Scottish nationalism is built on a big lie

March 30, 2014 at 5:41 pm (Europe, history, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", scotland)

By Simon Winder in the latest edition of Standpoint magazine (yes, I know that Standpoint is generally a right-of centre publication, but that doesn’t mean everything that appears there is wrong. This strikes me as a well-argued and perceptive piece, written from a left-of-centre perspective, that pro-independence leftists would do well to study, even if the suggestion that Salmond’s rhetoric is “effectively fascist” or that the SNP’s ideology is “national socialist” is, perhaps, a little OTT. It should not be assumed that everyone associated with Shiraz Socialist agrees with everything - or even anything -in the article):

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14.06.2012: Steve Bell cartoon on Alex Salmond at Leveson

Alex Salmond’s blend of flag-waving and leftist economics is all too similar to the ideologies that ravaged 20th-century Europe

Last summer, when I was checking the proofs for my book about the Habsburg Empire, Danubia, I found myself reflecting on the way that across Central Europe over the past century and a half different forms of nationalism have done almost untold damage. Wherever I travelled there were entire towns whose populations had been killed or expelled at the command of one form of nationalist zealot or another. My conclusion (which I am sure is an uncontentious one) was that anyone who makes exclusive claims based around flags, songs or mystical and immemorial borders was at some base level evil — that to believe in such things, which have more in common with magic than rationality, puts the believer and his disciples en route to catastrophe. And then I thought about Alex Salmond.

The Habsburg Empire, which was destroyed during the course of the First World War, joined together part or whole of 12 modern European countries and stretched from the Alps to western Ukraine. It was hardly a model of rationality and could often be cynical or incompetent but it seems like a vision of paradise compared to the nihilistic disaster that unfolded for its inhabitants from 1914 to the end of the Cold War. Several generations found themselves savaged by all the most horrible elements in Europe’s formidable armoury of creepy prejudices sprinkled with a dusting of intellectualism what language you spoke, your religion, your political views had you herded into different camps at different times. In the end nobody won. Whatever terrible crimes the Communists carried out they at least had a salutary attitude towards the nationalists scattered across Central Europe who had done so much to support the Nazis and to poison community after community that had until then generally lived cheek-by-jowl for centuries, if not in harmony then in grudging indifference.

The lesson of the Habsburg Empire’s demise is probably that multinational states are extremely valuable. They define themselves by some measure of tolerance and the heir to the throne, Franz Ferdinand, had until his assassination, planned for his accession all manner of schemes to federalise the Empire. Before the catastrophe of the First World War very few of the Empire’s inhabitants imagined that independence was even a rational option. Even Tomáš Masaryk, later to found Czechoslovakia, could only imagine a federal solution the lands of Bohemia and Moravia which he wished to have autonomy were simply filled with too many people who could never be reconciled to rule by Czech-speakers, as turned out to be the case.

This is when I started to think about Salmond. The United Kingdom is Europe’s last big multinational state and in that sense vulnerable to what nationalists love to think of as “the tide of history”. But the disasters of the 20th century have perhaps taught us that there are many problems with nationalist ideas on sovereignty. Indeed the European Union was created specifically in order to neuter these problems. One hardly discussed reason why the EU might be antagonistic towards Scottish independence is that Salmond’s rhetoric and reality swim in exactly the opposite direction to all the most positive European trends since 1945. While most of Europe pools its sovereignty, here is someone yet again making mystical claims for the greater virtue that would emerge from drawing a ring around a particular chunk of land.

Read the rest of this entry »

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12 “reasons” to support Scottish independence

February 17, 2014 at 8:25 pm (fantasy, Green Party, posted by JD, scotland)

bag piper in kilt with rippled Scottish flag Illustration Stock Photo - 3474908

Exciting, isn’t it?

While Alex Salmond demands the right of an independent Scotland to retain the pound, stay in the EU, remain in Nato and keep the monarchy, the Greens (or, at least, their member Adam Ramsay) have entered the fray with a persuasive statement of why the rest of us should support independence. A comrade, perhaps rather cruelly, provides a précis:

12 Reasons Why England Can’t Ignore Scotland’s #Indyref
1) It’s exciting
2) It’s really exciting isn’t it?
3) It’s got people talking
4) It’s big, a biggie, a big deal
5) It’s practically revolutionary – Smash the State!
6) Scotland will be rich without England, honest
7) Scotland will be an anti-racist country
8) You’re no the boss o’ me, Cameron!
9) We will dump all those right wing Labour MPs etc (somehow) – and replace them with nicer people
10) We’ll tak’ the high road …
11) er
12) um

However, another comrade (a Scot, as it happens) added a further comment: “I think you’re all being very unkind to the Green chap. His Twelve Reasons are the most succinct and intellectually rigorous statement of the case for an independent Scotland that I have ever come across.”

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Return of the Rat

November 25, 2013 at 6:54 pm (Guest post, labour party, mccarthyism, protest, scotland, Unite the union)

By Roland Wright

UNITE Union Smell A Rat

A decade ago the Scottish Sunday Herald had a circulation of over 60,000. But now it has sunk lower than 25,000.

A decade ago Paul Hutcheon was an investigative reporter. But now he just hunts with the pack.

Could the decline in the paper’s circulation be in anyway related to the decline in the quality of its journalism?

“Leading Labour MSP Urged to Resign After Taking Part in Unite Demo Outside Director’s House,” read the headline above an article by Hutchinson in yesterday’s edition of the paper.

Over five weeks after the event, the giant inflatable rat used in a Unite protest outside the house of an Ineos director had made a comeback: “Smith was one of 13 people pictured. He was standing next to the rat.”

Hutcheon’s use of the hack-journalist technique of guilt-by-association was positively breathtaking. It ran as follows:

The rat was next to Drew Smith who was next to his aide Michael Sharpe who is the son of Cathie Jamieson MP who is part of Ed Ball’s shadow treasury team at Westminster.

Sharpe, luckily for him, was not standing next to the rat. He was “holding a placard.” A very unconventional activity for someone taking part in … a protest.

Not that Hutcheon actually refers to the event as a protest. Deploying his wordsmith skills to the utmost, he writes instead of “the Unite trade union’s notorious ‘leverage’ demo.”

Another problematic aspect to the article was that Smith was not actually taking part in the protest (not that there would have been anything wrong with his participating, especially given that he is chair of the Labour Trade Union Group in Holyrood.)

The Unite protest coincided with the Dunfermline by-election campaign for the Holyrood seat left vacant after the resignation of the incumbent SNP MSP.

Along with two of his aides, Smith happened to be distributing Labour by-election leaflets on the estate where the Unite protest was taking place.

This certainly makes a mockery of the anonymous “senior party source” quoted by Hutcheon: “A trade unionist with any sense would not have gone within a hundred miles of that protest.”

Clearly, there wouldn’t have been much point in distributing leaflets calling for a Labour vote in the Dunfermline by-election over a hundred miles away in Inverness.

But the bigger problem with the article is the headline reference to Smith being “urged to resign.” By whom was he being “urged to resign”?

Why, none other than Eric Joyce MP!

That’s the Falkirk MP with the chequered history of drunken brawls in the House of Commons and Edinburgh Airport, dalliances with a 17-year-old schoolgirl, drink-driving, refusing to take a breathalyser test, and record claims for parliamentary expenses.

When it comes to speaking out about parliamentarians who should resign, Joyce clearly commands no small degree of authority on such matters! In a comment unlikely to endear him to local councillors, Joyce said:

“The image of a Labour shadow cabinet member smiling as he takes part in a leverage squad outside someone’s home is thoroughly nauseating. He should resign immediately.”

“The Scottish shadow cabinet doesn’t feel like a serious prospect at the moment. Members are content to operate at the level of the local councillor which some of them remain.”

A non-story about a man who stood next to a giant inflatable rat over five weeks ago?

It’s hardly investigative journalism. In fact, it’s not even news.

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Grangemouth: the left’s unserious response

November 16, 2013 at 7:31 pm (AWL, ex-SWP, left, political groups, posted by JD, scotland, Socialist Party, SWP, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Given the importance of the Grangemouth dispute, the scale of the defeat and the implictions for British trade unionism, we make no apology for returning yet again to the subject. This article by Dale Street, analysing the pathetically inadequate, self-deluding and unserious response of much of the British left, first appeared in the AWL‘s paper Solidarity.

Stevie Deans inside Unite's office at the Grangemouth facility, September 2013.

Above: Stevie Deans in his Grangemouth office

The Unite union’s defeat by Ineos at the Grangemouth oil refinery and petrochemicals plant in Scotland merits serious analysis and discussion by socialist organisations. We need to understand what happened and draw appropriate lessons in order to minimise the risk of such defeats in future.

Much of the left press has been desperate to spin a narrative of a militant workforce champing at the bit to take radical action, but being held back (and, ultimately, stitched up and sold out) by a capitulatory bureaucracy.

Workers Power told us: “The workers and their shop stewards, who bravely campaigned for a ‘No’ vote (i.e. rejection of the new terms and conditions), refused to be blackmailed.” By contrast, “McCluskey shamefully fled the battlefield at the first threat from Ineos billionaire boss, Jim Ratcliffe.”

The WP version of reality continued: “What followed (after Ineos announced closure) was an utter disgrace to trade unionism and a total betrayal of the loyalty of the workforce to its union. So-called socialist general secretary and darling of most of the left, Len McCluskey, not only accepted all of Ineos’ demands but ‘embraced’ a deal that extended the strike ban for three years.”

A common pattern. But is it what happened in this case? A statement by Ineos Unite convenor Mark Lyon said: “I made the call to accept the company terms and it was not at all easy. The decision was made by me but with the full endorsement of our stewards and our members. I make no apology to anyone for this decision.

“It is our judgement that they (Ineos) were prepared to close the site down and our members preferred to keep their jobs and take a hit on terms with the plan to work our way back.”

“Len McCluskey came to Grangemouth to give us support and solidarity. He did that but did not make this decision… we did.”

The eventual deal at Grangemouth represents a huge setback for workers, but it is simply not consistent with facts to suggest it was foisted on an unwilling workforce from above by Unite’s national leadership.

Both Socialist Worker and the International Socialist Network paint a similar picture, with both deeming Unite’s affiliation to the Labour Party a central cause. Socialist Worker said: “Despite McCluskey’s often fiery rhetoric, his strategy rests on winning a Labour election victory, not on workers’ struggle.” And, according to the ISN, “Unite’s leadership was still distracted, playing games in the Labour Party. Not only did they lose those games, they took their eyes off what was happening to their actual members.”

The SWP and ISN’s starting point is not an analysis of the actual events at Grangemouth, but their own position on the Labour Party (that it is an irrelevance and a diversion, and that no struggle against its leaders using the existing Labour-union link is possible). The facts are then interpreted to justify the preconceived position.

Such an approach entails ignoring events in the real world which contradict that “analysis”. Thus, when Mark Lyon’s statement was posted on the ISN website over a week ago, the response from the ISN was… not to respond at all.

This was despite the fact that the person who posted Mark Lyon’s statement was the author of the article which it contradicted! But what did reality matter for the ISN when compared with an opportunity for (inaccurate) denunciation?

And if events at Grangemouth unfolded as claimed by the SWP and the ISN, then one would expect no shortage of Unite members in Grangemouth to be criticising their leadership (at plant, Scottish and national level).

But neither the SWP nor the ISN articles (or any other article written from the same angle) carry any quotes from Unite members in Grangemouth criticising their leaders for having sold them out.

In fact, the best that the SWP could come up with by way of a Unite activist providing the obligatory statements about “bullying bastard bosses” and “what was needed was to occupy the plant” was a Unite convenor in Donnington in Shropshire (who has been providing similar on-cue and on-message quotes to the SWP for over a decade).

The ISN’s references to “playing games in the Labour Party” and Unite taking its eyes off “what was happening to their actual members” merit particular attention.

The mainstream media, the Tory leadership, and Tory strategists like Lynton Crosby have launched countless attacks on Unite’s alleged activities in Falkirk Labour Party, using them as their central conduit for their attacks on the Labour Party.

But the ISN majestically dismisses the focus of those attacks (i.e. Unite’s involvement in the local Labour Party) as a mere case of Unite “playing games”.

ISN is right to insist that Unite focus on what’s happening “to their actual members”. But one of those “actual members” is Stevie Deans.

When Unite defended him — not just in Ineos against management’s attacks. but also in the Labour Party against attacks by party officials — it was not getting bogged down in “playing games in the Labour Party”. It was defending one of its “actual members” — which is what trade unions are meant to do.

In contrast to the above analyses, the Socialist Party (SP) focused heavily and sympathetically on the dilemma facing shop stewards in the plant itself. But it too approached the situation by looking for opportunities to justify its own dogmatic and sectarian position on Labour. Labour’s pro-capitalist policies, the SP said, were “holding the union back,” Labour “does not support workers in struggle,” and Unite should therefore “come out clearly in favour of a new mass workers party.”

In other words: Unite should pull out of the Labour Party in exchange for… the SP’s spectacularly unsuccessful Trade Union and Socialist Coalition.

The other curiosity about the SP’s analysis was what was not in it: a call for a general strike.

This was not an oversight. The SP leaflet distributed at the rally in Grangemouth on 20 October also made no mention of a general strike. Nor did the SP’s model motion for union branch meetings, drafted in response to Ineos’ announcement of closure of the plant.

For the SP, a general strike is something to demand in motions to TUC congresses and trade union conferences or when Cameron suffers a defeat in Parliament (e.g. over Syria). But when a potential major industrial and political dispute looms on the horizon — the call for a general strike suddenly disappears. Perhaps the reason is that it’s a sloganistic article-of-faith designed to catch a mood, rather than a serious strategy proposal.

What characterises much of the left analysis of Unite’s defeat in Grangemouth is:

• Substituting a simplistic notion of workers-want-to-fight-but-leaders-sell-out for serious analysis (and, even if that simplistic notion were true, failing to explain how the leaders managed to get away with selling out such a highly organised workforce).

• Adapting their analysis in order to fit in with their own pet themes and hobbyhorses.

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Falkirk-Grangemouth Shock-Horror Bombshell Plot Revealed !!

November 4, 2013 at 6:22 pm (Daily Mail, Guest post, labour party, mccarthyism, media, scotland, Unite the union, workers)

Guest post by Dale Street

photo.jpg

Above: fearsome, isn’t it?

It’s been a busy week for media hacks who hate trade unionists. And what better opportunity for hacks to vent their spleen than the fallout from the Ineos dispute in Grangemouth?

The Sunday Times (27th October) led the way with lengthy articles about the contents of e-mails sent or received by former Unite Ineos convenor Stevie Deans.

A dossier of these e-mails had been “passed to police last week”. But subsequent press coverage suggested that the e-mails had also been passed on to half of Fleet Street. And the source of the “dossier” was Ineos itself – hardly a disinterested party in the matter.

The opening sentence in the Sunday Times front-page article had all the right buzzwords: “Ed Miliband is facing a crisis this weekend as a cache of bombshell e-mails expose a concerted union plot involving blah, blah, blah.”

Only the word “sinister” was missing. But this was the Sunday Times, not the Sun.

A few paragraphs into article, however, the “crisis” eased off to become mere “pressure” (“… Miliband is facing pressure …”). And by the end of the article the crisis-cum-pressure turned out to be no more than a rent-a-quote from a Tory MP in Crawley called Smith.

Pages ten and eleven carried a lengthy article about the e-mails, headlined with the lurid quote: “A Blueprint of How to Hijack a Constituency”

On closer inspection, however, the quote turned out to emanate from a “company insider” whose qualifications for making such a judgement remained as unknown as the insider’s name.

To be fair to “company insider”, what he/she actually said was: “It looks like a blueprint …” But even that still begs the question of what, if any, expertise the “company insider” had to be able to conclude that the e-mails “looked like” a blueprint for a CLP takeover.

The article made great play of the figure of “a thousand e-mails” (or, alternatively, “a thousand e-mails and attachments”). But this turned out to include e-mails (and attachments) received as well as sent, and covers a period of eleven months.

Nor was there any mention of the whether the e-mails had been dealt with during or outside working hours.

In terms of the e-mails’ contents and volume, there was certainly little or nothing in the article to give weight to the claim by “company insider” that “Deans spent most of last summer organising his union’s infiltration of the Labour Party.”

This weekend’s Sunday Times (3rd November) continued its attacks on Unite, this time in the shape of three articles and an editorial focusing on the Labour Party report into allegations of vote-rigging by Unite in Falkirk.

“Revealed: Milband’s Dossier on Union Plot” read the headline over the front-page article, while a spread on pages 14/15 appeared under the headline “The Secret ‘Vote-Rigging’ Report Labour Suppressed”.

The headlines suggest that the newspaper had obtained a copy of the report. So too do the opening paragraphs of the articles:

“Secret contents of the report are revealed today. They lay bare the shocking conclusions of the enquiry into alleged electoral corruption in the brutal battle by Unite to sieze control of the safe Labour seat of Falkirk.”

In fact, the paper had a Unite document (discovered in Stevie Deans’ “cache of bombshell e-mails”) which appears to be an early draft of the union’s response to the Labour Party report.

The Sunday Times articles re-quoted the various Labour Party allegations quoted in the Unite document. But it did not quote a single one of Unite’s response to those allegations.

This was despite the fact that the article acknowledged that the Unite document was “deeply critical of the Labour Party investigation, which, it says, draws conclusions on the basis of little or no hard evidence.”

(Rather like the Sunday Times article itself.)

In fact, the article even conceded in the small print that “Unite rebuts all the claims in its document”, and that the Unite document contained “a line-by-line rebuttal of the (Labour Party) allegations”.

Such poor-quality one-sided ‘journalism’ did at least display a fine sense of timing: Falkirk CLP was meeting the same day, and the Scottish press had been ‘reporting’ that a motion of no-confidence in Stevie Deans as CLP chair would be proposed at the meeting.

(This was based on various anonymous statements by “a key figure in Falkirk CLP”, “another local party member” and “sources at the local party”. Given that these articles had appeared several days before the CLP meeting, this hardly constituted ‘reporting’ in the normal sense of the word.)

“Miliband will now come under intense pressure to re-open the inquiry and publish its report,” continued the Sunday Times article. But what happened to the crisis-cum-pressure which Miliband was supposedly already facing the previous weekend?

In fact, the only sign of this “intense pressure” in the pages of the newspaper was its own editorial – insofar as a Sunday Times editorial counts as “intense pressure”. The paper hadn’t even been able to get a rent-a-quote from a Crawley Tory MP called Smith.

While the Sunday Times focused on a report which it had never even seen, the mid-week issues of the Daily Mail focused on the terrors of a giant inflatable rat.

A “sinister unit” (Unite’s Organising and Leverage Department) sent “mobs of protestors” to the homes of Ineos directors as part of a “campaign of bullying and intimidation” intended to “humiliate executives and their families”.

“It was a mob, a threatening mob,” explained a Dunfermline-based Ineos director who described how “25 Unite members protested on his driveway with flags, banners and an inflatable rat. … Children as young as seven who were playing on the street were coaxed into joining the mob.”

The article was accompanied by a grainy picture of the “threatening mob”. But the picture gives the lie to the substance of the article.

There is no “threatening mob”. There are simply some Unite members standing around. They are not on the driveway. They are on the pavement. They are not threatening anyone. (In fact, not only was chanting banned on the protest, so too was smoking.)

There is certainly a giant inflatable rat in the picture. But it looks as fearsome as Mr. Blobby on a bad day. As for children being “coaxed” into the joining the non-existent “mob”, if a giant inflatable rat suddenly appears at the bottom of your road, natural curiosity is going to attract the average seven-year-old to take a closer look.

In a follow-up article the Daily Mail reported that the previously unheard-of Jonathan Roberts had resigned from Unite “in disgust after the Daily Mail’s revelation about the union’s bullying tactics.”

Bang on cue, Roberts, who stood for Labour in the safe Tory seat on Thirsk and Malton in the last general election, attacked Unite for “picketing the family homes of company bosses and intimidating their children” and for generally failing to represent its members.

Of course, there had never been any evidence – not even in the lurid pages of the Sunday Times or the Daily Mail – that Unite members were “intimidating children”.

But what did facts count for when the sole concern of such newspapers was to whip up an anti-Unite hysteria on the back of the threat by a billionaire tax-exile to shut down Grangemouth unless his workforce, their union, and the Scottish and British governments gave him everything he wanted?

Not that there might be anything in Jim Ratcliffe’s behaviour, of course, which might merit closer investigation by the fearless journalists of the Sunday Times and the Daily Mail.

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More on Grangemouth

October 30, 2013 at 8:21 pm (AWL, Jim D, scotland, truth, TUC, unions, Unite the union, workers)

logo-unite

Given the scale of the defeat, and the massive political implications for the left and for trade unionism as a whole, we make no apologies for a further post on Grangemouth.

A comrade writes:

The ‘offical’ Unite line on Grangemouth seems to be:

1) Ratcliffe wanted to impose worse terms and conditions. Unite in Grangemouth opposed this. Members voted for rejection of the new terms and conditions. The issue here was: opposing new terms and conditions.
.
2) Then Ratcliffe says he is going to close Grangemouth. The issue therefore changed. Now the issue was: keeping Grangemouth open. To keep Grangemouth open, it was legitimate/necessary to accept the new terms and conditions.
.
3) The decision to accept the new terms and conditions can be judged only against the situation referred to in (2), not against the situation referred to in (1).
.

A more sophisticated version of the above can be found in an unsigned article on the STUC website, which uses the theme of ‘the demise of the industrial correspondent’ as a way of explaining the chain of events which led to Unite’s decision to accept the new terms and conditions. The article has clearly been written by someone with ‘inside knowledge’. It’s equally clear from the article, assuming that it is accurate on this point (and I think that it is), that the convenors (and, by extension, the shop stewards committee) took the decision to accept the new terms and conditions (i.e. it was not a decision imposed on them by McCluskey, and certainly not by the Unite Scottish Regional Secretary Pat Rafferty, who is incapable of imposing anything on anyone).

The STUC article is at: http://stucbetterway.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/grangemouth-and-demise-of-industrial.html
 
Meanwhile, Workers Liberty have published another very well informed piece that calls for a reassessment of the traditional, crude “bureaucracy vs rank and file” approach in the light of what happened at Grangemouth.

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Understanding the Grangemouth defeat

October 29, 2013 at 1:25 pm (AWL, labour party, posted by JD, scotland, truth, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Employees at the Grangemouth petrochemical plant react to the news that it is to stay open

Above: workers react to news that the plant will remain open

By Dale Street, from the Workers Liberty website

The enormity of the defeat suffered by Unite at Ineos in Grangemouth is virtually impossible to exaggerate.

For the workforce the new terms and conditions mean a major cut in their terms and conditions of employment. Jobs will be axed (for sub-contractors as well as for Ineos staff). And Ineos workers have been left defenceless against further attacks in the future.

Ineos has got its way on everything. Basic pay will be frozen until the end of 2016. There will be no bonus payments until then either. The shift allowance is being cut from £10,000 to £7,500. Overtime rates and holiday entitlements are being cut as well.

Contractual redundancy pay is being replaced by the statutory minimum, and the final salary pension scheme is being replaced by a defined contributions one. Workers will pay higher contributions in exchange for a worse pension.

The scope of collective bargaining with the recognised union (Unite) is being cut back. Full-time convenors are to be replaced by part-time ones. And Unite has agreed not to engage in any industrial action for the next three years.

According to some press reports, the new terms and conditions also include mandatory overtime which may be unpaid, a higher retirement age, and Ineos to have the right to alter terms and conditions as they see fit in the absence of consultation.

But the knock-on effects of the defeat go well beyond the Ineos workforce itself.

Unite, it should be remembered, balloted its members for strike action in defence of plant convenor Stevie Deans. It gave Ineos notice of a 48-hour strike (subsequently withdrawn). And it successfully campaigned for members to vote against the Ineos “survival plan”.

With only a few exceptions, Unite is now the object of a sustained tirade of abuse in the mainstream media, in articles by political commentators, in the comment section of online media, on websites, and in a host of other forums. Unite is targeted not for having eventually agreed to the Ineos ultimatum but for having stood up for Stevie Deans, for not having accepted Ineos’ demands at the outset, and for having exposed and denounced Ratcliffe’s economic and social thuggery.

Typical – and far from the most vituperative – examples:

“On Wednesday night workers across the UK who are Unite members would have been saying ‘what the hell is my union doing? Will they screw up my job too? ’ Common sense has prevailed at last. Unite has lost all credibility, and justly so.”

“Just goes to show the ‘all brothers out’ militant union attitude of the seventies is out of place in 21st century Britain. A small group of union enforcers got eviscerated by Ineos while the membership were given a lesson in reality. Job done!”

“What the hell was Unite thinking of? When did absolutely nowt become preferable to a regular paycheck? One of Unite’s top people for Labour Party selection rigging worked there, and he had to be protected over the interests of his 799 co-workers.”

In the context of it being “open season” on Unite, comments posted by local MP Eric Joyce – Labour, until thrown out of the party – merit special mention:

“The unions need to engage with the situation properly, not fanny around making stupid political gestures. Unite called a strike over a pathetic and petty issue related to Labour Party internal politics.

“By the time the union woke up to the reality workers faced, it was too late. Workers at Ineos need proper union representation – right now, they are getting the fumbling, dumbed-down, politicised opposite.

“Ed Miliband seems to have been bounced into an anti-employer position when it’s clear that Unite had handled the dispute appallingly. He needs to step in now and make it clear that Unite needs to start operating like a serious trade union.”

Last weekend’s Sunday Times also reported that a thousand Unite internal e-mails had been handed to the police, allegedly revealing “a concerted union plot involving threats, intimidation and dirty tricks” to “thwart” the Labour Party inquiry into claims that the Falkirk parliamentary selection process had been rigged by Unite.

Under the headline “Ineos to Sack Union Boss”, another article in the Sunday Times reported that it was “expected” that Ineos would sack Unite convenor Stevie Deans on the basis of allegations that he had spent time as union convenor on Labour Party work.

In recent months Stevie has been: suspended and reinstated by the Labour Party; investigated by the police, who found no case to answer; suspended and re-instated by Ineos; subjected to three different investigations by the company; witch-hunted in the press; and scapegoated for Ineos’ decision to threaten closure of Grangemouth.

Then, in the midst of disciplinary proceedings, his anti-union employer handed over to the anti-union police and the anti-union Sunday Times a dossier of Stevie’s e-mails, allowing anti-union Tory MPs from the other end of Britain to call for the Labour Party and the police to re-open their investigations into Stevie.

Britain’s biggest union is under concerted attack from every element in British society possessed of a visceral hostility to trade unionism and to the right of trade unions to demand political representation from the party which they founded. Read the rest of this entry »

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Unite’s Grangemouth debacle

October 28, 2013 at 8:08 pm (Jim D, scotland, Socialist Party, Unite the union, workers)

Stevie Deans 

Above: Stevie Deans

For once, the Guardian got it right about an industrial dispute:

“Not so much victory from the jaws of defeat, as defeat from the jaws of devastation. After two terrible days in which workers at Grangemouth thought they had no future whatever, they breathed an almighty sigh of relief when they learnt that they would not be out on their ears, but would hold on to jobs with terms entirely rewritten to suit owners, Ineos. Compared with the threatened alternative of mass local unemployment, the outcome is infinitely preferable – especially as a £300m investment should safeguard jobs at the plant for many years to come. But a settlement in which the bosses have humiliated the union, dismantled pensions and frozen pay for years on end leaves a bitter taste.”

The scale of the defeat inflicted upon Unite and the workforce at Grangemouth cannot be exaggerated. Ineos has had its way on everything: pay will be frozen until 2017, the shift allowance will be slashed (from £10,000 to £7,000), the final salary pension scheme will be replaced by a ‘defined contributions’ scheme, enhanced redundancy terms will go, Unite’s collective bargaining rights will be curtailed, and there will be a three-year no-strike deal.

All that was in place before the latest news that convenor Stevie Deans has tonight resigned from his job with immediate effect.

Inevitably, sections of the left are already screaming “sell-out” at Unite. Shiraz doesn’t have any inside information at this stage, but we are aware of credible reports that, following the closure announcement, Unite came under considerable pressure from its Grangemouth membership to accept the Company’s terms.

The most detailed report so far published in the left press has come from The Socialist, which noticeably avoids any crude charge of “sell-out”, though it is critical of Unite. The article is marred by the ridiculous suggestion that Unite’s failure to call for nationalisation earlier than it did was a result of its policy of ‘reclaiming’ the Labour Party. The article also states that “the Unite Scottish secretary, Pat Rafferty, supported by the Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, was at that point [ie after the closure announcement] urging that the union sign up to the company’s demands” as though Rafferty and McCluskey were trying to force Ineos’ terms onto a reluctant membership – something that does not seem to have been the case.

Nevertheless, as far as we can judge it’s a reasonably accurate report, and worth taking the trouble to read:

Trade Unions must learn lessons from Grangemouth setback

Ineos and billionaire owner Jim Ratcliffe have announced a reversal of the company’s plan to shut the petrochemical plant at Grangemouth. This follows a significant defeat for Unite on workers’ terms and conditions, demanded by the brutal Ineos management as part of their “survival plan”. While playing Russian roulette with the lives of thousands of workers, the billionaire Ratcliffe was sailing his £130 million luxury yacht around the Mediterranean. He recently applied to build a £5 million mansion in Hampshire.

There were cheers at the mass meeting when the workers were told the plant would re-open. Having been told on Wednesday that 800 jobs were lost, it is understandable that the announcement was welcomed – at least for now. It will also bring relief to the around 2,000 sub-contracted workers at the site who were in the midst of being laid off.

Ineos had said they were going to liquidate the company that ran the petrochemical plant. This would have meant workers lost thousands, and in some cases tens of thousands of pounds, in redundancy payments. Under current statutory redundancy terms post-liquidation workers would have been entitled to a maximum of £13,500.

As part of the deal Ineos will be bailed out to the tune of £134 million in Scottish and UK government grants and loan guarantees. The company claims it needs this to ensure a £300 million investment at Grangemouth over the next few years. After claiming the business was on its knees, Ineos is now saying the site has a 15 to 20 year future ahead of it. This is further proof that the company was lying about the so-called “financial distress” of the plant.

If this u-turn by the bosses was a result of being forced into a retreat by collective trade union action by Unite members, including an occupation of the plant, the reopening of Grangemouth would be seen as a step forward by trade unionists at the plant and beyond. However, this was not the case. Instead Unite has agreed to sign up to the company’s “survival plan”. This includes no wage rises until 2016, cuts in bonuses resulting in a loss of up to £15,000, the tearing up of the final salary pension scheme, a three-year no-strike deal, and an end to full-time union convenors on site.

There was huge pressure on the shop stewards at Grangemouth following the closure announcement on Wednesday 23 October. More than half of the permanent workforce at the whole Grangemouth site had been told their jobs were gone. The oil refinery was closed. According to Ineos it would remain so, unless the union agreed to huge cuts in workers’ terms and conditions. The possibility of closure enduring was a real one. In addition, the Unite Scottish secretary, Pat Rafferty, supported by the Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, was at that point urging that the union sign up to the company’s demands.

In the absence of a fighting strategy by Unite to save the plant, including the occupation of the site and the building of a mass campaign across Scotland to demand that the Scottish/UK governments nationalise Grangemouth, the pressure proved too great for the shop stewards to resist. Nevertheless we recognise the commendable role the stewards and union activists have played at Grangemouth over the last years in defending trade union rights and conditions at the plant, which was emphasised by the successful strike in 2008. Read the rest of this entry »

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Support Unite members at Grangemouth!

October 23, 2013 at 9:05 am (posted by JD, protest, scotland, solidarity, Unite the union, workers)

Protesters gather at Grangemouth oil refinery in in Falkirk Scotland

From Tony Burke: 

 You will have seen in the media the dispute at the Ineos Refinery and Chemicals plant in Grangemouth Scotland.

Unite members are under attack by their own company who are attempting to impose new terms on conditions on the workforce, ending the company pension scheme, taking disciplinary action against one of our convenors, Steve Deans. The company say they are losing money and need to make changes. Unite has called off any industrial action at the site to allow talks to take place. However, the company continue to issue ultimatums to members, telling them to sign a “survival plan” or they face losing their jobs over the last weekend. Our reps in attempting to find a just resolution have been faced with abuse by irresponsible management.

The company, and its owner, the billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, are holding the workforce, their families and Scottish and UK energy supplies to ransom.
 
The workforce have responded to the company ultimatum with over 65% rejecting the “survival plan” by Monday evening. 
 
More details on the dispute including latest media reports along with an opportunity for Unite activists and members to show their support for our members fighting back against this attack by their employer can be found at: 
 
 
You can click straight through to send your message of support at http://tinyurl.com/pgwe96u 
 
On Twitter to follow events supporting Unite members at Ineos Grangemouth follow Comrade Kat @ComradeKat
 
Please email this message onto your members and contacts.
 
Tony Burke
Unite Assistant General Secretary
 
 

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TSSA sacking: “a stain on our movement as a whole”

October 22, 2013 at 5:34 pm (Guest post, scotland, unions, workers)

TSSA Sacking: “A Stain On Our Movement As A Whole”

A guest post by Anthony White
A mailing was sent out last week to all Trades Union Councils in Scotland, calling on them to adopt policy condemning the dismissal of Stan Crooke as the TSSA’s Scottish Regional Organiser and demanding his reinstatement.

Stan Crooke was summarily dismissed by the TSSA – a small union with 22,000 members (but four Assistant General Secretaries) – in mid-July. But he was not informed of the outcome of his appeal against dismissal until September.

The mailing, sent out by his Unite union branch, was the latest step in a campaign which has already won support from Unite and GMB branches in Glasgow, the Glasgow/Renfrewshire Unite Area Activists Committee and Glasgow Trades Union Council.

The motion passed by Glasgow TUC committed the Trades Council to:

- Write to the TSSA General Secretary and all members of the TSSA Executive Committee, condemning Stan Crooke’s dismissal and demanding his re-instatement.

- Circulate to all Trades Council affiliates and delegates the leaflet about his dismissal produced by his Unite branch.

- Write to the STUC General Secretary, asking for the issue of Stan Crooke’s dismissal to be an item on the next meeting of the STUC General Council.

Last week also saw solicitors submit an Employment Tribunal claim for Stan Crooke for unfair dismissal.

This means that despite the pro-employer bias built into employment law, the solicitors (contracted by Unite to represent Unite members in Scotland) are of the opinion that it is more likely than not that a Tribunal will conclude that Stan Crooke was unfairly dismissed by the TSSA.

According to a leaflet produced and circulated by Stan Crooke’s Unite branch, headlined “A Summary Dismissal That Demeans Trade Unionism and All We Stand For”:

“Any trade union activists experienced in representing members would rightly condemn this treatment (of Stan Crooke) as a catalogue of abuses of disciplinary procedure and employment law by the employer.”

“We share the concerns of TSSA members that the behaviour of their union as an employer is at odds with the role TSSA reps play in defending their members against similar behaviour by their employers.”

“We call on activists in Unite and throughout the trade union movement to support the demand of TSSA members for the reinstatement of their Scottish Regional Organiser.”

“For any employer to behave in such a manner is bad enough. But when the employer is a trade union, it is a stain on our movement as a whole.”

The ongoing campaigning in opposition to Stan Crooke’s dismissal coincides with difficulties faced by TSSA bosses on other fronts.

In September the planned merger between the TSSA and Unite collapsed. (Strictly speaking, given the disparity in size between the TSSA (22,000 members) and Unite (1.4 million members), it was to have been a “transfer of engagements” rather than a merger.)

This was the third time in eighteen months that attempts by the TSSA to merge with another union have failed – with the RMT in March of 2012, and with Community in early 2013.

Then, earlier this month, The Sunday Times published an article (£) headlined: “’Chauvinist’ Union’s Lap-dancing and Lies” in which the TSSA’s last President alleged that the TSSA suffered from a culture of misogyny and bullying:

“She claims she was repeatedly browbeaten by an overbearing baron who was unhappy in his well-paid role, pressurised not to stand for re-election to her post to clear the path for male colleagues, and subjected to a whispering campaign designed to derail her attempt to get re-elected.”

“Her most serious allegation, though, relates to an attempt by union cronies to secure a substantial pay-off for a disaffected male colleague. …”

A succession of failed merger talks. A string of public denunciations by a former President. A pending unfair dismissal claim which has already received widespread publicity in the Scottish trade union movement. And possible job cuts after the latest failed would-be merger.

This sorry record makes it all the more important that TSSA reps and members receive support in the workplace from their counterparts in other unions: the failings of the TSSA leadership cannot be allowed to become an opportunity for employers to undermine rank-and-file trade unionism.

For more information about the reinstatement campaign and/or copies of the leaflet produced by Stan Crooke’s Unite branch, e-mail: reinstatenow@yahoo.co.uk

TONY WHITE

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