By Richie Venton, SSP national workplace organiser
Workers celebrating socialism and internationalism on May Day events are subjected to the annual ritual of Labour politicians declaring their undying devotion to the working class, international solidarity and socialism. These chancers don’t even blush as they make speeches that totally contradict what they practice all the rest of the year.
But 2014 sees an added layer of hypocrisy from Labour politicians, as they do their damnedest to block democratic self-government for the working class majority population of Scotland.
The Better Together fear factory is funded by Tory-supporting big business tycoons, including CBI Scotland: the chief exploiters and enemies of workers’ rights and socialism.
So they need to subcontract their dirty work out to Labour to have any chance of fooling enough working people into voting NO. That’s why ‘United With Labour’ was formed, fronted by Gordon Brown.
That figleaf has been blown away, exposing the naked collaboration between Labour leaders and the Tories, with Brown recently using the toxic, Tory-funded Better Together to tell us we will get ‘social justice with Labour by voting against independence’.
Only victims of extreme amnesia could fall for that line. Remember the ‘social justice’ we enjoyed under Brown, Blair and Alastair Darling’s Labour governments of 1997-2010, who – to quote Peter Mandelson – were “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”, whilst poverty stalked the land for millions?
But the most insulting lie peddled by Labour leaders is that independence threatens the unity and solidarity of the working class and their trade unions.
Those of us campaigning as socialists and trade unionists for independence welcome lectures on workers’ solidarity from Labour politicians substantially less than the proverbial Grannies welcome tutorials on the art of egg-sucking!
We have nothing in common with the Brian Soutars of this world, any more than with the Richard Bransons. Both make obscene profits from the privatisation of transport by Tory – and Labour – governments. But we have everything in common with bus drivers or railway workers, regardless of whether they’re from Perth or Poole, Lothians or Liverpool.
But since when did the unity and class solidarity of workers ever depend on the permission, let alone the encouragement, of Westminster governments – Tory or Labour?
When the Tories imposed the hated Poll Tax 25 years ago – where ‘a dustman paid the same as a duke’ – they didn’t think we were ‘Better Together”: they imposed it a year earlier in Scotland, in a crude attempt to divide and conquer.
Did working class people wait for permission from Westminster to revolt against the Tory tax? Or for leadership by Westminster Labour MPs, most of whom whinged about its unfairness but told us there was nothing we could do to defeat it?
No, working class people, often led by those of us who ten years later formed the SSP, organised a mass rebellion that eventually toppled Thatcher and her tax. And those of us living in England at the time didn’t sit back and ignore the battles being waged by Scottish communities during the first year when it only applied to Scotland. We built solidarity with the Scottish working class; for instance I organised a contingent of 1,000 people from Merseyside to the first big Glasgow anti-poll tax demo.
And we learnt from the experiences of the Scots, inspired by their defiance, spreading the mass non-payment campaign to 18 million people.
Workers’ unity and solidarity was neither dependent on Westminster nor the Labour leadership, and crossed the borders of Scotland, England and Wales.
Why would it be any different when the Scottish people won self-rule and insisted on radical social and economic change? Surely English workers would demand ‘some of the same’, inspired to defy and defeat the dictatorship of the Tories and the dictatorship of capital?
Where were Labour’s bogus evangels of workers’ solidarity when those of us who founded the SSP organised workplace solidarity tours across Scotland for the 500 locked-out Liverpool dockers, or striking Tameside care workers, or victimised Bristol civil servants? If they’d taken part they would know not a single Scottish worker spurned the appeal for solidarity on the grounds these workers were English.
So why would that powerful instinct for solidarity with fellow workers, regardless of nationality or ethnicity, suddenly vanish once the Scottish people won self-government? Is Johann Lamont about to tell us they will be ‘genetically re-programmed’ to become petty, narrow nationalists, against workers from other countries?
Too many Labour loyalists at the tops of the trade unions ape these arguments that independence would wreck workers’ solidarity. How then do they explain the rich traditions of Scottish workers trekking across the Pyrenees in the 1930s to fight alongside Spanish workers against Franco’s fascist dictatorship? Spain has never been part of the UK!
How explain the internationalism of Scottish workers in support of South African workers and youth defying bloodthirsty apartheid?
Or with Chilean workers slaughtered by the fascist Pinochet junta in 1973 – a dictatorship first recognised by Westminster’s Tory regime?
Or for Danish bus workers, Belfast car workers or Nigerian journalists – each of whom I and others built solidarity for in Scotland?
Genuine workers’ solidarity has never stopped at Dover, let alone Gretna Green.
It has never been dependent on the permission, let alone the support, of ANY Westminster governments, whether Tory or Labour.
On the contrary, successive Westminster regimes strove to divide and defeat workers’ struggles. To name but one example: they privatized and broke up the railways into dozens of separate companies. Combined with anti-union laws banning so-called secondary action – in other words, solidarity action! – this was used to legally ban railway workers doing the same jobs on the same tracks from taking action together against victimisation, pay cuts or worsened conditions.
Too many trade union leaders confuse workers’ unity and solidarity with their own centralised power over the union, its decisions and its membership.
Trade unionists in the SSP have consistently argued for democratic Scottish conferences of elected union representatives to decide on issues within Scotland. But simultaneously we have advocated democratic meetings of elected shop stewards across national boundaries within the same services or multinational employers. That would strengthen solidarity, concretely, as well as hugely boosting members’ democratic control of their own unions.
Within an independent Scotland we will fight for socialist change – including democratic public ownership and majority control by working class people in running industries and services – a model workers outside Scotland would be inspired to emulate.
We will champion genuine workers’ solidarity, nationally and internationally.
Scottish independence would speed up the prospects of radical improvements to the lives of working class people – provided we build a powerful socialist force – and thereby assist workers in other countries.
A final promise: unlike Labour politicians, we will commit to this all year round, not just once a year in May Day speeches!