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STUC Congress Anger is of questionable value without resolve

Ahead of this year’s STUC congress, DAVE MOXHAM writes on how Scottish trade unions are influencing policy debate

THIS year’s STUC Congress agenda reflects much more than anger at slow economic growth, job losses and pay cuts.  

It demonstrates the extent to which Scottish unions are influencing the policy debate — that they are prepared to undertake industrial action in defence of pay and jobs and, perhaps most importantly, that they are increasing their organising reach in both traditional and non-traditional sectors.

Congress will debate key motions on the nationalisation of both rail and ferry services. The Scottish government has half-opened the door to the restoration of public-run passenger services and unions intend to make sure it is not closed again. 

The Scottish economy remains fragile, with threats to jobs in sectors such as construction, energy, and food and drink, but the magnificent work-in by Bi-Fab workers that secured, at least  in the short term, the jobs of hundreds of workers, provides for Congress a shining example of how workers can rally in their own defence.

Congress will hear calls for an overhaul of the procurement system that allowed the creation and then collapse of Carillion. As pointed out in this week’s TUC report, the procurement regimes in both Scotland and Wales contain more safeguards than in England, but all too often the safeguards are ignored.  

The STUC is now arguing that a publicly owned construction company is needed in Scotland to combat bogus self-employment and the shady practices of umbrella companies.

In the public sector, unions were able to secure modest gains on pay following the Scottish Budget earlier this year. The STUC public service campaign had a clear impact on the final budget which saw the first commitment to the use of Scotland’s new income tax-raising powers.

However, the Scottish government has not gone far enough. Its new pay policy did little more than stem the tide and local government funding remains an issue of major concern. Congress will be asked to support a concerted campaign for a meaningful tax and redistribution policy and to support whatever actions affiliates find necessary to fight back on pay.

There is growing evidence in education, the civil service and local government that workers are readying themselves to take action.

With Unison and GMB on the brink of a massive equal pay victory in Glasgow, an impressively solid UCU strike in higher education and strong turnouts in recent consultative ballots, confidence is growing that the government’s anti-trade union laws will not be an impediment to concerted future industrial action.  

Teaching unions have recently filed a significant pay claim, with EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan indicating that a 10 per cent award would begin the process of restoring teachers’ pay to fair levels. Teachers will be prepared to go down the path of industrial action if real progress is not achieved. 

In terms of the future of the trade union movement, there is little that offers more encouragement than the number of motions dedicated to supporting organisation in the so-called gig economy and in such sectors as hospitality.  

The STUC-supported Better than Zero campaign is bringing about a transformation in the way the workers in these sectors see the work they do.  

As they are beginning to see their work as of equal value, so they are recognising the importance and value of collective action and trade union membership.  

The success of new organising initiatives such as Unite in hospitality and the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) in fast food is encouraging trade unionists to build on this success. 

The Congress theme — “educate, agitate, organise” — perfectly sums up the mood of our movement in 2018.

We do not underestimate the challenges we face but are resolved to taken on those challenges through organising. We are optimistic that we will succeed.

Dave Moxham is deputy general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress.

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