Tuesday, 29 September 2015


As the Tories take a claw hammer to workers' rights, and swing their wrecking ball at jobs, wages, tax credits and public services, it's no wonder workers search for a political alternative. 
The cream of the Scottish working class has joined the SSP, the socialist contingent of the 630,000-strong trade union movement. They are rightly attracted by the SSP's track record of solidarity with workers in struggle; unflinching fight for an immediate £10 minimum wage for all at 16; our advocacy of democratic public ownership, and our tireless campaigning for a charter of workers' rights, as a core human right.
But given their near-monopoly of Scottish politics since the Referendum, and the power they wield, thousands of trade unionists and workers see the SNP as an immediate vehicle for their aspirations. 

The SNP claims that within its overall, phenomenal growth to about 112,000 members, their Trade Union Group (TUG) has rocketed from 800 to 16,000 - at least up until the Corbyn factor, outnumbering the entire membership of Scottish Labour. 
Some have joined the SNP TUG under the false impression that it's an actual union, such is their disenchantment with their own trade union. 
Others purely because they see the SNP as the big vehicle to climb aboard for independence, and tick the box to register as a trade union member. 
Others still, doubtless attracted by the SNP's mood music towards the trade union movement - in technicolour contrast to the savage hostility of the class war launched on the unions by the Tories, and the decades of neglect and abuse of workers' loyalty by Labour.
But what does the SNP actually offer workers? What does their very welcome talk of inclusion of the unions amount to? What does their oft-trumpeted belief in 'Social Partnership' mean in practice?

One of the most comprehensive statements of SNP policy on the unions and workers' rights was carried in the November 2013 SNP government White Paper, 'Scotland's Future'. 
It promised, given the powers of independence, to "reverse recent changes introduced at Westminster which reduce key aspects of workers' rights. For example, we will restore a 90-day consultation period on redundancies affecting 100 or more employees." And to abolish the pernicious 'shares for rights' scheme, whereby workers were given a few piddling shares as reward for selling all their rights on redundancy, unfair dismissal, etc.
Very welcome, considering the jailhouse conditions endured under the Tories. But never a single mention from this voluminous SNP document of fully repealing the bulging package of anti-union laws ushered in by Thatcher, retained by Blair and Brown, now being made infinitely more repressive by Cameron's dictatorship. 

Nor have the SNP pledged repeal before or since the Referendum. For instance, to their full credit, they have argued and voted against the current Tory Trade Union Bill - but still never once promised to repeal the batch of repressive legislation that the Bill is being riveted onto. Even in the scenario of an SNP government with full control over employment law, that implies the retention of at least the majority of the most repressive anti-union laws in the entire western world.
The SNP Trade Union Group is undoubtedly on the left flank of the SNP. It has submitted Motions to the forthcoming SNP conference calling for opposition to the Trade Union Bill, an outright ban on fracking (rather than just a moratorium) and for a public inquiry into blacklisting of trade unionists in Scotland. But even they don't explicitly call for total repeal of the vicious anti-worker laws. 

The core philosophy of the SNP is 'Social Partnership'. In the White Paper they spelled it out: "working directly with the trade unions, employers' associations, employers and voluntary sector to build a partnership approach to addressing labour market challenges". 

But the fundamental feature of a capitalist society - with private ownership and the profit motive pivotal - is that the interests of workers and capitalist employers do not coincide. They clash, in what at root is a struggle over who gets the bigger share of the wealth produced: workers in their wages, conditions and 'social wage', or owners in profit and shareholders' dividends. 
Any attempt at 'social partnership' within the framework of such a capitalist 'free-market' economy is not a partnership of equals, between two sets of people with common interests, but a partnership of the rider and the horse!

This philosophy shows its inherent flaws when confronted by the concrete reality of workers being forced to fight back in self-defence and in opposition to attacks on the public services they provide. 
For example, when the SNP and its Trade Union Group were challenged to unequivocally side with the striking Dundee hospital porters and Glasgow Homeless Caseworkers - a challenge laid down by members of Trade Unionists for Independence, not by some opportunist Labour hacks - they writhed, wriggled and declined to declare open solidarity with the strikes. 
The SNP TUG were caught between their instincts as trade unionists and their loyalty to the philosophy of 'social partnership'; mangled up in the clash between workers seeking a fair and justified jobs regrading in both strikes, and the public sector employers involved, who are primarily funded by the SNP government.

The baleful consequences of 'social partnership' between trade unions and employers was even more starkly shown up in the recent CalMac ferries strike. 
When RMT members balloted and went on strike in defence of jobs, pensions and conditions in the face of a Scottish government tendering process likely to result in privatisation, the Scottish Socialist Party didn't hesitate to side with the ferry workers and organise support for them. In contrast, the SNP government tried to deny transferring the service to a private company (Serco) would be privatisation, and the SNP TUG squirmed with embarrassing verbal gymnastics about "recognizing the right to strike" and how the strikers were being met by SNP Ministers, but patently failed to unequivocally support the strike. This earned them the stern rebuke of the RMT - a union affiliated to no political party, after being expelled from Labour when they (temporarily) affiliated to the SSP over ten years ago.

So whilst individual SNP members in the unions will have supported the strikers mentioned above, the SNP as a party - and even its Trade Union Group - were prisoners of their own false belief in the common interests of workers and big employers, or of workers and the dictats of the capitalist European Union's directives on privatisation. 
Instead of defying such forces, the SNP tried to straddle two horses, as they charged off in opposite directions. 
In the case of the ferries strike, they only eventually intervened to concede promises on jobs and pensions after being forced to by the tenacity of an escalating strike which threatened to expose the hollowness of their 'social partnership'.

At its more general level, the SNP 'Social Partnership' model includes very seductive sounding proposals of 'worker directors' on company boards - emulating the various versions practiced by 14 out of 28 EU countries - with the White Paper favouring "employee representation to bolster long term decision-making and improve industrial relations."
Compared with the way unions have been cast out into the industrial Siberian steppes by successive Westminster governments, frozen out of all discussion and decisions, this looks like a warm, welcoming hearth fire.
But it's riddled with pitfalls and potential traps.

If elected workers' representatives were given access to discussions on employers' plans, that would be a radical breakthrough compared, for instance, with the ruthless dictatorship of capital - in the form of one man! - on display in 2013 at Grangemouth. 
INEOS owner and boss Jim Ratcliffe held the entire Grangemouth workforce, and indeed the Scottish government and people to ransom, shutting down the biggest plant in the country to enforce his union-smashing plans.

If union reps had access to company secret accounts, that would be a huge advantage in protecting workers and communities from the shenanigans of the profiteers.

But in those other countries with 'worker directors', they are usually gagged from speaking about any company secrets, and frequently bound hand and foot to the majority decisions of the boards of directors they have a token place or two on. 
Close to home, that's the situation with so-called worker directors on NHS area boards. They are entirely compromised in the eyes of trade unionists.
And the example lauded in the SNP's White Paper - as a model of 'Worker Directors' enacting their 'social partnership' - was that of First Group, which has had a 'worker director' on its board since the firm's formation in 1989. 
Where the hell was this 'voice of workers' when RMT members on First Scotrail were compelled to stage strikes against savage attacks on their conditions a few years ago? 
I don't recall meeting him on the picket lines, nor hearing him side with the workers he claims to represent in the media. Nor condemning the revelations at the time that the SNP government had underwritten any losses to First Scotrail as a result of strike action. 
Is that what social partnership - and worker directors - amounts to?! 

The SNP's belief in Social Partnership is pleasant mood music to the ears of thousands of workers expelled into the wilderness by employers and governments hell-bent on slashing jobs, wages, conditions and public services. 
But it's anything but original, and a slippery road to setbacks for workers and working class communities, which the likes of the STUC would be wise to heed as they (quite rightly) engage with the SNP government and SNP MPs. 

Back in the days of the 1974-9 Labour government - 'Old Labour', with a powerful trade union influence and sizeable socialist wing in the party - a previous version of this 'social partnership' notion was practiced. 
Called the Social Contract, it was initially popular amongst layers of the lowest-paid workers, as they gained reasonable pay rises in Phase I of this agreement between the tops of the unions, employers and the Wilson/Callaghan Labour government. 
But it faced its own inevitable doom, because whilst the government had the power to control (that is, suppress) workers' wages, it lacked the power to control prices in a capitalist market economy. 
So workers suffered ferocious pay cuts as inflation ripped through the roof; the (left) trade union architects of this Social Contract became discredited as they tried to stop members striking for compensatory pay increases; workers became bitter and confused; Labour was blamed and defeated; and the inglorious butcher of the working class, Maggie Thatcher, won office by default in 1979. 

More recently, in the South of Ireland, as working people faced decimation to pay for the horrendous crises not of their making, the tops of the trade union movement entered a succession of 'National Agreements' - based on the same 'social partnership' model. This left workers hamstrung in their attempts to resist austerity measures, with jobs and incomes slaughtered on the altar of protecting profit margins and targets on cuts to public expenditure. 
So in contradiction to the seductive sounding alternative to red-in-tooth-and-claw Toryism, the SNP's 'social partnership' will fail to meet the aspirations of the very workers attracted to it right now. 

Under the hammer blows of cuts to the Scottish budget by Westminster, the SNP faces a harsh choice, a real test of whose side they're on: they'll have to either stand up and defy the Tory cuts, refuse to pass them on, and mobilize a mass rebellion of the Scottish people - to demand back the £billions stolen by Westminster - or they'll end up slashing jobs, wages and public services, whilst trying to devolve the blame to local councils, colleges and Health Boards. They'll have to choose to defy or destroy. 
The Tories' ideological crusade to slash the share of wealth going to workers through austerity and privatisation is irreconcilable with the needs of the working class majority population. 
To compromise with them would be to shatter the hopes of those who rejected them, including the masses of Scots who voted SNP. 
Social partnership is an attempt to paper over the chasm between the interests of the working class and the 1% who possess most of the wealth.

Of course in an independent socialist Scotland - as fought for by the SSP - elected, accountable workers' representatives should be the majority on workplace committees to control day-to-day operations and conditions.
The majority on the boards of management of nationalized industries and services, and of local cooperatives, should be made up of working class representatives - elected, subject to recall, and paid the average skilled wage.
But that's on the basis of a society where the core of the economy is under democratic public ownership - a world apart from the present setup, where a handful of billionaires, bankers and hedge fund managers control the majority of the economy. 
A socialist Scotland would usher in genuine 'social partnership', where the workers in each industry or service, alongside the wider community, and elected local and national governments, could collaborate for the betterment of the entire population- not the narrow, selfish profit interests of a handful. 
That's the vision of the SSP; a starkly different picture to the SNP's 'social partnership'.

Thursday, 17 September 2015


Fury at the implications of the Tory Trade Union Bill is already erupting, and pushing politicians in Scotland into very welcome promises not to comply with some of the measures it contains.

Three of the numerous assaults on workers' civil and trade union rights are: removal of the 42-year-old ban on using agency staff to replace strikers; and dictatorial powers for Westminster to over-rule agreements between recognized unions and Scottish public authorities - the Scottish government, councils, NHS Boards, etc - to deduct union fees at source (the 'check off' system), and grant facility time for workplace union reps to deal with members' issues. 

The tide of opposition to this - in part expressed through Jeremy Corbyn's astonishing election - plus the organised efforts of trade unionists through the STUC, has led to several councils declaring their opposition to these measures, some pledging not to enact them. 
The new Labour leader of Glasgow City Council, Frank McAveetey, has promised not to implement the attacks on check-off and union facility time, as have Falkirk council, and now the Labour-SNP coalition running Edinburgh council.
The latter passed a Motion, by 44 votes to 11, that includes the clause "Commits not to use agency staff to break or weaken industrial action", and ends with "Our resolve not to cooperate with any attacks on facility time or check off". 

At an STUC forum for trade unionists on fighting the Bill, in late August, the STUC announced plans to call for defiance of these measures by all public bodies in Scotland, rightly denouncing such a dictatorial interference by Westminster. 
They've since written to councils, NHS Boards and the Scottish government calling for this stance, and spoken at a meeting of all SNP MPs this week. 

The Scottish government has made the very welcome commitment to retain check off and facility time within employment areas they directly control. 
This welcome step needs to be made into a clear, immovable determination to resist and defy any legal challenges from Westminster, which the Bill outrageously empowers them to throw at councils or Holyrood. Firm defiance, not just verbal condemnation, is the order of the day, given the scale of attacks.

To prove that irony isn't dead - and to underline the need for the unions to link the campaign to defend the right to strike with opposition to austerity cuts - just as Edinburgh city council passed their welcome pledge of resistance to the Tory Bill, it was revealed the same council plans to slash 3,000 council jobs over the next four years. One in six of all workers to go - a devastating escalation of the announcement of 1,200 job losses the council made in January. 

By way of a reminder that whilst unions must demand defiance of attacks on union rights by all councils and the Scottish government, we also need to take action to force them to defy Tory budget cuts, Edinburgh council's SNP finance convener Alasdair Rankin had this to say: 
"The council has been very clear about the scale of the financial challenge facing us for years. The city's population is growing and demand for council services is higher than ever."

Excuse me, but a rising population and increased demand for services surely argues for MORE services, not fewer? And in the real world, surely every job lost is a service cut?

The SNP councillor then added:
"We need to make very substantial savings... No-one ever said this was going to be easy... Realistically, to make the necessary savings, we have little option but to reduce the number of people who work for the council."

Who says the 'savings' - savage cuts! - are necessary? The Tories. But surely SNP (and Labour) councillors were elected on an anti-Tory ticket? What about the 'option' of doing what the SNP hammered on about during several recent elections, by 'Standing up for Scotland'?

The power of the unions needs to lead massive protests to pound and embolden the same politicians who've begun to pledge opposition to Tory anti-union measures into also standing up to Tory cuts, by refusing to pass them on, setting No Cuts Defiance Budgets at both Scottish government and local council levels. 
They'd win enormous popular support for such a courageous stand against a Tory dictatorship hellbent on wiping out workers' rights so as to obliterate jobs and services.

Saturday, 12 September 2015


Hundreds of thousands of workers with no fixed workplace stand to gain from a landmark ruling by the European Court of Justice - provided unions organise and resist cost-cutting counter-strokes by the employers involved.
The highest court in Europe ruled that for workers "who do not have a fixed or habitual place of work", the time it takes them to travel from their home to their first appointment, and back home after the last appointment each day, should count towards paid hours worked. Instead of being classed by employers as "rest periods", as they do now in most cases.
The decision arose in the legal case taken to the ECJ by a Spanish trade union against security systems company, Tyco. 

Workers in this country who potentially stand to gain include sales people; cleaners; electricians, gas fitters and telecoms engineers whose firms shut down regional offices and expect workers to travel directly to and from the job to their homes, thereby saving companies overheads; and probably most numerous of all, home care workers.

Including travel to and from work in the working day for these 'mobile' workers has implications for the EU Working Time Directive, which stipulates a maximum 48-hour week, unless (in the case of the UK and now some other countries) the worker agrees to waive that limit. Up until this ECJ ruling, some workers - such as home care staff in more remote parts of Scotland - could travel for hours to their first job of the day and it doesn't count towards hours worked.
Also, travel time often thus eats into the 11 hours minimum rest time between the end and start of consecutive shifts which the law guarantees to all workers.

And for the overwhelmingly minimum wage jobs in the likes of home care, this ruling will often mean employers are breaking the law, paying less than the national minimum wage per hour, because hours of travel are totally unpaid. 
Low paid workers are punished through the decision of the employers to not have a local or regional base where workers clock in and then travel on to their appointments. 
That was the grounds for Argyle & Bute council last year being charged with hiring home care staff, through privatisated contractors, on as little as £3-4 an hour, in breach of the minimum wage. In at least one case, a worker did 32 hours a week including travel time, but was only paid for the 22 hours she actually spent on home visits. 
That was also the basis of the ECJ ruling; the judges said it wasn't the workers' choice to travel to work from home, with journey times of up to 3 hours, as it resulted from Tyco's decision to close down regional offices.
And in June 2014, 3,000 UK care home staff were awarded a total of £600,000 after the HMRC ruled that they'd been wrongly deprived of payment for travel time in between visits, thereby breaking the minimum wage law.

In 2012, UNISON conducted a survey of home care staff to find 58% are unpaid for traveling time between home visits. 
Other rampant problems in that cesspit of low pay includes 'call cramping', reported by 80% of staff in the survey, where schedules prevent them putting in adequate quality time with the elderly people in need of the service; non-payment for travel costs and other daily costs like use of mobile phones (an essential tool for the job of dealing with elderly or infirm 'clients'); and the demoralizing isolation that 57% of them complained of, where they don't see any fellow care workers daily.

Hot on the heals of the ECJ ruling, employers and company lawyers let it be known they will look at ways of making workers pay for this decision - without putting their plans in such plain language, of course!
They were approvingly quoted in publications such as HR Magazine, with one company lawyer advising that:
"Employers may consider whether they wish to make any changes to remuneration structures to prevent increases in costs". 
In my version of the English language, that sounds like some kind of pay cuts, to compensate for having to recognize the hours staff actually put in to work!

Another legal eagle advised HR bosses and employers that:
"Employment contracts may need to be amended for organisations to remain commercially viable... This could lead to an increase in flexible and zero hours contracts."

The unions should sieze hold of this legal breakthrough courtesy the Spanish union victory at the European Court of Justice, and go on an organizing drive to negotiate on behalf of existing and new members. 

But they also need to prepare resistance to the detrimental dodges employers may try, such as cuts to hourly pay rates to compensate for more hours being included, or escalated use of the obnoxious zero hours contracts system.
And this will in some sectors, such as home care, raise the need to fight for funding off local authorities, and in turn the Scottish and Westminster governments, so that what's won by one hand doesn't lead to losses by the other - including cuts to jobs and/or services.
It's outrageous that companies which slash overheads - through closure of depots, offices and bases from which staff work - then pass on the cost to workers, making them effectively work from home, as well as withholding paid hours of work from them. 
This EU ruling is a weapon that should be wielded by trade unions to begin to turn back the tide in favour of workers that often put in monstrous hours to do their job, all too often on the paltry minimum wage.

Thursday, 10 September 2015



by Richie Venton, SSP national trade union organiser 

We submit these comments on the Trade Union Bill and associated 'consultations' in the full knowledge that the Tory regime has little or no intention of heeding the submissions of the trade union movement and its political allies, in their pursuit of crushing the power and influence of working people. 
These pretend-consultations are an exercise in deceit; camouflage for a government with no popular majority mandate to impose the most repressive anti-worker legislation for several decades, certainly since the reviled days of Margaret Thatcher, perhaps even since the notorious 1901 Taff Vale Act. 

Taken separately and together, the measures in the Bill - and supplementary legislation being proposed without having to pass primary legislation - should exclude the UK from being signatories to the ILO, European Human Rights and other declarations of democracy.

As the Cameron government is fully aware - and doubtless proud of - the existing tranche of anti-union laws initiated by their 1980s predecessors, already make the UK the most repressive, in terms of workplace rights, of any western state. Now you threaten to add to the levels of dictatorship by capital suffered by the working people who create society's wealth and frontline services.

The proposed threshold of a 50% turnout in any union ballot is an effrontery to democracy, coming from a Business Secretary who only won 38% of the vote in his seat; a parliament with 331 MPs elected by a minority.
The further high hurdle of 40% of all eligible voters in what has now been redefined as "important public services" - plus workers who are "ancillary" to them - flies in the face of the ILO rulings that "only the votes cast should count".  
The two hurdles combined are especially offensive when, if applied to the recent Westminster elections, would have barred 270 Tory MPs and 50% of the Tory Cabinet from office.
The only countries who apply such multiple obstacles to a simple, democratic vote by majority in the unions are Bulgaria and Romania. Are those now the models to be emulated?   

Instead of throwing up such outrageous obstacles to democratic decision-making, laws should be drafted to facilitate workplace union meetings - during working hours - followed by votes, and safe, secure methods of online voting. Maximizing participation by allowing the unions to meet, debate and function would be true progress. The Trade Union Bill is its mirror opposite. It's a charter for ballot rigging.

Stipulations for ballot forms giving "reasonably clear details of the matters in issue in the trade dispute"; "the types of industrial action"; and "the periods within which action is expected" are all designed to earn fortunes for company lawyers who will crawl all over the ballot process to subvert union members' decisions; to clog up the courts with challenges to majority votes; and to give employers an even greater monopoly of power, by giving them time to prepare counter-measures to undermine the impact of workers exercising their human, democratic right to withhold their labour.

Having to give not just 7, but now 14 days' notice of action likewise hands employers the power to neuter any actions by employees, even when they've overcome the outrageous thresholds imposed on them.
In that context, the proposals to repeal the ban on use of Agency workers as replacement labour during industrial action are particularly pernicious. This ban has been in operation since 1973 - including right throughout the Thatcher days! 
It is designed to dragoon some of the most vulnerable workers - those whose numbers have ballooned during the Coalition and now Tory governments - and put a legal gun to their head with the 'choice' of 'scab or be sacked'. All to undermine wages and conditions, and add to the mass precariousness of work in 'modern' Britain.

Tory government proposals on picketing are measures a police state wouldn't be ashamed of. They aim to make criminals of working people with the courage of their convictions and a readiness to defend their communities and work colleagues. 
Your 'Consultation on Intimidation of Non-Striking Workers' is a grotesque exercise in spin and loaded language. The Carr Inquiry was set up in 2014 to dredge up any evidence of picket line intimidation to justify such criminalization. It failed; no evidence was found!

Now the conversion of Codes of Conduct into criminal law on limits of six to a picket line, plus insistence on Picket Supervisers with ID, letters to give the police "or any other person who reasonably asks", and similar heavy-handed regulations have nothing to do with law, order or social justice, everything to do with trampling on civil and human rights. 

Bogus consultation on a new criminal offense of "intimidation on picket lines", and ludicrous demands for details of what loudspeakers, banners or props are to be used on future protests, are equally dangerous attacks on democracy. 
And to cap it all, the Orwellian demand for 14 days' notice of use of social media and "what blogs and websites will set out", are all too similar to the internationally condemned repressive measures of the likes of regimes in China, Russia or Middle East autocracies.

New draconian powers for the Trade Union Certification Officer to interfere in the internal affairs and decisions of unions, including the power to order seizure of union documents and membership lists, and interrogate union officers, are police measures that not even Thatcher dared to try. And with the added sick joke of this dictatorial exercise being funded from special levies on... the unions!

Any state claiming to be modern, or democratic, should have the right to be in a union, and the right of that union to freely function on behalf of its members, inscribed in a written constitution. The attacks on union facility time and other functioning, including the checkoff system of collecting union subs, are anathema to democracy. 

The SSP is the socialist contingent of Scotland's trade union movement. We have a vision of a democracy that is real and concrete, with fully functioning, free trade unions; full recognition and negotiating rights for unions in any workplace, regardless of size, where workers join unions; restoration of collective bargaining across the board; the constitutional right to strike after a simple majority vote at union meetings (supplemented by secure online voting measures); the right to show solidarity with fellow workers; the right to strike against political measures that affect workers' lives; freedom of speech without victimization; the right to peaceful protest and picketing; and a whole package of measures to introduce workplace democracy instead of the rule of fear encouraged by this and previous anti-working class governments.

The SSP unashamedly calls not only for outright opposition to your Trade Union Bill and associated regulations, but for the repeal of all existing anti-union laws.

To that end we will continue to demand devolution of employment legislation - as well as the minimum wage - to the Scottish parliament. That would be a democratic advance on parliamentary dictatorship over Scotland by a Tory government that only won the support of 10% of the Scottish registered electorate.

We have no belief that a Tory party and Tory MPs with absolutely no understanding of the daily lives and struggles to survive endured by millions of people have any ability or intention of listening to pleas for mercy.
So this submission is in part more of a public notice that we will do all in our powers as trade unionists and community activists to obstruct, defy and defeat any of the vicious, repressive measures proposed by the Trade Union Bill and its subsidiary regulations.

The government has no mandate. There is not a shred of evidence that any of these laws are necessary. The past 30 years of brutal repression of workers' rights in Britain have been instrumental in creating one shocking fact: GDP has doubled in the past 30 years, and the number of people living below the breadline in that same time-span has likewise doubled.

Just as the arrogance of Tory mis-rule stirred up the mass politicization of the Scottish people during and since the Referendum, so too we are confident your attacks on the trade union movement and working people will trigger resistance that will leave the architects of these Tory attacks to rue the day they tried to wipe out workers' rights.