast to their current promises to oppose austerity, the SNP government in Holyrood has failed to 'stand up' to about £4billion in cuts to the nation's funding by Westminster. They've passed on these cuts to local authorities and the likes of Further Education colleges.

In councils they control, the SNP has just as shoddy a record of imposing cuts to jobs and services, and of keeping apprentices on the slave-labour rates of £2.73 an hour, as their Labour councillor counterparts. And in the case of Edinburgh council, the SNP has joined forces with Labour in an axe-wielding coalition.

They've restricted Scottish public sector workers' pay to derisory, below-inflation levels.
Certainly the SNP has shielded the likes of the NHS from the worst excesses of cuts, closures and privatisation imposed by successive Labour and Tory Coalition governments down South.

But a party that imagines you can 'stand up' for everyone in Scotland is ignoring the stark truth that there are two Scotlands, divided by class, by a gaping chasm of differences in wealth and power - and by a fundamental clash of interests, where the increased profits of one class are the decreased wages of the other (majority) class.

Which Scotland are the SNP offering to 'stand up for'?

The three richest families in Scotland - or the poorest 20 per cent of the population, the one million Scots, whose combined wealth doesn't even match that of the three richest families in the same nation?

The Royal Bank of Scotland with its £2.64billion profit in 2014, or the 510,000 Scottish workers officially living in extreme poverty, according the Scottish government's own recent report?

The Scotland of the 432 individuals who own half of the entire land in the nation, including the vast tracts of rich, arable land - or the tens of thousands (including employed workers) who rely on the indignity of food parcels from food banks, for three days at a time, to avert literal starvation?

The Scottish Socialist Party doesn't hesitate to declare which Scotland we side with. We will stand up for Scotland's working class majority. For workers, not the bosses who exploit them; for labour, not capital; for the millions, not the millionaires.

We are a working class socialist party out to end the dictatorship of capital, for socialist democracy, including in our workplaces and communities.

In stark contrast to the carefully chosen phrases of the other parties, we want outright abolition of all Zero Hours Contracts. We want secure jobs with guaranteed hours - either full-time or part-time. 

In conjunction and consultation with the unions and their members, we want to campaign not only for a maximum working week of 35 hours, as the first step to a 4-day week - crucially, with no loss of earnings - but also for employers to be obliged to offer a minimum number of guaranteed hours per week. This could be, say, contracts of at least 16 hours a week - as I've negotiated in my own workplace in the last year - with the proviso that if a worker wants fewer hours they could freely opt into that.

In contrast to talk of £8 or £8.70-an-hour minimum wage a full five years down the road, in 2020, the SSP demands £10 NOW, in 2015, based on the modest formula of two-thirds median male earnings, with equal pay for women - rising with wages or inflation, whichever is the greater.

Instead of empty pre-election mood music towards the working class from Labour, or the social democratic illusion of a partnership of interests between workers and capitalist big business as espoused by the SNP, Scotland's socialist party has a proud, consistent track record of siding with the working class majority, against the rapacious profiteering of capitalist companies.

We stand up for outright repeal of the whole array of anti-union laws, and the implementation of a Charter of Workers' Rights. That to include: full employment rights from day one in the job; the right to join and organise unions without victimization; full facilities for elected union reps to recruit, organise and represent members during working hours; full and equal employment rights and in-work benefits for part-time, fixed-term contract and agency workers; the constitutional right to strike, after a simple majority vote, including the right to take solidarity action with fellow workers, and removal of the ban on so-called political strikes; full union recognition and free collective bargaining in all sectors and workplaces where members join; workers' control of health and safety through elected union health & safety reps.

We stand up for public, democratic ownership of the profiteering banks, all forms of energy, transport, construction, big industries, services - with majority control by elected workers', communities' and government representatives on the boards of management, not a few token 'worker directors' outvoted by capitalist owners whose sole aim is profit maximization.

For those millions of working class people in Scotland who do not 'wake up to money', we need a party that stands up for the millions, not for Scotland's millionaires. We need to 'wake up to the choices' between profit and pay; between decent, dignified and secure jobs or the curse of casualisation designed to exploit workers for profit maximization; between the full and democratic rights of the working class majority, or the untrammeled right to get rich, at our expense, for the 1 per cent. The growth of support for the SSP amongst Scotland's working class majority is a vital part of that awakening.