“Turn anger into action” say Scots communists

There is a widespread feeling of powerlessness and disillusionment amongst many working class people in Scotland today.
Anger as well.
We have a Tory Government in Westminster with a massive majority, albeit it’s a party riven with division, and the 79 seat majority does not reflect the votes cast. We have a Scottish Government who play grievance politics but do not in any way challenge the pro big business policies of Johnson and co.
They still hold to the illusion of Independence in the reactionary EU as some sort of progressive strategy, whilst in reality it would create a hard border with the rest of the island and make trade union unity more difficult.
We have a politically bankrupt Labour Party now driven by its right wing, seeking ruling class approval that they offer no challenge to the capitalist system, a system of exploitation and oppression.
In these circumstances a greater responsibility falls on the trade union movement to provide leadership, to build the extra parliamentary struggle for the left alternative that is so badly needed.
We do not believe the problems that face the working class and its communities can be solved by parliamentary action alone, be that Westminster, Holyrood, or the local Council chamber.
50 years ago the scenario was somewhat different, albeit we had a Tory Government in office as today.
The STUC summoned a Scottish Assembly for the 14th of February 1972, driven by the changed industrial and political situation created by the UCS Work In. The STUC intention was to create a united front and compel the Government to take the essential political and economic decisions to obtain full employment.
Joining the labour and trade union movement at the Assembly were the Scottish CBI and some leading Tories.
Why? Well, not that they were supportive, rather they were fearful. They hoped to put a cap on what they saw as a concerning escalation of trade union and political militancy and even a threat to the system. Their system.
As Foster and Woolfson noted in their seminal book on the UCS Work In, the existence of the Work In remained the prime symbol of the power of the shop steward movement. It stood at the centre of a massive web of organisation by which shop steward committee’s up and down the land sustained the Work In, politically and financially.
It sent a defiant assertion of the right to work and forced the Government and the right wing leadership of the TUC onto the backfoot.
The workers had put the wind up the government, taking over the yards, holding mass demonstrations in Glasgow, but also inspiring possibly as many as 200 plus Work Ins across Britain, and gaining solidarity across Britain and indeed beyond.
In Scotland the symbolism of UCS was even more dangerous to the ruling class as it was drawing support from beyond the ranks of the trade union and labour movement. It was building alliances and winning support from professionals and even small and medium business who saw their interest tied up with the yards staying open, depriving the Tories of traditional support and isolating monopoly capital.
It was beginning to pose questions about the capitalist system itself amongst many workers. Such was the power of a politicised trade union movement, certainly at lay level, led by the left.
Fast forward to today.
We’ve had two years of a pandemic which has exposed the corruption and incompetence of the Tories and the gross inequality in our society with no meaningful opposition from the SNP.
Those who really contributes to our wellbeing such as frontline workers in the public sector, are rewarded with below inflation pay awards and their services increasingly underfunded. In the private sector many of those in the frontline, including many young workers, remain in low paid precarious work or indeed no work, as their zero hour contracts are reduced – to zero!
Yet despite these attacks, or maybe because of them, there is a lack of engagement of members with their trade unions, resulting in ballots being unable to reach the required threshold, minuscule turnouts at union leadership elections, lack of union density especially in the private sector, and indeed a lack of activists in general.
These issues have to be addressed. Making unions relevant to the everyday lives of their members over concerns of health and safety, changes in terms and conditions, and not least real wage increases, have to be won.
No partnership approach with employers or Fair Work Conventions will achieve this. Rather it will take the consistent daily engagement with members in the workplace. No grievance or issue too small, building a collective, militant response to attacks from the employers and going on the offensive where possible is what’s required.
Trades councils taking the policies of the labour movement into their communities such as protesting over the levels of poverty and the ending of the Universal Credit uplift, all assist in building towards what is required – a politicised trade union movement.
While there have been examples of the level of struggle required such as the RMT strikes, Glasgow cleansing workers walkouts, UNITE winning significant pay increases in the private sector, and UCU members strikes among others, these are the exceptions.
If the Tories have an industrial strategy it is the centralising agenda of Boris Johnston’s government in partnership with big business.
They plan to form direct relationships between local government and the corporations to develop their levelling up agenda. With ongoing budgets cuts local authorities will be forced to form partnerships with big business to get the finance they need resulting in a Scottish parliament that is isolated. Westminster is taking control of the powers that were to be returned to the Scottish Parliament on leaving the EU and directly intervening in our communities.
It is anti-democratic but it does give the trade union movement the opportunity to expose this danger, to raise the threat of big business penetration and argue for more powers for the Scottish Parliament.
We require borrowing powers, the ability for industrial intervention, and providing state aid.
The SNP’s Chris Hanlon’s raising the possibility of a third option in any future referendum is interesting. But, without our Parliament getting more powers it merely paves the way for the independence agenda, which is probably why he raised it in the first place.
It is useful to look at the situation in Wales where the LP is following more of a Corbynite agenda in arguing for more powers for their parliament.
We need a strategy which can be part of the Just Transition to a green economy.
Examples of this would be public ownership of transport and the retro fitting of our housing stock which will challenge the intervention of big business in communities and which can be part of the Community Wealth Building initiative.
We must be embedded in the community with trade union councils and local union branches affiliating to local campaign groups, organising street work to raise awareness in the community, and putting pressure on local politicians to compel them to stand up for their communities – or get out of the way. This is especially relevant in the run up to the council elections in May this year.
Many working class communities have been alienated by right wing Labour taking them for granted over the decades and now see Independence as an escape route from the Tories at Westminster.
The SNP government and their strategy outlined in the Growth Commission offer no advance for our class. It would be independence in name only combined with crushing austerity for years to come. We must tackle capital where it organises and that is at British State level and only united working class solidarity across our nations has the potential to defeat the ruling class.
Only such united working class unity would make possible the redistribution of wealth, which mainly resides in London and the South East.
We requires a decisive and continuing redistribution of wealth across nations and regions in light of social need.
We need to provides nations and regions with the powers and resources to secure the social ownership of public services, to intervene to protect jobs and to plan and develop industrial regeneration around a core of enterprises that are publicly-owned.
Trade union members must have a decisive say.
Such a model of devolution therefore would give more powers to the Scottish Parliament to intervene politically and economically, to challenge corporate interests and promote working class interests. It would make a reality of the STUC’s Jimmy Jack call in 1972 that a Scottish Parliament “would be a workers’ Parliament.”
Finally, the third option position was to be considered by the STUC in a composite passed at the 2021 Congress. This position needs to be fully investigated and understood by the trade union movement in Scotland, but also in Wales and England. The concept of Progressive Federalism needs to be raised and seen as based in local struggle and not some technocratic constitutional fix.
We need to control the real conditions of our existence and the best guarantee of that democracy is vibrant local working class organisations, especially trade union councils, local union branches and shop steward committees.
The only partnership we want to see is these local organisations and a workers’ Scottish Parliament, building a genuine democratic basis for social advance and winning working class power.