by Richie Venton, SSP national workplace organiser
The destruction of the manufacturing base of the country from the days of Thatcher in the 1970s; the turn to service sector and finance as the main source of profit; and the complete dominance of the monetarist razor gang in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Central Bank have all piled on the misery and destitution for a whole generation. School leavers now usually face a choice of low-paid or even unpaid work experience; insecure 'precarious' jobs; pressure to take on voluntary work on pain of loss of benefits; or shoddy training schemes. Even University places are shrinking, with a massive drop in applications recently reported, through a combination of rocketing fees, cuts to student support grants and fear of rising graduate unemployment or underemployment. In the further education colleges, increasingly an escape route from poverty and unemployment for some working class people of all ages, savage cuts threaten to choke off people's chances. Behind the noisy battle between the SNP government and the imperialist arrogance of Cameron & Co, the SNP quietly slashed student support grants by over 10 per cent, from £95.6m to £84.2m. And that is on top of about £54m being hacked off FE college funding.
Cameron out of Scotland!
When Cameron breezes into Scotland on 24 March to address Scottish Tory Party conference in Troon, he should face a furious demo against youth unemployment, cuts to education and cuts in general. The unions need to make a massive event against the Westminster butcher. They should likewise mount pressure on the SNP government to stand up for Scotland's future in terms of jobs, education, and housing (which they have cut by an appalling £150m, or 40 per cent, despite 120,000 Scots languishing on the housing waiting lists), as well as on the constitutional issue.
Recession an excuse to attack workers
As the recent survey by Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) confirms, employers are using the recession as a golden opportunity to hammer workers' rights, wages and conditions. Over the past two years CAS has dealt with 107,000 cases of unfair treatment at work - and that is only the tip of the iceberg. Tens of thousands more are afraid to object to pay cuts, withheld wages, longer hours, illegal changes to contracts and victimisation of those who dare to object. As the CAS report comments, often these are low paid and low skilled workers, who do not even know their legal rights. The unions have a massive job to do to organise and defend these vulnerable sections of workers, who are being hammered to pay for the capitalist crisis and the naked greed for profit of those at the top of society.
Mad-dog Tories on rampage
Of course the Tory Coalition is egging on all the worst employers to do their damnedest. They are planning further anti-union legislation. An obnoxious cabal of right wingers in the Tory party has launched what is called the Trade Union Reform Campaign. This extremist outfit has been praised in writing by David Cameron. It is chaired by Aidan Burley MP, who was sacked as Transport Minister after it was revealed he had strutted round in a Nazi SS uniform, toasting the Third Reich, with Nazi salutes, at a stag party in France. It's most prominent members include Eric Pickles, local government minister, and the disgraced Liam Fox. At their launch meeting in Westminster they boasted that the government is about to produce a White Paper to slash trade union facility time in the civil service, issue 'helpful guidance' to councils on how best to cut facility time for union reps, and charge unions for deduction of union subs from wages across the public sector.
Shackling workers' reps
These creatures of profit and reaction want to outlaw unions, to abolish the ability of elected shop stewards to defend workers from abuse, as highlighted in the CAS report. In doing so, they ignore inconvenient facts, like the report by Hertfordshire University showing that the role of workplace union reps in reducing staff turnover, cutting down on the number of Employment Tribunals and reducing workplace sickness and injuries, saves the economy about £700m a year! Compare that to the paltry sums paid in wages to shop stewards, who in real life invest vast amounts of their own time in defending workers from the unscrupulous attacks that are running riot across workplaces, especially now the employers have the whip of mass unemployment to try and cow workers who live in fear of their jobs. And contrast too, the vast sums of taxpayers' money consumed by the salaries and expenses - legal or otherwise - of MPs and government ministers, who then use hobnail boots to walk all over workers' rights! The bankers, bosses and billionaires rely on capitalist politicians to pass laws that help to shackle workers whilst this class of robbers dip their pockets, with pay cuts, benefit cuts, job losses, grinding more work out of fewer workers, and vast amounts of unpaid overtime, squeezed out of workers through terror tactics, fear of losing their job and family livelihood.
Wealth transfusion to the rich
It is no surprise to discover that a new study proves workers today are paid £60billion a year less in real terms than 30 years ago! This shocking revelation goes alongside company executives' pay rising 10 per cent in 2010 and another 17 per cent in 2011- a planet apart from the pay cuts workers have suffered, with economists predicting their wages will not recover their pre-banking crisis value until at least 2020. This appalling transfer of wealth to the rich from the rest of us, from those who actually produce and deliver the goods and services, is causing such widespread fury that the parties of the capitalist elite have to pretend to do something about it - whilst actually making it easier to exploit workers and those on the likes of sickness benefits through their legislative changes.
Sops and diversions
The recent hue and cry about stripping Sir Fred Goodwin of his knighthood is cheap diversionary tactics, a tiny sop to the public outcry at greedy bankers. He still has his £650,000 a year pension, on top of the £2.7m lump sum he walked off the job with in the middle of the taxpayers' bailout of the banks. If a worker had wrecked the state of his company (let alone a whole banking system), he would at best have been sent packing without a penny or a reference, and probably jailed. Likewise the headlines greeting Stephen Hester's decision to hand back his £963,000 bonus as head of the RBS diverted many people's gaze from the fact that his fellow executives are to get £425m in bonuses, that Hester himself got a package worth £7.7m last year, and that the Coalition has said they will not 'micro-manage' future RBS bonuses. So they intend it to be 'big business as usual', with a thin smokescreen of one or two high profile 'sacrifices'.
Stand up and fight!
Fighting for a reversal of the wealth transfusion from the millions to the millionaires is at the heart of every specific struggle against cuts to pay, jobs, benefits, education and workers' rights. Without powerful union memberships, workers will be left defenceless against ruthless employers out to maximise profit. And unless the unions are seen to stand up on their hind legs for the members they already have, young workers in precarious jobs, or workers of all ages in the least-organised sectors, will see little point in joining the unions.
Pensions battle continues
That is one of many reasons why the battle over public sector pensions is of critical importance, to the future of the entire working class. Well over 2 million workers showed their readiness to battle the Westminster pension robbers on the magnificent 30 November strike. To their eternal shame, central leaders of the TUC, UNISON, GMB and other unions caved in to the pre-Xmas offer from the government, despite the latter boasting it still contained every single penny in cuts to pensions that was threatened before the N30 strike. And to their eternal credit, other union leaders - and a vast army of active members who have bombarded their leaderships in protest any dirty betrayal of their pension rights - are standing firm and preparing for further united strike action to try and force the Coalition into retreat.
United strikes in March
The national executives of several teachers' unions (NUT, NASUWT, UCU, EIS), the civil service PCS, and UNITE in local government and the NHS have all rejected this shoddy offer, which would still mean workers paying more, retiring older and getting less in their pensions. The PCS, NUT and UCU have called for strike action in March, before some of these attacks take effect in April. In addition, members of the SSP have spearheaded the demand for a recall delegate conference of UNISON branches in local government, to debate and overthrow the attempted sell-out by the union's national figureheads, led by fake-radical Dave Prentis. And UNISON's Scottish NHS committee has thrown out the deal, calling a series of strikes in months to come.
Put a million on the pickets
A united strike in March - one day or if possible two days - of over one million workers would be a powerful impetus to the resistance to pension cuts, a revival of the flagging momentum, and could help members of UNISON and GMB rescue their own situation from the capitulation by their 'leaders'. SSP members in all the public sector unions will continue to strive for this courageous course of united action, confident in the knowledge that the Coalition is not some all-knowing, all-powerful dictatorship that cannot be beaten. In fact, as several partial retreats and sops to public opinion shows, they are susceptible to the pressure of a mass movement - but only if that opposition goes beyond verbal outbursts into united strikes, demonstrations, peaceful civil disobedience, and a real political challenge too.
Defy Coalition, Labour and SNP cuts
Labour clearly won't provide that; Miliband & Co have spelt out their support for continued cuts to pay, services, pensions and jobs even if they were elected in 2015. The SNP government has rightly made mincemeat of Cameron's interference in a Scottish referendum, but they have capitulated like wee timorous beasties when it comes to Westminster's cuts, passing on the pain to councils, colleges, the NHS - to workers, students and communities that spurned the Tories by 85 per cent in the last election.
Give youth a future
The Scottish Socialist Party stands up for Scotland, for working class people and young people whose future is lost unless we unite and fight back. We demand the choice for all school leavers of a well-paid, secure job, or proper training, or a place in education with a living grant. We demand taxation of the rich and big business, and democratic public ownership, to fund vast investment in jobs, public services and decent pensions and benefits - not a few token nail-clippings from a handful of individual bankers or 'rogue' bosses. It is not just these notorious individuals that need to be tackled: the entire capitalist system of profiteering and exploitation is rotten to the core, with the chasm between rich and poor, the corruption in 'high' places and rule by Old Etonians just as prevalent as in the Victorian times portrayed by the great Charles Dickens.
Struggle or starve!
Employers and pro-capitalist politicians of numerous party colours are trying to hammer the working class and young people, to grind even bigger profits out of them. In the 1930s, one of the slogans common on banners was 'Struggle or Starve'. That same choice has come back to haunt us in the 21st century. They might be the millionaires, but we are the millions - and united in action with a fighting socialist alternative, we can win. Join the SSP and help to secure a future worth fighting for.