TODAY’S exposure by the Scottish Trades Union Congress of the surge of wealth for bankers and landlords during the pandemic highlights the themes of its annual conference beginning today.
These themes are important for the labour movement across Britain, not just Scotland.
The opening resolution from the general council is combative. It demands a “people’s recovery” extending public ownership, redeveloping public services and redistributing wealth.
It stresses that this will require active, organised campaigning — uniting workers and communities, building solidarity and, not least, political education.
The resolution refers back to the STUC’s 2020 manifesto which demands the recovery for working people of “the income, wealth and sense of collective purpose stolen from them by decades of political bias towards the rich and powerful.”
It was this theft, and the “mass privatisations, short-term investment and the dominance of multinationals,” that made the pandemic so virulent.
It takes issue with the Scottish government’s own 2020 report Working Towards Economic Recovery which made only minimal proposals for redressing the imbalance.
While it called for more public control of Scotland’s social care sector, it had nothing to say about rent control, wealth taxes, public ownership, collective bargaining or state support for threatened firms.
And this is not surprising. It was produced by a largely business-led committee chaired by the banker who manages the investments of Scotland’s richest man, the Duke of Buccleuch.
The contrast between the two documents, that of the STUC and that of the SNP, sums up the challenge facing the working people in both Scotland and Britain.
Next month’s elections will likely be taken as the mandate for Scottish independence.
The challenge to the labour movement across Britain and not just Scotland is how far the STUC’s focus on the collective power of working people can be carried forward into this debate.
The great danger is that the contest will become entirely focused on a narrow and classless understanding of national identity — and not on what has in the past, and potentially in the future, given working people in Scotland, England and Wales, both in their own countries and across Britain, the collective ability to defeat those who control wealth and power.
The resolutions before congress themselves spell out this concern. Unison condemns the SNP’s “business-driven” model. PCS wants an alternative to both the SNP’s dependence on multinational capital and the Tory status quo. The STUC youth committee calls for a “space to the left” of the SNP’s Growth Commission and 2014’s “Better Together” campaign.
Clydebank Trades Union Council demands that there should be a third option, a “progressive federalism” that gives democratic powers of economic intervention across all nations and regions.
Kilmarnock and Loudon Trades Council demands the return of the Scottish Parliament’s original powers of economic intervention — conceded as part of the 1998 settlement but first overruled by the EU and now hijacked by Boris Johnson’s government of centralised big business power.
Writing in this paper last week, Unison’s organiser for England’s north-west, Peter Urwin, stressed how important this was. There is no hope of overcoming the regional scarring left by decades of unemployment and deindustrialisation, and now intensified by Covid-19, under Johnson’s corrupt, centralised regime.
There must be, he argued, a delegation of real economic powers to Scotland, Wales and England’s regions within a federalism based on three principles: a “needs-based” transfer of resources, powers of intervention enhancing democratic control of the economy (the opposite of Johnson’s deregulation) and, thirdly, public ownership of key services and resources.
The STUC has highlighted the transfer of wealth and power to the very rich. The challenge, for working people across the whole of Britain is how to get it back.
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