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CONFERENCE season is upon us once more, and the position of the trades union movement inside the Labour Party is better than it has been in many a year.
Both at Scottish and UK level, the Labour Party leadership is utterly committed to genuine partnership with the trades union movement.
Labour is now clearly, unequivocally, and unashamedly committed to repealing the anti-trades union laws which shame the UK internationally.
This isn’t merely an act of comradeship with the trades union movement though; it is a demonstration of the belief that a healthy democracy depends upon every citizen being valued and empowered within it, and that trades unions are a vital part of that democratic future.
The democratic crisis facing us is clear, and has been for some time, but it has mirrored the economic crisis growing in our towns and cities. This didn’t start in 2008, but far, far, earlier as governments deregulated workplaces and markets whilst pushing trades unions to the margins. The repeal of the anti-trade union laws cannot therefore stand on its own, and the Labour Party understands this.
From commitments by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell — unsurprisingly welcomed by us in the CWU — to renationalise the Royal Mail, to properly support our Post Office network including setting up a Post Bank and to invest in the roll-out of an ultrafast broadband network, to Richard Leonard’s proposals for a “Mary Barbour Law” for real, effective, rent controls in Scotland, and the workers’ right to buy where their employers face an uncertain future; Labour is once again where it must always be, firmly on the side of working people.
These proposals and countless more like them aren’t simply the expression of an ideological position though. Many of us instinctively, and ideologically, support public ownership but the naysayers would have us believe that this sort of position holds no water outside the political bubble, and that would should return to trimming our positions, or even worse, reversing them. Nothing could be more wrong; in either economic, democratic, or in political terms.
Nationalisation of key sectors, an activist government industrial policy, and a clear position to stand up for those at the mercy of rentier capitalism makes sense even from the most pragmatic of perspectives. How can it be a rational approach for a government to sell an asset for the private sector to systematically asset strip it and then seek to meekly regulate, when it once generated a return to the state and delivered the fasted, cheapest deliveries in Europe? This is exactly what has happened to the Royal Mail.
Similarly, we need only look to the ongoing farce on the East Coast line to demonstrate that not only is an essential public service rightfully in the hands of the public, but that in the process service and costs to the state can be improved dramatically too. You don’t have to be a socialist to back state interventions in industry, but it helps.
Both these examples could bring even greater benefit again if they were held in the common weal and surpluses reinvested into cross-subsidies in sister services, such as Post Office counters. Alongside this, a proactive government strategy towards serving public need could utilise the skills of the workers as well as the assets of Post Office to deliver a Post Bank in every town in the land, bringing universal face-to-face banking services from a trusted source within the reach of all.
The Labour Party is now a party decidedly on that course to an activist government and has given a clear and unambiguous message on the repealing anti-trade union laws, but we must also push for more.
At the CWU we are campaigning for a New Deal for Workers, which, while challenging ourselves and comrades across the TU movement to work towards a new Bridlington, crucially calls for the return of genuine sectoral collective bargaining. Too often the absence of those collective positions has fuelled a race to the bottom in terms of pay and conditions and made the lives of our negotiators and members harder than they need be.
While the Tories’ next idea to support working people will be their first, the SNP manage the magic trick of simultaneously hand-wringing and finger-pointing, missing chance after chance to do things differently. A Scottish government which simply passes on austerity while hunger and homelessness grow across Scotland is a failing one — our communities deserve better, and the Scottish Labour Party offers a different path.
The Scottish Labour Party under the leadership of Richard Leonard offers a break from the managerialism that haunts the Scottish Parliament. Instead, it seeks to build a politics that doesn’t just talk endlessly about more powers and ill-defined freedom, but to deliver a parliament focused on using its powers to deliver freedom from fear and want.
Whether it be on rent controls, publicly owned public transport, workers’ right to buy, or a genuinely activist industrial strategy to support key industries and our communities, we in the CWU know what a driven, political government with a driven political leadership could do.
In my opening comments, I noted that the Labour Party here in Scotland and across the UK has a leadership committed to genuine partnership with the trades unions — those of us in the movement should rejoice at that — not simply for the sake of our organisations, but for each and every community in this land which will win with Labour governments in Holyrood and Westminster committed to economic democracy.
The Labour Party once again supports the regulation of the workplace and markets in workers’ favour, and the deregulation of the trades union movement.
Many of us have stuck with the Labour Party in harder times but, with a leadership in Scotland and the UK firmly on the side of organised labour and our ideas, it is arguably the best time for a trades unionist to be part of the Labour Party in a generation; let’s not change our colour now.
Craig Anderson CWU’s Scotland secretary
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