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SCOTLAND’s trade unionists are meeting at the STUC Congress in Aviemore.
They do so just days after the British government illegally bombed Syria and in the midst of negotiations with the European Union that are likely to determine Britain’s economic relations with the rest of the world for the next generation.
They also meet as heirs of a movement renowned for its internationalism.
On May Day 1918, almost exactly 100 years ago, 100,000 trade unionists marched through Glasgow demanding an end to an imperialist war and denouncing the secret treaties that had exposed the war aims of Britain and France.
Of these the most important was the partition of the Ottoman empire and the seizure of the oil resources now in Syria and Iraq.
These imperialist objectives should also remind us that the war itself was used to justify the suspension of trade union rights, including the right to strike, and, initially at least, to close down the rising movement for socialism.
War rhetoric temporarily submerged demands for social justice.
Today we face similar challenges.
Like Thatcher before her, Theresa May needs her war.
For the first time in a generation a Tory government faces a potentially successful electoral challenge from a left-led Labour Party.
It does so in the context of an economy bled dry by speculators, an infrastructure in crisis, social services near to collapse and homelessness, poverty and inequality at record levels.
It is this economic and social crisis that dominates the agenda of the STUC.
Teachers, civil servants and local government workers demand fair and equal pay and the restoration of the employment levels desperately needed to sustain services.
Congress will debate motions calling for the public ownership of rails and ferries and the creation of a public sector construction company.
The failure of the Scottish government, after three years of promises, to even start the process of legislating for the re-municipalisation of bus services has been deeply disappointing.
Another controversial issue is that of “partnership working” between trade unions and employers endorsed by the Scottish government.
As implemented in local government, attempts have been made to use this as a tool to co-opt trade unions into “choosing” cuts.
A Trades Union Council motion points out that such partnership cripples any united movement to oppose cuts.
An emergency motion from EIS and Unite condemns actions by three SNP-alliance councils on precisely this issue: cutting trade union facility time and posts in retaliation for campaigning against cuts.
More strategically, a number of motions have called for the adoption of a radical industrial strategy combining a state investment bank, state aid, public ownership of utilities and the active use of public procurement — all essential for the rebuilding Scotland’s shattered local and regional economies and tackling the problems of casualisation, the deskilling of labour and the erosion of collective bargaining.
And this brings us back to the issue of internationalism.
As more than one motion points out, this will not be possible within the terms of the EU’s single market still advocated by Labour’s right wing and Scotland’s SNP government.
The single market requires strict adherence to the neoliberal principles that maximise the power of big business over the elected governments.
Nor will it be secured through the negotiations of our Tory government — happy to endorse these same neoliberal prohibitions in return for privileges for the City of London and closer economic ties with Trump’s US.
Neoliberal globalisation, the ideology of modern-day imperialism, has to be challenged directly. Only in this way will a new generation be won to understand the wider conditions needed to sustain social justice at home.
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