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!

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