Archive | August, 2011

Mothball Edinburgh trams fiasco

31 Aug

The Edinburgh trams project should be mothballed until an immediate public inquiry can be conducted following the Scottish government’s intervention into the fiasco.

The Unite trade union which represents Lothian Bus workers also argue that full and independently validated costings should be presented for all options on the future of the trams.

Unite Scottish Secretary, Pat Rafferty, said:

“Its curious that John Swinney should intervene now after letting the Audit Scotland report wither for four years. Why now and what does this mean for Lothian Buses?

“Alex Salmond has said there should be a public inquiry. This should happen immediately including a presentation of the true costs for all options. We’re told the Haymarket line is not profitable, but a line to St Andrew’s Square could cost over £1 billion with initial borrowings of at least £270 million – a catastrophe for the buses and business, saddling the city with generations of debt.”

The Scottish government has said the remaining public funding of £60 million will be withheld unless Edinburgh’s councillors reconsider last week’s vote to abandon the Airport – St Andrews Square line in favour of line stopping at Haymarket.


Film review: La piel que habito – The Skin I Live In

29 Aug

– by Andrew Brady

Pedro Almodovar’s film is one of horror, elegance, comedy and surrealism. Those who are familiar with his work will recognise these traits but for those who are not – myself included – the mix is magical.

The story begins with the brilliant plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard (the fantastic Antonio Banderas) at his home. Here lies a private operating theatre where ethical boundaries are crossed. The mansion is also ‘home’ to Ledgard’s special patient Vera (Elena Anaya) who practises yoga in a catsuit. Ledgard watches Vera on surveillance screens while she remains locked in the room for reasons which are not clear, and when they come into contact in the room there is a romantic chemistry between the two which Ledgard continuously draws himself back from entering into.
It soon becomes clear that the reason for this is that Vera is Ledgard’s patient – but no ordinary one at that. Vera is his creation as a result of genetically modified human skin. But who is Vera – is it Ledgard’s wife who is presumed to have died in a car crash from burns, or someone surgically created to resemble her? Those familiar with the concept of Stockholm syndrome should be prepared for it to be stretched to the limits.
Ledgard soon transforms into a maniac but yet someone who you feel compassion for as he appears to care for Vera with precision and meticulousness; while a journey of emotions begins with the character Vera . For those familiar with Almodovar’s work this journey coincides with – quite frankly – compelling absurdity. It involves a Brazilian robber in a carnival tiger costume who happens to be the wayward son of Ledgard’s housekeeper Marilia – who is also Ledgard’s mother unbeknown to him – and with this another sub-plot unfolds.

Almodovar’s further depth into the absurd involves Ledgard’s disturbed daughter and a young window dresser Vincent who meet at a wedding party. It is at this point where the story truly unravels. I will say no more for fear of revealing the plot, however, be prepared to leave the cinema at the final scene laughing, bemused and chilled. It is a film produced with exquisiteness and style.

Now showing on general release and at the GFT.

Five Reasons why Unite members should get involved with the Coalition of Resistance

18 Aug

– by Sarah Collins

The Coalition of Resistance was initiated by the grandfather of the left, Tony Benn, and has received backing from Unite General secretary Len McCluskey, with Unite printing 25,000 placards and 20,000 free broadsheets for the TUC demonstration on March 26th.

1. We need a broad movement

June 30th may have been the first of a series of strike waves. Every time workers strike there needs to be an organised solidarity movement comprised of pensioners, students, community campaigners, Greens, the Labour party left, the SNP party left and the Trade Unions. We need to replenish the tradition of solidarity. That will only happen if the movement is broad enough to contain different traditions and political outlooks but with a focus on opposing the cuts and supporting strikes in order to build resistance.

This is a movement that needs to belong to everyone. The attacks are so deep and broad that the response needs to include everyone being affected. The most powerful movements are always very simple: if you support strike action, if you oppose the cuts, if you support demonstrations and direct action then join.

2. We need a grass-roots movement

It is an unfortunate reality that thousands of people simply don’t know where to go to do something about the cuts. The movement needs freshness, profile, the leaders of past and present, but most importantly the involvement of thousands of people for whom this will be their first political activity.

Coalition of Resistance advocates regular open meetings to which all against the cuts can attend. Of course, there will be disagreement about strategy and tactics, but far better these are had while we all work together against the cuts. These open meetings can be vibrant and diverse gatherings and can encourage thousands of people up and down the country to join the struggle. The Coalition of Resistance can belong to everyone, but particularly to the activists, the campaigners, the fighters in every community and workplace. To build a movement powerful enough to break the coalition it needs to be rooted in the fabric of our society.

3. We need a national movement

The political elites are distilling responsibility for cuts to councils in order to atomise the resistance. In fact the Tories even have a phrase which encapsulates this strategy: ‘devolving the axe’.

They would far rather individual protests of hundreds outside council chambers, than a mass movement which fought for local activity as the basis for mass demonstrations and strikes targeting the government. We have what may be the most divided, weakest government in Europe- this can only be exploited if we pull together nationally to aim our fire in that direction.

The student revolt rocked the government. It forced several prominent Lib Dems to resign. The vote only passed by 21 ayes. It precipitated a deeper crisis in the government. This was not because of the local protests on individual campuses, important and vital though they were. It was the mass mobilisations, the occupation of Millbank, the explosion of the unified anger of tens of thousands of militant students in the capital city that terrified the ruling class. It was the culmination of local work and protest consolidating itself as a force of tens of thousands in joint action which was important.

How can any one local anti cuts group prise open the cracks in the national government? They simply can’t. Equally how can you build a national movement without local groups? Again you can’t. The two need to merge. We need anti cuts groups linked up into a national coalition.

Some are suggesting the Tories may go for an early election to rid themselves of the nuisance that is the Lib Dems. Conversely many Lib Dems must now know that they have committed political suicide unless they do something drastic. It is unacceptable then, that given those circumstances, they still feel able to take on the whole working class at the same time. They are relying on the devolution of the austerity program. Our response must be to build locally, but as part of a national framework that can calibrate our forces squarely on the government, whilst demanding of councils and the Scottish government that they don’t do the Con-Dems dirty work.

4. We need international coordination

Internationalism is vitally important to the resistance. It raises the possibility of a renewed international class consciousness and takes on the European austerity agenda head on. The Coalition of Resistance is organising a European conference against Austerity, Cuts and Privatisation, and in defence of the Welfare State on Saturday 1st October in London.

In Britain, the appeal for the conference has fantastic support from leading cultural and political figures and trade-union leaders. Coalition of Resistance is currently approaching trade-unions, social movements and progressive organisations in other countries to join with us in the preparation for this conference, and planning for a common response.

It is hoped that this conference will be a step towards co-ordinating the resistance by agreeing to European-wide action. In every country in Europe, all the social gains of the post war period are now threatened under the pretext of having to repay the debt incurred in bailing out banks in 2008. There is already resistance in many countries in Europe. But we need to learn from each others’ experiences and work towards a co-ordinated resistance across Europe and beyond.

This can be a momentous conference with historic consequences- we need to build it to make sure it is huge.*

5. We need unity

Those who are active in campaigns and unions will often ask why it is that the left can’t unite. It is wrong to be naive about this. There are real differences of history, theory and strategy and tactics. With the economic crisis there has been further divergence precisely because the situation is so volatile and the stakes so high.

But unity on the left is important to the movement as a whole. Thousands of people in left wing organisations can find agreement on basic principles: no cuts, support strikes etc. Working relationships must be built between groups. But this cannot be built if the base is narrow and if the campaign is controlled by one or other socialist organisation.

Instead we need a broad base, with the grass-roots in control and with new forces and fresh thinking renewing the Left. Joint action based on working class struggle is genuine unity. No amount of words can make up for joint action- that’s what the struggle needs and that’s what those frustrated with the Left want to see.

In Scotland we know all too well just how damaging splits can be. The key to a new left will be the refreshment that thousands of new activists fighting the cuts can provide.

It is time to raise our heads and look at the huge potential we have as a movement, and as a class, to bring the pain felt by millions to the steps of ten Downing Street, to turn anger in to organisation and bring all of our struggles together.

To get involved with Coalition of Resistance in Glasgow please email or text 07791608578.

*The Coalition of Resistance group in Glasgow are supporting the European Conference in London on October 1st, however they will mainly be building for and encouraging attendance at the STUC ‘People First’ march in Glasgow.

– Sarah Collins is Communications Officer for the Glasgow Bar and Hospitality Workers’ branch of Unite

Why Scotland should steer clear of corporation tax

18 Aug

By Pat Rafferty, Unite Scottish Secretary

It’s easy to understand why the Scottish Government wants control of tax policy. There’s no doubt that cutting corporation tax rates is a way to encourage profits being recorded in a country. However, it’s equally certain that any country that encourages this process will be subject to counter-measures from other countries competing for profits.

Even if the case for control over the corporation tax rate is won then Westminster will do two things in response. The first is that it will, as required by the EU, cut the block grant to Holyrood by exactly the same amount lost in tax revenue as a result of cutting corporation tax. That means on the day that the tax rate is cut – which is the stated aim – Scotland gives itself a double whammy: it loses the tax and it loses the grant. This is the scale of the gamble that’s being argued for. The loss could be around £2.6 billion.

The hope is that new profits will be earned in Scotland as a result of the change and that jobs will come with them to make up the loss. But there’s massive risk attached to that hope not least because the second thing Westminster will do is put in place law making it harder for English companies to move to Scotland just to get a low tax rate.

There’s also very mixed evidence of any jobs dividend that comes with corporation tax cuts and there are more effective ways of creating and supporting jobs. At the heart of this debate is the type of society we want to create– a low-corporation tax haven or a social economic model that supports growth through promoting measures such as collective bargaining. But where does this feature in the Scottish Government’s narrative?

What’s the likely result of this? Simply that Scotland will lose billions of revenue for desperately needed services; existing companies in Scotland will get a windfall tax cut but it will be much harder to set up new businesses here in the future. None of which makes any sense for Scotland. That’s why this move is a bad one, and one that we should walk away from.

This article can also be found in the Thursday 18th of August 2011 edition of The Scotsman’s ‘Platform’ section.

Unite Scotland Economic Brief – Corporation Tax

16 Aug

What is corporation tax?

Corporation tax is the tax due on a company’s profits.

What’s the big deal with corporation tax now?

Corporation tax is right at the forefront of economic debate at present, especially in Scotland.  The Scottish Government is to argue for powers to be given to Scotland to change its corporation tax rate so that it does not have to charge the same rate as the rest of the United Kingdom.

Northern Ireland is also arguing for the right to set its own corporation tax rate.  Northern Ireland looks like it will reduce its corporation tax rate to 12.5% for all companies. The current rate in the UK as a whole is 26% of large companies who earn more than £1.5 million profit year and 20% small companies. Northern Ireland is set in this rate because the Republic of Ireland has a 12.5% corporation tax rate.

It looks as though the Scottish Government might want to match any tax rate that Northern Ireland sets, in which case Scotland could have a 12.5% corporation tax rate.

Is this good news for Scotland?

It is claimed by those supporting reductions in corporation tax rates that these cuts will have beneficial effects on the economy.  The argument is that one or all of these things happens:

  • Existing businesses in the country have their tax rate cut so they have more money left to invest in new jobs;
  • Because the tax rate has been reduced the return from running a company is increased and so more new businesses are created, which in turn means more jobs;
  • Reduced tax rates encourage foreign companies to relocate to the country because they can make a bigger, overall, rate of profit as a result – this brings in new investment, and that in turn creates new jobs.

No one, least of all a trade union, wants to turn down the opportunity of new jobs.  If these promises could be delivered then such a change might be good news for Scotland.

Can the promise of new jobs be delivered?

This is where the problems begin to arise, and there are lots of problems:

  • There is no guarantee that existing companies in Scotland will invest their increased after-tax profits in new jobs – they might just pay them out to their shareholders. The tax increase would in that case simply make some of the better off people in Scotland better off still.
  • While there is some undoubted evidence of a link between lower corporation tax rates and higher rates of employment, the relationship between the two is very weak indeed.  Research has shown that only 7% of additional employment can be explained by low corporation tax rates in the countries that have them.   In that case there are many better, and more cost-effective, ways of creating new jobs.  Grants remain one such option.
  • It is undoubtedly true that for a while the Republic of Ireland appeared to benefit from having low corporation tax rates that increased employment.  This process has, however, come to an end.  The Irish economy has collapsed, unemployment has risen, people are emigrating, major employers have left including companies like Dell computers, and hardship has followed on.  If the model did work – and that is highly questionable – it doesn’t any more.

But isn’t it worth a try?

There is always an argument for taking a risk when there is no cost in doing so. Unfortunately, if Scotland cut its corporation tax rate there would be a considerable cost, no one is quite sure what it would be, as yet, but there are complex European rules that would have to be adhered to.

This would mean that the amount of money granted to Scotland by the Westminster Government would have to be cut by the same amount as the corporation tax cut.  No one has ever calculated precisely the total value of corporation taxes paid by Scottish companies, and no one is sure how they could precisely calculate this figure. But, it is presently estimated that Northern Ireland will lose £300 million a year if it cuts its corporation tax rate.  It is safe to assume that the cost to Scotland would be much more, and could run into billions of pounds a year.

But if the right number of jobs were created wouldn’t it still pay to take that risk?

We can only decide that by looking at the evidence.   The best, and most optimistic, evidence currently available comes from those promoting this reform in Northern Ireland. They have suggested that losing a grant of £272 million a year from Westminster will generate 4500 new jobs a year in Northern Ireland.  But note the cost: that’s almost £61,000 a job.   Average pay in Northern Ireland is about £22,000 a year.

A generous estimate of the amount of tax that each new job will generate is £8,000 a year. Northern Ireland is allowed to claim credit for that additional tax paid, but it will still be losing £53,000 a year on the jobs created in the first year.

Now admittedly, presuming those jobs continue to the second year the loss in that year will only be £45,000 per job created.  But on this logic (which those promoting this idea have accepted as correct) and assuming no jobs are lost it will take up to 15 years for this cut in corporation tax to be paid back in terms of extra revenue earned from new jobs created in Northern Ireland.  Put in that context this is a risk not worth taking, and a cost that’s unreasonable for each job created.

So is there any remaining reason to cut corporation tax in Scotland?

Not that we can find.  But we can find lots of reasons why Scotland should not cut its corporation tax rate.   For example, as the UK’s Chartered Institute of Tax has pointed out, any such change would massively increase the administrative hassle for companies which were trading in both England and Scotland.  In fact, the additional costs of proving that a business has allocated their profits correctly between the two nations could more than offset any tax saved.

And on top of that England would have to pass laws to prevent profits being artificially relocated to Scotland.  This would make it harder for companies to relocate to Scotland.  We might actually see obstacles being put in the way of investment in Scotland just because we have a lower corporation tax rate.  That would be a particularly perverse outcome of any such change.

Finally, and most importantly, there is the issue of social justice.   The fact is that, as has been proven time and again, societies work best when they are equal. The most likely outcome of cutting corporation tax rates in Scotland is that the richest in our community will get richer, whilst the rest of us will become worse off.  Scotland will be worse off because of the cut in services that would result from the reduction of the grant from Westminster.  Inequality in Scotland will, in all probability, rise.  This is an outcome that we can’t accept as being just, fair or good for Scotland as a whole.

This special economic brief  has been produced in cooperation with Unite Scotland by tax expert Richard Murphyin response to the launch of the Scottish Government’s Corporation Tax Discussion Paper, ‘Options for Reform’ .  You can keep up to date with Richard’s analysis of tax and economics at Tax Research UK.  You can also follow Richard on Twitter: @RichardJMurphy 

Scottish Ambulance Service Update – 12 August

12 Aug


Negotiations between the Scottish Ambulance Service and the Joint Unions, Unite, UNISON and GMB regarding the challenges of meal breaks and the reduction in the hours of the working week in the Scottish Ambulance Service have been concluded.

The Joint Unions have received a revised offer from the Scottish Ambulance Service which they will now be balloting their respective membership on with a recommendation for acceptance of the offer as the best which can be achieved by negotiation.

The ballots will be concluded by Friday 16th September 2011 and the three Unions will advise the Scottish Ambulance Service of the outcome of their ballots on or before 20th September 2011.

Shirley Rogers on behalf of the Scottish Ambulance Service

John Gallacher on behalf of Unite the Union

Stevie Gilroy on behalf of UNISON

Teoh Eng Boo on behalf of GMB



Take part in research on agency work

10 Aug

Have you ever been an agency worker? Take part in some important research and share your experiences. Take the survey here.

– by Louise Haigh

With the EU Directive on Temporary Agency Workers due to come into force this October, the issue of their protection in employment law is once again up for debate. But what trade unions and political parties have failed to demonstrate is that this is not just an issue for agency workers but for workers everywhere. The loopholes that currently allow the exploitation of agency workers represent a crisis for social justice and the change that is coming will not improve the current situation; in fact, it may do quite the opposite.

Firstly, the last Labour government did its utmost to ensure that the legislation on agency workers was as weak as it absolutely could be. What further proof of this do we need than the fact that the Coalition government brought it in willingly, without having to re-negotiate, because it knew it couldn’t get any lower terms for agency workers than its predecessors had already managed. The UK and Ireland went further than any other EU state in extending the qualifying period before which agency workers receive equal treatment in terms of pay to an astonishing 12 weeks. Compare this to countries on the continent where agency work is strictly regulated so that companies can only use it in very limited circumstances – to cover high periods of demand, sickness and so on. Indeed, in certain countries, agency work is strictly prohibited, whilst in others, workers are engaged on flexible contracts but the rights that accompany these are not flexible – making a mockery of the argument from business that only reduced rights can deliver a flexible workforce.

Within the EU Directive is also the ‘Swedish Derogation’, which effectively provides yet another loophole for businesses and agencies to avoid paying agency workers at the same level as their comparators in the workplace. In situations where the worker has a contract of employment with their agency and if the agency pays the worker between assignments at a rate of at least 50% of an assignment pay, users of agency workers will not have to treat them equally in respect of pay or holiday pay.

Already, we have seen companies making full use of this – setting up agencies as companies within their own structures and avoiding the regulations, entirely legally but almost certainly immorally. Alongside this, software companies are taking the initiative and offering construction companies in particular, software that reminds them when the 12 week period is almost up, so they can disengage their agency workers and hire new ones. Some agencies are getting in on the act as well – offering another ‘service’ to help in the rotating of agency workers.

The story is just the same as it is in any poorly regulated sector – gaping holes in regulation and its enforcement, make unscrupulous users and employers inventive and creative – and why shouldn’t it? The message hardly came loud and clear from government, either this one or the last, that agency workers should be treated fairly and justly. As usual, the interests of business were the only game in town and their endless demand for reduced terms and conditions in the wake of the financial crisis. Trade unions face a serious challenge in attempting to organise and protect agency workers, and disappointingly, perhaps even more so once the much campaigned-for regulations come into force.

Louise Haigh is secretary of the Unite Parliamentary Staff branch. She is doing a Masters in Law at Birbeck University on the vulnerability of agency workers in UK employment law and their experiences with trade unions.