Wednesday, 24 June 2015


CalMac ferry workers - members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers' union (RMT) - are taking industrial action in defence of their pensions, jobs, conditions of work - and against privatisation by the Scottish government, who seem set to hand the publicly-owned CalMac ferries over to the private, profiteering Serco.

They start with an overtime ban, followed by a 24-hour strike.

The workers run lifeline services to remote communities on the Clyde and Hebrides CalMac ferries.

These RMT members deserve and need the solidarity of every worker in Scotland.
They are themselves often members of the island communities who depend on these lifeline services. They are dedicated and hardworking, going out in all weather, and have only resorted to this action because of the threat to the services they provide as well as the jobs and conditions they've gained through collective union efforts.


They decided on this course of action by sweeping majorities in a ballot of RMT members, who make up about 680 of the 1,400-strong workforce. In a decisive 60% turnout, on a two-question ballot, 98% of them voted in favour of industrial action short of strike action, and 92% in favour of strikes. Even if the Tories' vicious hurdles against the right of workers to withdraw their labour had already been made law, there would still be a legal majority for the action!
That in itself illustrates the strength of feeling of a workforce that has tried every other option to get guarantees on their pensions and against compulsory redundancies. 


They feel they are pawns in a completely unnecessary exercise by the Scottish government, who say they are obliged to put the contract out to tender under European Union rules. 
As the RMT rightly say, it appears the SNP government hasn't even tried to challenge these EU regulations, let alone confront them head-on in defence of the vital public services these ferries provide to the island communities, or in defence of the workforce. So much for 'a strong voice for Scotland'!


And the same SNP government, for all its talk of 'standing up for Scotland', has form.
Back in May 2012, the Northern Isles ferry service was privatized by the Scottish government, who handed the £350m contract to private company Serco, in preference to the bid by public sector CalMac. 

Now, the Shetland Times has revealed that CalMac's tender, which was believed to be cheaper than Serco's, was returned unopened by Transport Scotland, an arm of the Scottish government!
The SNP government boosted the public subsidy to Serco by about £40m, a 20% increase. 
The Serco contract led to redundancies, and a threat to workers' pensions, which was only withdrawn after RMT members voted overwhelmingly to strike. 


Now the £1billion contract for Clyde and Hebrides CalMac ferries has been put out to tender by the same government - seeking a contract for eight years from October 2016.

The RMT and the other ferry unions are deeply concerned, and suspicious that this amounts to plans to privatize that ferry service too - but with the announcement delayed until after the May 2016 Scottish elections! A cynical attempt at backdoor privatisation, behind the backs of voters.
And workers' conditions are again threatened, which has provoked the RMT members' strikes.


Three weeks ago, I spoke to an RMT member with the Clyde and Hebrides ferries about the issues at stake. 

"Since last December we've had meetings of the STUC and the four trade unions involved - RMT, Unite, Nautilus and TSSA - with the government and sought guarantees on job security, conditions of service and pensions off the companies tendering for the Clyde and Hebrides ferry service. 

"We thought we'd reached an agreement we could live with, but then we were told the Scottish government would only underwrite our pensions if the Pension scheme was reformed by the end 2015. 

"We had written to CalMac earlier, insisting on written guarantees on job security through no compulsory redundancies, defence of conditions and no change to the pensions without union agreement. They gave no guarantees, and on the back of that we met with Keith Brown and Derek Mackay from the Scottish government - we are meeting them again this week.

"We will be telling them the demands on us are totally unacceptable. 

"One big issue is pensions. They've given us only 6 months to reform the pension scheme. And the reforms they are demanding are that our contributions increase from 6% to 9.5%; that the pension is tied to the state retirement age, meaning we could be working until we're 68; and that it is downgraded from a Final Salary to a Career Average scheme. So we're being asked to pay more, work longer, and get less when we retire! 

"Against our better judgement, the CalMac ferries were put out to tender. The government hoped for at least five companies bidding for the tender, but nobody is interested because there's a clawback of some of the profits to the government. So the only two companies tendering are CalMac and Serco. 

"We don't think Serco are fit to bid for a public service contract, given their financial state and their track record with the Northern Isles ferries and Caledonia sleepers. 

"It looks to us as if CalMac is being set up for privatisation. Because both CalMac and the unions had a gun put to their heads, giving us just 6 months to reform the pension scheme, so that when that doesn't happen they can claim CalMac is not fit to run the service. 
"And CalMac at the moment seems to be run by consultants on £1,400 to £1,500 a day - overruling directors on over £100,000 a year! Something's not right. 
"This doesn't add up to the alleged Memorandum of Understanding between the Scottish government and the STUC!"


Send messages of solidarity to the Calmac strikers via and I will send them to the workers striking back for all of us.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015


The thousands who join the Scotland United Against Austerity rally this Saturday, 20 June, in Glasgow's George Square will be united in sending a simple, stark message to the Tories: you have no mandate to rule and ruin Scotland, and we're not going to lie down and accept your butchery!
Only 10 per cent of Scotland's voters backed the Tories. Yet Cameron, Osborne and their Old-Etonian bootboys plan an assault on our lives that surpasses even the Dark Ages of Maggie Thatcher. 

They plan a 100-day blitzkrieg on benefits, public spending and workers' rights. Virtually every day they declare another attack on yet another section of the working class, including the poorest and most vulnerable. 

details of the STUC rally HERE

They clearly hope to imitate the methods of George W Bush - who infamously deployed his 'shock and awe' military onslaught on Iraq - seeking to overwhelm resistance to their savagery by its sheer scale and speed.

Tory plans include £30billion cuts to public spending, £12billion of it from welfare.
An estimated £5billion slashed off in-work Tax Credits, hammering the lowest-paid, part-time workers, whilst making stomach-churning claims to being "one-nation Tories, party of the blue-collar worker".
Abolition of young people's housing benefit. A 40 per cent reduction of those getting Carers' Allowance. Cuts to child benefits.
The list marches on, mercilessly.

The same government that only gained a derisory 24 per cent of all UK voters is hellbent on wiping out workers' rights, imposing near-impossible thresholds of a 50 per cent turnout, plus at least 40 per cent of all actual union members voting for industrial action, before it's legal.
Plus they plan to rip up facility time for elected union reps - to make them impotent in the face of escalating employers' attacks on workers - and to remove the ban on conscripting Agency workers to scab on strikes.
They want to impose workplace dictatorship, in pursuit of even bigger profits, lower wages and fewer jobs.

With such brutality coming down the track at us, the STUC and the unions that together organise 630,000 Scottish workers have a pivotal part to play in resisting the Tory onslaught.
The 20 June rally must not be a mere token gesture, but the launchpad for a concerted, determined course of further action, building an alliance of trade unionists, people on benefits, communities, and socialists prepared to defy and defeat the Tories. 
No time should be wasted over the summer months; as the Tory blitzkrieg unfolds, the unions should prepare the grounds for united, militant action to halt Cameron's juggernaut.

On Tory Emergency Budget day - 8 July - the SSP plans protests to highlight opposition to the butchery that Osborne will announce. How much more significant it would be if the STUC coordinated events across Scotland that day to give notice of the resistance that will be built over the next few weeks and months.

Potentially the STUC has unique power to spearhead a movement to stop austerity, raising concrete alternative policies at the same time as coordinating militant action.
Embracing 630,000 worker-members, it also has the advantage of not being officially tied to either the sinking ship of Labour, nor the SNP - which won a landslide by claiming to be anti-austerity, but has a real-life track record of passing on Westminster cuts at both Holyrood and council levels over the past four years. 

The STUC and its affiliated unions need to call further mass events to bombard the Scottish government with demands to implement the mandate the SNP won for being anti-austerity, by refusing to implement a single penny of the budget cuts Scotland faces from Westminster.
They should demand the Scottish government set out spending plans this Autumn that, as a bare minimum, save all jobs and public services, and boost workers' pay - and build a mass Scots rebellion demanding the funds off Westminster for these plans, rather than devolve Tory cuts to councils, FE colleges, schools and other vital services.

ANOTHER £2-3billion IN CUTS
This is critical given the eye-watering scale of cuts forecast in new Scottish government spending projections. They expect a further cut of £2billion to Scotland's budget over the next 3 years; maybe even £3billion. At least half of that will hit councils.
As Professor John McLaren of Fiscal Affairs Scotland wrote, "Scotland, like the UK, is only about half way through the cuts to public services initiated by the UK government. Unlike earlier years it's expected to be day-to-day budgets, rather than capital budgets, that take the hit. At over 5 per cent in each of the next two years, the cuts could be more than double the average seen in the past four years."
Others have calculated the councils' share will mean the equivalent of losing 9,700 secondary teachers, plus 8,900 senior social workers, plus 16,000 cleansing department workers.

So not only Holyrood, but local councillors, face a stark choice: stand up and defy the Tory cuts, building a mass movement of workers and communities to win back the stolen £billions off Westminster - or be forever condemned for carrying out the Tories' dirty work.

The STUC needs to launch a plan of action to push politicians into resistance, to make it politically unviable for the Tories to impose their plans. A whole nation in rebellion couldn't be ignored.

More "Defy the Tories" Demo pics here

At the first sign of any group of workers being blocked by anti-union laws, the STUC should build support for defiance of these laws. It's better to break bad laws that allow the Tories to break workers' backs!

Several sections of workers are courageously taking action already: Dundee hospital porters; Glasgow homeless caseworkers; Calmac ferry crews against attacks on pensions, conditions and the threat of privatisation. 
How much less painful would these workers' struggles be if the laws were scrapped that ban solidarity action by fellow-workers?
And neither Labour nor the SNP can lay claim to being on these workers' sides.
Glasgow city council is Labour, but has kept strikers out on picket lines for 12 weeks, as well as refusing to reinstate sacked UNISON rep Robert O'Donnell at the SECC, which the Labour council owns 91 per cent of!
The SNP government is heading towards privatisation of the Clyde and Hebrides ferries, as they did the Northern Isles ferries back in 2012.
The unions need to spearhead an independent political alternative that defends workers' rights and incomes. They should stop funding Labour's anti-working class lost cause; they should instead stand on the socialist principles of labour movement pioneers.

The SSP has pioneered proposals that the STUC should take up and popularise; a fully-costed alternative way of funding councils, scrapping the unfair Council Tax, replacing it with an income-based Scottish Service Tax that would make 77 per cent of Scots better off, and literally double the funds for local jobs, wages and services. 
This proposal has the potential to help shield Scotland from austerity, especially as councils employ 247,000 workers and provide vital services.
Councillors - Labour, SNP or Green - face the stark choice of helping to build centres of resistance to the Tory austerity plans, building alliances of workers and communities to win the necessary funding, or they will be cursed for being central to the savagery of job losses and service decimation.

But the issue of austerity cuts goes far beyond the boundaries of councils. The SSP appeals to trade unionists, community activists and their organisations - including the STUC - to join our campaign for powers to protect the Scottish working class to be devolved to the Scottish parliament. 

In facing the cataclysmic Tory attacks on jobs, wages, benefits and workers' rights, we demand devolution of the powers to reverse all welfare and benefits cuts; to defy pay cuts by implementing a Scottish £10 minimum wage for all aged 16 and over; to repeal all the anti-union laws and establish full workplace rights; to take all services, banks, energy and big industries into democratic public ownership, so as to create well-paid, secure jobs and begin to build a society that matches the needs of the millions, instead of the millionaires.

Join the SSP; help commit your trade union, your community group and your family to defiance of the Tories, and to the pursuit of socialist measures that could eradicate any and all excuses for cuts.
We live in an immensely rich nation: demand use of that wealth for the working-class majority population, not for the profits, perks and privileges of the stinking rich and their Tory henchmen.