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STUC Conference ’18 Together we can change society for the better

RICHARD LEONARD describes Scottish Labour's renewed conviction to work with the labour movement to stand up for worker's rights in Scotland

THE Labour Party is the party of work and the party of the trade unions and, as our economy stagnates and lies unprepared for the challenges of Brexit ahead, this link has never been so vital. 

We were born out of the trade union movement. We are its political wing and down the years people have forgotten that at their peril.

That’s why I was pleased to receive great support from trade unions and trade unionists in my recent election to lead the Scottish Labour Party.

Trade unions will always have a major task in defending their members’ rights in the workplace, but industrial democracy remains a central tenet of this movement and unions should have a fundamental role in planning the economy. 

And a plan is desperately needed if we are to meet the economic shock of Brexit, the threat of climate change and the challenge of automation.

A plan is also needed if we are ever to use the Scottish Parliament in the way it was intended — to bring about the economic transformation of Scotland.

Yet through a combination of Tory austerity and SNP complacency we have an economy which is growing at a third of the UK rate, which is fragile rather than resilient, which has too little diversity and too little focus on research and development, which fails to see investment in the people of Scotland and so the creation of highly skilled workforce as the way to a more equitable and sustainable future.

So what is needed is the political will to secure the economic transformation that Scotland needs.

For 121 years the STUC has been meeting and fighting for workers’ rights and for jobs, campaigning to make not only this country but this world a better place for us all to live in.

The achievements over that near century and a quarter have been immense, but there is so much to do.

My very first act as leader was to join the workers at the gates of Bi-Fab in Methil. It was a statement of intent about how we will act as a party and how we should always act as a movement.

I have since stood shoulder to shoulder with firefighters, with university staff, with trade unionists fighting against RBS closures — and I will do the same with Scotland’s teachers if they don’t get a decent pay rise and are forced to strike.

In parliament, I have exposed the scandalous exploitation of so many construction workers, employed through umbrella companies but working on publicly funded projects and forced to pay a charge to get their wages.

What did Nicola Sturgeon say in response? That workers were choosing to be exploited in this way and she refused to use the power of public procurement to stamp out this shameful practice.

Without doubt it is Scottish Labour that is the strongest political voice for workers and working-class communities in Scotland.

Our vision has always been to build an economy that works for the people rather than simply people working for the economy. 

We are the party with an industrial strategy that puts full employment at its heart, ending the decade of SNP complacency about real unemployment and ending insecure work, which would unleash the innovation and the ingenuity of working people and herald a renaissance in our manufacturing industries.

We are the Labour Party — the party of work and the party of the trade unions. We have a renewed purposefulness and conviction. Together we will change society to its very economic foundations. 

Richard Leonard is Scottish Labour Party leader.

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