By Ann Field (also published at the Workers Liberty website)
Unsurprisingly the recent Scottish Labour Party conference voted unanimously to oppose the Tories’ Trade Union Bill. But the motion, from Unison and three Glasgow Constituency Labour Parties, had its weaknesses, saying, for instance that trade unions are “good for business”. But if unions are good for business, why do so many employers derecognise them?
The motion called for ongoing campaigning against the Bill, including organising rallies and further weeks of action. Unfortunately more specific proposals for campaigning disappeared in the course of compositing. Even so, the motion provides a basis for trade union and Labour Party activists in Scotland to ramp up campaigning against the Tories’ plans to shackle the unions. We need to make sure that the campaigning actually take place and feeds into the national campaign against the Bill. One immediate focus is the lobby of the Scottish Parliament called by the Scottish TUC for 10 November, when Holyrood will be discussing the Bill. It is on a weekday at short notice. Rank-and-file activists can make a crucial contribution to the turnout on the day. They also need to make sure that the role of the lobby is not one of simply being “claqueurs” for the SNP’s anti-Tory verbiage. Campaigning against the Tories’ attacks on the unions’ right to engage in political campaigning needs to go hand-in-hand with campaigning against the SNP’s decision to attack the unions-Labour link.
According to reports in the Scottish Sunday press, the SNP will be asking Scottish union leaders to switch their unions’ funding from Scottish Labour to the SNP. This is based on the lawyer’s argument that because the Scottish Labour is now “autonomous”, those unions affiliated to the Labour Party are not thereby affiliated to Scottish Labour. Instead, with the SNP having won 56 of Scotland’s Westminster seats (goes the nationalists’ argument), unions should switch their political funding to the SNP. But this — deliberately — confuses how individual trade unionists vote in a particular election with how trade unions, as collective organisations, decide to pursue their political strategy. It also ignores the organisational ties between affiliated unions and the Labour Party. And with Corbyn’s election as Labour Party leader, the answer to the question of whether trade unions should stick with — or re-affiliate to — the political party which they created, or whether they should switch to the SNP, is straightforward.
Labour Party shadow chancellor John McDonnell turns up on picket lines to support them. SNP Finance Secretary John Swinney crosses them. The SNP is not interested in a united trade union fightback against the Bill. Its parliamentary amendments to the Bill are that it should not apply to Scotland. English workers can look after themselves. And in Scotland itself it now targets the unions-Labour link. Nothing could better illustrate the poisonous divisiveness of the SNP. With the union-Labour link under full-scale assault from the Tories, the SNP is launching its own attack on the link!