By Paul Holleran [NUJ Scottish Organiser, writing in a personal capacity]
There are few issues that cause so much anger and frustration to trade union activists than the Thatcherite anti-trade union laws.
My own union suffered earlier this month, following a legal challenge against our ballot for industrial action. Our dispute against Newsquest is to challenge their right to make compulsory redundancies on statutory redundancy terms, a fight which can only be described as a basic trade union function.
That legal intervention is an example of how the state has been successful in imposing obstructions on workers rights – it needs to tackled.
Will that demand for law reform be accepted by a Westminster government in the foreseeable future? Well it hasn’t been since the Thatcher regime crumbled and the current opposition doesn’t appear to be very union-friendly these days despite attempts to kiss and make up this week at the TUC.
The reality is that we face a future of repression in the field of industrial relations for some time to come. However, with the election of a Scottish Government, independent of the likes of ConDem and right wing Labour influences, we could very quickly deliver a swift end to anti-union laws. The Scottish unions would be well-placed to demand and influence the introduction of a more progressive mode of industrial relations based on recognition, mutual respect and human rights.
As a trade union official who spends most hours of the day fighting to protect workers it is a ‘no brainer’, particularly after the recent introduction by the Tory coalition of fees and further obstacles for people seeking justice at tribunal level. At the last STUC conference in Perth, the Trades Unions for Yes and Trade Unions For Independence lobbied hard and successfully to raise the awareness of delegates to the benefits of independence.
Leaflets were produced every day highlighting the motions coming up for debate and showing how it would only be after independence that we could realistically expect most of them to be delivered.
Issues such as transport (including the rail franchise), social service provision, NHS, education and nuclear weapons, to name a few, were all up for discussion and could be clearly identified for a much more progressive treatment away from the damaging control of Westminster. Delegates expressed their anger at the impact of the class war action that we call austerity – driven by posh, rich oiks introducing the unacceptable Bedroom Tax.
Not to mention the warmongers like Blair, Cameron and Osborne, ready to squeeze ordinary working families to pay for illegal wars abroad. And Trident renewal – another scandal, not just for costs alone but the immoral threat of mass destruction directly from our neighbourhood These too are no brainers for trade unionists when we have an alternative at our finger tips.
We have the real chance of challenging and changing all of these things which are anathema to most Scottish people. No austerity, no anti-union laws, money for nuclear weapons diverted into new industries to help tackle the scourges of unemployment, poverty and ill-health. Why the doubts?
Can there be any when all the things above are considered? Why the delay? Is it concern for our comrades down south in England and Wales? Is it protection of the Labour Party? Are they protecting us? I believe the onset of an independent Scotland will dramatically transform attitudes south of our border. New alliances will be formed.
The progressive forces will look to the example Scotland will set. Cross border co-operation with the north of England will add to the rebalancing of wealth distribution and economic influence away from the over-relied on English south east counties. Even now, the SNP government has re-directed resources into social wage policies such as free travel, free prescriptions and a much appreciated suit structure for our elderly – and that is when operating under the yoke of Westminster Treasury control. Examples of interaction between this government and unions are already to the fore.
The public service unions campaign to protect their pensions has met with much sympathy and offers of support from John Swinney. The truth is that the likes of Danny Alexander have intervened to prevent deals being struck up here.
Much more could have been achieved and can be achieved under independence without the dogmatic interference of ConDem ministers.
We are a different country, in need of self determination. After independence, we have the opportunity to make dramatic changes to the way our society operates. A more equal society with a better healthcare system and more affordable housing. An investment bank taking a different approach to supporting growth for the benefits of many, not the few on massive bonus promises.
A new model can be achieved which can include a higher wage, new fairer tax system similar to some of the Scandinavian countries. I can recommend the Common Weal project set up by the Jimmy Reid Foundation as an example of alternative to what we are experiencing now, not just for the doubters. The signs are there for all to see. The arguments are there to be made for those reluctant to look.
Trade unionists believe in industrial democracy and everything that goes with it and it is within our grasp. Let’s not let it slip away because continuing under this type of government should not be acceptable for the workers of this country. In case of any misunderstanding, I will be campaigning for a Yes vote and working for an independent Scotland in 2014.
This article appears courtesy of The Scottish Socialist Voice