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When we organise we can win

LYNN HENDERSON surveys the political and industrial scene for trade unionists in Scotland

CONGRESS themes of Organising and Winning tell the story of organising victories for mostly women workers. 

Of course it’s not been all wins for Scottish women in 2019 and menacing concerns over sexual harassment at all levels in the workplace remain ongoing. 

Yet there were five days during which union-organised women shook Scotland then went on to achieve ground-breaking wins. 

Some 8,000 striking women took to the streets of Glasgow on Tuesday October 23 in an emotional outpouring of solidarity and justice in their 12-year fight for equal pay. 

Solidarity action from male depot workers led to anoymous thank you cards pinned to bins all the city. That is what it means to know class solidarity.

Within days, streets were once again flowing with women as 30,000 teachers from all over Scotland marched for fair pay on Saturday October 27.  

The campaign, Value Education, Value Teachers, centred on the fairness of a claim for a 10 per cent pay rise. This is one in which PCS is pursuing for civil servants in our current national industrial action ballot.

Like the victories of US teachers rising up for better pay in Chicago, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona, they won because workers planned, threatened and prepared to strike together and stick together. This is the same whatever sector we look at: off-shore, universities, colleges, public and Civil Service.  

Brexit-facing workers across all sectors must realise their leverage against this Tory government.  

PCS is balloting for industrial action for a 10 per cent pay claim across UK Civil Service departments, and if we are successful, our NEC will consider carefully where we target industrial action.  

One thing is certain — we cannot and will not tolerate this Tory government and its class interests. 

John McDonnell, addressing PCS conference, announced that when Labour gets into government this time, they will bring the entire trade union movement with them. 

Jeremy Corbyn and McDonnell are a long way from their New Labour predecessors who presided over public-sector cuts, privatisation and began the hated welfare reform. 

I know the wounds inflicted on services PCS members deliver, with their livelihoods, pensions and rights at work eroded. 

But let’s be clear, the STUC will work with any government that is prepared to advance the rights, interests and material conditions of workers. 

It was the trade union movement that won the Fair Work Action Plan in Scotland. It is rare indeed for a government to promote and support collective bargaining and we intend to make advances in care, hospitality and the digital economy. 

PCS and the other Civil Service unions now have a sectoral collective agreement on fair work in the Scottish government sector. But we continue to organise in our workplaces to secure fair work in practice. 

Fair too, is the demand to improve women’s representation at all levels in the trade union movement. 

My mentoring proposal, “Step Aside, Brother,” has opened up a debate. Yet it was well received at all of the STUC equalities conferences, because women, disabled workers, black members, LGBT+ workers know how it feels to be under-represented in society, which is often reflected in union power structures.

With over 50 per cent of women in the workforce, our movement needs to better reflect those we represent. 

“Step Aside, Brother” is not the only solution, but it might help. It is just one ask, of male reps firstly, but really, all of us holding multiple positions to create space to mentor someone into one of those roles. We are all responsible for lending a hand up to the next generation of trade unionists in our structures.

We are beginning to win victories in unorganised sectors of the economy. The STUC’s Better than Zero, young workers’ project, the Bakers Union and Unite Hospitality work together with a new generation of workers with no workplace collective culture, including my daughter, Rosa. 

We will welcome to Congress the Dundee Brassica workers to tell their own story. 

This approach is attracting a diversity of women, young, black, LGBT+ workers to build collective power in their workplaces. 

We have a long way to go but we are beginning to change the way our movement looks and acts. Along the way we’ll not just take on bad bosses but challenge racism, sexism and homophobia as we go.

The STUC still leads Scotland’s collective social consciousness. We built a wall against Donald Trump during his visit, and brought diverse communities together. 

We supported the Irish Repeal the Eighth campaign for reproductive rights, participated in the annual anti-racist march and rally, organised for Pride and stood with protesters calling out anti-Irish racism of the Orange walks in the East End of Glasgow. 

I stood with the Kamil family of Iraqi Kurds who were so desperate following 14 years of frustration with the immigration system, they had resorted to hunger strike. The STUC will always demand that refugees are welcome here.  

I met Quim Torra, President of Catalonia and Professor Clara Ponsati exiled in Scotland before Spain withdrew her arrest warrant. 

Our solidarity with the Catalonian people’s right to self-determination, and freedom of expression and against state repression remains absolute, in spite of differing views over independence. 

It is now the 25th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s inauguration as president of South Africa. We support the Nelson Mandela Scottish Memorial Foundation, which is raising funds to build a statue of the great leader in Glasgow, and to support educational activities sharing information about him, and the role that Scotland played in the worldwide campaign for his release and against apartheid. 

Let no-one cast doubt on the STUC’s longstanding and deep rooted support for the Palestinian people against Israeli state oppression. 

It will never wane. We are holding a conference next week to rekindle our boycott divestment and sanctions drive.

Returning to our Congress theme, Organising and Winning, organising may take a many years but a victory can be won in an instant. When we win those victories, we stand up and organise again and again.

Lynn Henderson is STUC president.

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