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Scottish Trades Union Congress 2020 A politicised mass movement is what needs to be built

TOM MORRISON looks at the challenges facing Scottish trade unionists as they gather for STUC Congress today

THE STUC acknowledges that it meets this year “in some of the most challenging times that trade unions have ever faced.” 

Congress is an online one-day event with all the motions remitted and two general council reports debated.

A strategy is given for the next six months up to the 2021 Congress and the Scottish parliamentary elections. 

The reports are useful documents not only laying out policy in class terms but how the STUC will fulfil policy with a section on Strategic Objectives and Operating Plan.

Any criticism is not nit-picking because much of the content is good class politics with any limitations a result of where the class is.

The special statement has three main themes — Response to the Crisis, The People’s Recovery and A Scotland Fit for the Future.

The first theme states: “Economic recovery can only take place alongside a health response that continues to stress the importance of the health of workers and the wider public … health and safety is paramount … best achieved by organising and collective bargaining.”

In the second section, emphasis is made that it is not a return to 2019 we seek. 

Rather recovering for workers what was taken from them “by decades of political bias towards the rich and powerful.”

The third part notes the STUC’s “institutional strength grew during the 1970s and 1980s when union membership and strength was high, industrial power was significant and the STUC was a major focus of opposition to Thatcherism.” 

The STUC, the principal driver for the Scottish Parliament, was seen as speaking for the nation.

Following that period membership and militancy declined, and it could be argued the STUC moved politically to the right. 

Recent criticism has been made that it is too close the Scottish government with significant funding forthcoming as a result.

Partnership working with the employer was embraced and is evidenced in the annual report. 

The term “fair work” is used. “Fair work involves an approach where workers, trade unions and employers work together constructively to reach the right decisions on all workplace issues.” 

Some might say class collaboration is a more accurate description.

On the national question the STUC supports the democratic position of self-determination. 

Aware that many union members now vote SNP, and that if the polls are correct they forecast a nationalist victory in the upcoming elections, calls for a second referendum “become unanswerable.”

The document does, however, open discussion as to whether it should “be a binary poll or one including an additional question.”

In Scotland nationalist politics have replaced class politics in many working-class areas (we don’t have room here to discuss the reasons why this came about), but a third option on the ballot paper would give space to argue a class position.

The Single Market Act is a gift to the SNP. It takes away existing powers of the Scottish Parliament over public-sector aid to industry. 

The STUC will oppose any dilution of powers of our Parliament.

On Brexit it’s claimed that the majority of the trade union movement supported a Remain position. 

The documents say that “trade unionists did not primarily oppose Brexit because the EU was a good institution.”

Evidence suggests that many trade unionists did think the EU was a good thing and leaving was bad. 

The gloss the SNP and most of the Labour Party put on the EU as a liberal rather than a neoliberal organisation was accepted. The left case put by the RMT, for instance, never got a hearing.

EU alignment with Nato and racist immigration policies were buried from sight, except in the pages of the Morning Star and a few left websites.

Trident does not get a mention despite there being a congress policy opposing Trident renewal. 

Understandable, it could be argued, given the tension among affiliates over the jobs issue, but it is a boil that needs to be lanced. 

Should this question not have been addressed under “A Green Recovery” and a “Just transition”?

The role of trades councils in the coming period will be crucial, as they are the movement’s link with communities. 

It is good to see the general council call for a growth in TUCs, but we have heard this before. 

Getting branches to affiliate is relatively easy, getting delegates is not. 

However, early signs are good with the new general secretary speaking at various TUC meetings early in her role.

Most trades councils and unions in Scotland are affiliated to the People’s Assembly, an organisation STUC policy supports, and which has done terrific work on various campaigns — for example, highlighting the injustice of universal credit and benefit sanctions. 

Fife is an example where the PA and trades councils work together with a big impact supporting their community and raising class consciousness.

And is this not at the root of the problems that the labour movement faces: the low level of class conscious and the lack of political education delivered by our movement? 

This has resulted in many workers voting SNP, hoping independence is an escape route from Tory rule.

Rather what we need to do — collectively with workers elsewhere in Britain — is challenge the class enemy where it organises at British state level.

Communists maintain we need to build a politicised mass movement. 

A failure to do so was one of the reason Jeremy Corbyn fell. 

Corbyn called on his many young supporters to join a trade union but unfortunately in most cases this didn’t happen and they failed to receive a political education to sustain them when the class enemy counter-attacked.

But building an anti-austerity movement is insufficient in itself. 

As the Communist Party’s programme Britain’s Road to Socialism states, we need to analyse the major struggles and identify potential allies at each stage to progress.

What is necessary is building an anti-monopoly alliance against big capital, the transnational corporations and financial capital, the real enemy of the 99 per cent.

Tom Morrison is Scottish secretary of the Communist Party of Britain.

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