Workers need independence

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By Ritchie Venton, Trade Unionists for Independence steering group

The Scottish TUC congress meets in the wake of Margaret Thatcher’s departure from the scene of her multiple crimes against working class communities.

As millions curse the day she was born and celebrate her passing, trade unionists also need to assess the best ways to confront and defeat the multiple assaults by the government of Thatcher’s spawn, David Cameron.

 

 

By Ritchie Venton, Trade Unionists for Independence steering group

The Scottish TUC congress meets in the wake of Margaret Thatcher’s departure from the scene of her multiple crimes against working class communities.

As millions curse the day she was born and celebrate her passing, trade unionists also need to assess the best ways to confront and defeat the multiple assaults by the government of Thatcher’s spawn, David Cameron.

The growing movement against the Bedroom Tax is another, an issue that has  channelled the growing hatred for the Twin Tory Coalition, and which the trade unions need to combine with communities in defeating, which would be a body blow to the Westminster razor gang. But running alongside these battles is that to win the powers for the Scottish people to banish forever the ruination of our lives by Tory Westminster rule.

The leadership of the STUC has quite rightly demanded answers from both the Yes Scotland and Better Together campaigns on what their respective visions of Scotland’s future would mean for workers’ rights and social justice, including the reduction of inequality. But too many trade union leaders – manacled by their ties to the pro-big business New Labour – fail to face up to the stark fact that continued Westminster rule is a recipe for growing inequality, draconian assaults on workers’ rights, and brutal social injustice.

Anti-union laws

They hide behind the falsehood that independence is the same thing as indefinite rule by Alex Salmond and his desire to tempt multinationals with rock-bottom business taxes, ignoring the real life experience of 13 years of Labour Westminster rule, where none of Thatcher’s privatisation, anti-union laws or glorying in inequality was reversed.

Labour leaders are fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with the millionaire Tories in ‘Better Together’, to help the British ruling class hold onto Scotland’s wealth, natural resources, nuclear bases and cheap, skilled labour.

This unionist cabal has just revealed a £500,000 donation from Ian Taylor, an oil industry boss reportedly ‘worth’ £155 million whose company, according to the Daily Telegraph, has reportedly evaded business taxes for decades and which, according to the Sunday Times newspaper, arranged a secret $1 million deal with Serbian paramilitary leader Arkan after he had been formally charged with war crimes.  The deal between the oil company and Arkan allegedly took place after, in one of many atrocities, Arkan had slaughtered 250 people in a hospital.

Surely that is proof enough the STUC were right to refuse to be part of Better Together – but also that they should go one step further and put a distinctive working class case for Scottish self-rule, as a normal democratic nation? Why should trade unionists remain prisoners of an unelected dictatorship of the rich, whose keenest apologists include Tory supporting millionaires prepared to enter business deals with murderous dictators?

Trade Unionists for Independence (TUFI) is a broad-based, democratic campaign that champions the case for independence as a means of radically improving the lives and conditions of Scotland’s working class majority population. We are growing in strength in the unions, and the 4,000-strong Scotland no2 branch of the Communication Workers Union has now voted to affiliate to TUFI.

We are taking the workers’ case for independence right to the heart of the trade union movement, in union branches, workplaces and at the STUC conference itself.

TUFI don’t seek independence for the sake of swapping one set of flags and emblems for another. We want to change the conditions of working class people, and see independence as the best route to achieving this.

TUFI is firmly of the view that rule by Westminster means ruin for workers, their families and communities. All regardless of how the Scottish people vote in Westminster elections! The unelected Coalition is hammering the poorest through the Bedroom Tax, benefit cuts and pay cuts in order to fund tax cuts for the millionaires and big Corporations. But the Labour opposition started the benefit cuts and pay cuts for public sector workers, and have confessed they will keep the Bedroom Tax.

Labour recently aided the Tories in forcing people into unpaid Workfare schemes without the compensation Court rulings had awarded them. And they slashed taxes on the rich and big business.

The millionaires’ Coalition has recently added even worse anti-union laws to the package of repression introduced by Maggie Thatcher and retained by 13 years of Labour governments. Labour has never once pledged to repeal these.

Trident

The vast majority of Scots oppose Trident. In 2007, 60 per cent of Scottish MPs opposed its renewal, but 72 per cent of Westminster MPs imposed its renewal. The Tories and Lib Dems are systematically dismantling the remains of social provision, the minimum wage, universal benefits and the welfare state – with plans being hatched to scrap the minimum wage and cut Working Tax Credit.

But Labour’s Johann Lamont imitated Thatcher in her diatribe against “the something for nothing society”.

Some in the trade union movement prefer to remain in the British state but with a few extra powers devolved; various shades of Devo Max. But that is a complete red herring when it’s not even a choice on offer in 2014. It merely provides a thin ‘left’ varnish to Unionism. Some union leaders adopt a fake neutrality on the Referendum, whilst trying to undermine the case for self-government with scare stories about an impoverished, unequal Scotland and mythical visions of a redistributive Britain being possible with a few tweaks to devolution.

Some, in common with their Labour leaders, prefer the realistic prospect of continued Tory (or even Tory/UKIP) rule through Westminster to the possibility of Labour rule in an independent Scotland.

Power shift

We need to take sides, Yes or No to a self-governing Scotland with the powers to carry out a radical and irreversible shift in power and wealth in favour of the millions away from the millionaires. TUFI believes that a No vote would usher in continued – and probably escalated – attacks on the working class from a Westminster government emboldened by our failure to seize the opportunity to determine our own future.

The British capitalist state has exhausted all its remaining radical potential. Gone are the days of the Welfare State, progressive taxation, extensions of public ownership.

And unfortunately that applies even if Labour is elected in 2015, given its track record in government and its recent declarations.

After all, Thatcher’s most grovelling apologists have repeatedly boasted that her most lasting legacy is New Labour – a point endorsed by Tony Blair in his eulogies for the woman who was his very first guest at No. 10 after Labour’s 1997 landslide.

TUFI wants the fullest possible democratic debate in the unions and workplaces – but based on pro-trade union arguments, NOT to make Scotland a tax haven for the multinationals.

We support the Motion to the STUC from Cumbernauld Trades Union Council that calls for precisely that. We do not see this as a choice between two forms of rule by the rich. We see independence as an opportunity to transform Scotland into a society rooted in the best trade union principles of social justice, equality, wealth redistribution and internationalism.

The arguments from some trade union leaders that independence would break the unity and solidarity of the trade union movement are entirely bogus, and lacking in ambition. Since when did trade union unity, or indeed internationalism, depend in the good grace of a Westminster government?

Scottish workers have given solidarity to fellow workers not only in the rest of the UK and Ireland but across the globe – in the teeth of divide and rule tactics by the British state.

Members of the NUJ, UNITE and others have never divided despite straddling the borders between two states in Ireland. Scottish independence would afford working people the democratic opportunity to elect governments with the powers and political will to scrap all anti-union laws and introduce a charter of workers’ rights that exceeded the best in Europe; reverse all Tory and Labour privatisation and extend democratic public ownership; tax the rich and big business to fund the creation of well-paid jobs for all and a living income for those unable to work and a living pension at 60 for those wishing to retire.

It is far more realistic to fight for such measures in a self-governing Scotland than to peddle the myth of such progress in a British state whose competing major political parties all vie for the most right-wing, even racist votes, trampling workers’ rights and interests in the stampede to the bottom on behalf of capitalist profiteers.

And the unity in action and internationalism of Scottish workers would blossom across all and every national boundary, as they conquered a new Scotland for themselves and emboldened workers in the rest of the UK and beyond to follow suit. A powerful, influential trade union movement at home could pioneer international committees of shop stewards across national boundaries within multinationals, matching the globalisation of capital with the internationalism of workers.

A different Scotland is possible, but only if powerful organisations like the 630,000-strong Scottish trade union movement takes sides, sets the agenda, elbows aside the exponents of capitalist exploitation on both sides of the Referendum debate, and forges a future worthy of the 21st century; a Scotland for the millions, not the millionaires.

TUFI Voices of Indepdendence:

“During my eleven years as a civil servant, I’ve seen successive New Labour and Tory/Lib Dem governments wage war on the unions, the poor, the public sector and public sector workers. We saw more cuts under Blair and Brown than under Thatcher, with over 100,000 jobs slashed across the civil service. Cameron can only attempt his undemocratic reordering of society in the name of deficit reduction because the way has been paved for him by his predecessors. Not-so-red Ed has gone on record stating that he will not reverse any of the Tory cuts as he courts the marginal middle England constituencies he needs to win the next general election.

“There is no progressive alternative in UK politics any longer and increasingly Scotland is out of sync with the politics south of the border. The idea that a nasty, racist outfit such as UKIP would get anywhere near a seat north of the border is simply ridiculous. In contrast, just six years ago, Scotland had six socialist MSPs, demonstrating the very different environment we operate in. We have every chance of getting back to that place but we need real powers over the economy, defence, employment and welfare to ensure that our law makers are truly representative of our working class majority. Only independence gives us that opportunity.”

• John Davidson, PCS HMRC GEC, (personal capacity)

“I believe that Scotland should be an independent country, not for the sake of independence, but for the sake the choices that it will permit. Nations can be judged on how fairly they raise finance and how wisely they spend it. I want to have the choice of how that is done, with a progressive tax system that is based on the ability to pay, that ensures businesses pay their share in a way that encourages investment, research and employment.

“I want to have the choice of how those taxes are spent. Spent in ways that help the people of the nation achieve their potential, that helps nurture the young, respects the elderly and allows all to live with dignity and in peace.

“I want to live in a nation, that other nations look to for inspiration, not because of the might and power of a military, but because of the might and power of the minds of the people, where wealth is not measured by the weight of gold, but in the weight of the contribution the country makes to art, culture and science.

“I want to live in a country that understands its past, is determined in its present and is confident in its future.

“And I believe that can only be achieved if the people of Scotland choose it for themselves.”

• John Duffy, a leading Fire Brigade Union official in Scotland, writing in a personal capacity

Update: A TUFI meeting at congress which was to be addressed by NUJ organiser Paul Holleran, RMT leader Bob Crow and Richie Venton of TUFI has been cancelled in order to avoid a clash with a YES meeting scheduled at the same time.

This article appears courtesy of
Scottish Socialist Voice