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Scottish unions put public ownership back on the map to fight climate change

IT IS very timely of the Scottish TUC to intervene in the debate about the country’s prospects with a well-crafted criticism of the Scottish government’s lack of commitment to public ownership.

We now have experienced decades of privatisation, and the malign effects of this dogma-driven bid to appropriate public property for private interests are painfully apparent.

Three decades and more ago Scotland’s energy industry — based largely on coal and nuclear, with a sprinkling of hydro installations — was privatised.

Constantly disorganised by the market, today it is in chaos. Scottish energy, like that throughout Britain, is retailed through dozens of energy supply companies that contract to buy energy on the market and flog it on to domestic, industrial and commercial users.

This “market liberalisation” is the planned consequence of EU rules, from which we are partly liberated, and government policy, from which we are not.

Where once large state enterprises generated power for an integrated transmission network, today the sector is highly fragmented and subject to foreign takeovers, with the shift to renewables based on turbine imports from Denmark, Spain and Germany.

The STUC has called for the establishment a publicly owned energy company and publicly owned construction and infrastructure company to drive forward green energy development and strategic infrastructure while supporting high-quality employment.

Machine-building was once a key component of the Scottish economy, but its unchallenged capitalist character — the product of both Tory dogma, New Labour infatuation with the market and SNP accommodation to big business and the banks — has resulted in Scotland’s nuclear power generation now being the property of an enterprise that nominally is owned by the French public.

Meanwhile the massive investment that the shift to renewables entails proceeds as if the local capacity to fabricate steel structures and engineer complex machinery has vanished along with its skilled workers.

Scotland lost a quarter of its manufacturing jobs in a decade — and while investment in manufacturing has slumped, Scotland’s economy, like that of Britain as a whole, has become lopsidedly dependent on finance and the service sector.

Scotland’s economy, restructured through mass privatisation, an anarchic finance sector-driven investment regime and the unchallenged domination of the banks and big monopolies, is vulnerable.

The 2008 financial meltdown saw its banking sector slump in global rankings even against the similarly stricken, and it still has not clawed its way back.

The consequence of Scotland’s economic decline is a crisis of society itself, with the working class reconstituted with the disintegration of industry, the substitution of skilled work by low-paid precarious jobs through zero-hours, bogus self-employment. And decades of attacks on employment rights and trade union freedom backed by British and European law have weakened resistance.

In its policy submission, in advance of the Scottish elections, the STUC has laid out a clear plan for recovery based on a robust public-sector intervention.

It argues that the private sector has shown itself woefully inadequate to meet the challenge of the crisis and there is no prospect of a green recovery without massive public-sector intervention.

If this is true for Scotland, it is true for Britain as a whole.

The STUC says government intervention to “address decades of decline in social services” and “poverty, decline and alienation should be prioritised with the same energy as physical construction projects.”

Naturally, the destructive effect of privatisation on public services and utilities makes them first targets for a reassertion of public ownership.

But should not the trade union movement and working-class opinion generally, turn its attention to the traditional goal, the public ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange?

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