SNP and indy campaigners must avoid rift with trade union movement, leading activists say

Ben Wray

George Kerevan said the Scottish Government should meet ‘just pay claims’, even if it means breaking Treasury rules

LEADING SNP activists have urged independence supporters to avoid a rift with the trade union movement, after a week of industrial action and protests which has led to some in the SNP and wider independence movement to question the sincerity of workers’ demands.

On Tuesday and Wednesday (23 and 24 October) more than 8000 Glasgow women workers engaged in a historic strike for pay equality over a legacy dispute going back to 2006 with Glagow City Council.

On Saturday (27 October) around 30,000 Scottish teachers marched in a national EIS demonstration demanding a 10 per cent pay rise across all grades.

Speaking to CommonSpace after the week of union action and recrimination, former SNP MP George Kerevan  called on the Scottish Government to meet “just pay claims” from trade unionists by refusing to follow UK Treasury regulation on spending, and called on the independence movement to remember its purpose.

Kerevan said: “It is vital the Yes movement remembers and acts on the axiom that we want an independent Scotland not for itself but in order to make the lives of ordinary Scots better. That means the everyday struggles of working class folk must be our struggles and not seen as some inconvenience that gets in the way of the Yes campaign.

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“Meeting the just pay claims of Glasgow carers and Scottish teachers will cost money. Time perhaps for the SNP government to fund these claims fully even if it means breaking Treasury spending rules – and defy the Tory Cabinet regardless.”

The Scottish Government budget is set by the UK Government at Westminster, and its capital budget has been cut by up to a third in recent years. In addition, there are strict Treasury regulations in how the Scottish Government can borrow and spend.

Groups of public sector workers are demanding substantial new pay rises to make up for a decade of falling pay across both the public and private sectors as a result of austerity measures.

The Glasgow equal pay strike came after a decade of conflict between unions and Glasgow City Council, previously controlled by Scottish Labour, over a pay scheme which is thought to have seen women workers lose hundreds of millions of pounds in pay.

The EIS march, which came ahead of  a ballot for strike action, rejected a pay offer of 3 per cent above inflation from the Scottish Government, which union leaders called divisive as it would apply differently to separate pay grades.

Some independence supporters on Twitter alleged that both actions were conspiracies aimed at the SNP Government and the current SNP administration in Glasgow.

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The SNP’s National Women’s and Equalities Convener Fiona Robertson told CommonSpace that the independence movement must not be “split” from the trade union movement and marginalised communities.

She said: “The SNP’s Trade Union group is one of our biggest dedicated groups, and we should always be careful when we’re talking about political opportunism that we don’t undermine the fundamental necessity of trade unions and the right to strike. Some people have been trying to create a situation where it’s trade unions vs. The SNP, and that’s something we should reject wholeheartedly instead of playing into.

“Scotland’s long, storied history of organising for the rights of workers is something we should be proud of. Whatever issues we might have with individuals in certain trade unions, as a whole unions have shown up to fight for the rights of people traditionally sidelined, ignored or harmed by society.

“Our future independent Scotland will need strong protections for workers and unions to hold the powerful to account. It is not enough to hope that we’ll always do the right thing – we have seen across the world and here in the UK that human rights are precarious and there are always powerful groups trying to undermine them. The independence movement must resist this attempt to split us from our trade union movement and continue giving our support to workers and marginalised people who have made Scotland a beacon of human rights through their fights for justice.”

Robertson has worked alongside the Unite union in anti-austerity campaigns.

GCC councillor and SNP Socialists member Graham Campbell posted his response to events on social media, saying he could “totally understand” why workers were on strike after so many years without their demands being met. However he argued the strike should not have gone ahead, as demands were being met by GCC – something unions deny.

Other elected SNP politicians took a harder line. GCC leader Susan Aitken claimed that the workers did not know what they were striking for.

Responding to the two day strike, SNP MEP Alyn Smith tweeted  “Watching Glasgow equal pay dispute keenly from a distance, I can see the brass neck from Strasbourg. I think this is the point people will look back on as when the current Labour and some Union leaderships finally, publicly, parted company from the folk they claim to serve.”

Kilwinning SNP councillor Scott Davidson said industrial action by a range of workers was being organised in a conspiracy against the Scottish Government.

“Why is no one asking who is orchestrating all this unrest at a time when @scotgov is offering pay deals way above & beyond anything English or Welsh comrades are being offered?

“Why is no one questioning if people [are] putting political motives and ambition first?”

Pro-independence writer Jamie Maxwell, tweeting in response to some of the comments, said: “Yes supporters should be less worried about the trade unions looking anti-SNP than the SNP looking anti-trade union. Smarter nationalists must know that a centre-left party battling thousands of ordinary people over a modest pay rise will, um, not generate positive political results.”

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Former EIS President Nicola Fisher urged SNP and Labour members to stop trying to reduce industrial action to party political disputes, noting that recent union actions had targeted all parties.

She tweeted: “Dear (some) SNP folk: just because you love the SNP, doesn’t mean teachers shouldn’t exercise their rights as workers to campaign/demonstrate/strike.

“Dear (some) Labour folk: Our fight is against the Scottish Government and COSLA and, thus, all parties.Portraying it as just the SNP doesn’t help us.”

Labour MSP Neil FIndlay sent a letter to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, calling on her to investigate the sharing of a blog post targeting Jewish GMB union official Rhea Wolfson, by SNP accounts. The article claimed Wolfson “knows how to make the most of” Adolf Hitler’s views on Jewish control of trade unions.

The Livingston East SNP branch apologised for sharing the article, and the SNP released a general statement which said: “The blog should not have been shared by any SNP member and Rhea Wolfson deserves a full apology from the author for the clear offence that has been caused.”

Glasgow City Council backed down from threats during the strike to use anti-union laws against refuse workers and others who refused to cross picket lines in solidarity.

Picture: Suki Sangha