Trade Unionists ‘Coming Out’ for Yes

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  By Toni Giugliano
 
The STUC was one of the principal architects of the Constitutional Convention to re-establish the Scottish Parliament.  Last week, during the organisation’s congress in Perth, Dennis Canavan challenged the trade union movement to “finish the job it started” by campaigning for independence.
 
As sectoral co-ordinator for Yes Scotland it was my aim to ensure we were visible throughout the three-day event.  We certainly were – to the point where the No campaign accused us of “saturating” congress with our publications;

  By Toni Giugliano
 
The STUC was one of the principal architects of the Constitutional Convention to re-establish the Scottish Parliament.  Last week, during the organisation’s congress in Perth, Dennis Canavan challenged the trade union movement to “finish the job it started” by campaigning for independence.
 
As sectoral co-ordinator for Yes Scotland it was my aim to ensure we were visible throughout the three-day event. 

We certainly were – to the point where the No campaign accused us of “saturating” congress with our publications; our leaflets (a different one for each day to address the resolutions on the agenda); our fringe event with Nicola Sturgeon, Jeane Freeman, Dennis Canavan and NUJ trade unionist Paul Holleran; our exhibition and our tweeting with photos of a stall packed with volunteers and delegates signing the Yes declaration.

It was particularly satisfying to tweet the following:

Good to chat to Scottish Labour Party Members including a Constituency Labour Party Secretary about why they’re voting Yes next year.”

What is certain is that there is a considerable shift in the trade union movement.  Influential figures are working for a Yes vote behind the scenes, unable to publicly endorse independence just yet and certainly not before their unions have had that debate.  Several use the expression “coming out for independence”.

Of course, understanding the history of the movement is central to appreciating that many people have come a long way.  More and more trade unionists are realising that Yes is their natural home – it’s where their values of social justice truly lie; it’s where their visions can be achieved.  There’s also something contradictory about walking hand in hand with the Tories in Better Together while fighting for a more socially just society.  That realisation is growing.

Ultimately the purpose of our presence was to deliver a simple message: that the STUC’s priorities and visions had little or no chance of becoming UK government policy, either under the Conservative coalition or a future Labour government, based on the record of alternating Westminster Governments over the last 35 years.

Yes Scotland made its message relevant to the STUC by highlighting the many resolutions on the agenda that could not be achieved under the limitations of the union.  From employment rights to nuclear weapons, from broadcasting to rail franchise – only with the powers of independence would their policies ever see the light of day.

The truth is that so many trade union priorities were ignored by the last UK Labour government.  Tony Blair, while changing employment rights at the margins, still left them in his own words the “most restrictive” in the developed world.

Gordon Brown did little to change this but the biggest blow now comes from ‘Red Ed’ who this week denounced Unite’s General Secretary Len McCluskey over his attack on Blairites.  It’s increasingly clear that Miliband has no intention of taking a different path from his predecessors.  And even if some progress was to be made by a future Labour government, what is the point if it is all undone by an incoming Conservative government?

Independence offers trade unions an opportunity to shape policy to a greater degree than is currently possible, bringing decision-making closer to Scotland’s people.  The Union on the other hand, even under Ed Miliband’s leadership, merely offers more of the same.

As for the solidarity argument, the idea that Scottish trade unionists should continue to work for a better future alongside the people of Newcastle, Cardiff and Hull – fails to appreciate that solidarity transcends national boundaries.  Given that we live and work in a common market of 500 million Europeans, shouldn’t that solidarity extend across the continent and even beyond?

And in reality devolved Scottish policy such as the smoking ban or alcohol pricing policy has accelerated progress in other parts of the UK.

If we can be a beacon of social progress in these fields surely we could be a beacon of social progress in welfare and redistribution of wealth as an independent nation?  And surely a more prosperous Scotland with a thriving Scottish economy would significantly benefit the economy of the North of England.

In any case, in none of the 18 elections since World War II has a Conservative majority been turned into a Labour majority by virtue of Scottish MPs.

I’ll make a prediction – by this time next year an array of trade unionists and members of the labour movement will have “come out” for independence.  That process has already started. Trade Unionists for Yes – the pro-independence group which was launched at STUC Congress has gained momentum with this week’s “coming out” of Mary Lockhart, Chair of the Scottish Co-operative Party – a significant figure in the labour and trade union movement.

Writing in Scotland on Sunday she said: “I remembered the trades union legislation which Margaret Thatcher introduced, and which Labour failed to repeal, which keeps workers divided.”

It was also unsurprising to see leading trade unionists such as Pat Rafferty of Unite warning Johann Lamont at Scottish Labour Party conference that they could not be taken for granted and that a ‘positive case for the UK’ was yet to be made.

The fact that a Yes voting Labour party member, Paul Leinster, was harassed about wearing a Yes Scotland lanyard by stewards at Scottish Labour conference shows an increasingly rattled Labour leadership – a party in complete denial about a significant proportion of its members and supporters who are planning to vote Yes next year.  But let’s be gentle – it can’t be easy witnessing your traditional core support slipping away to the other side…

Toni Giugliano is one of the SNP’s 2014 European candidates. He has a background in both European affairs and political campaigns. www.toni4europe.org