Archive | January, 2012

UCS at Celtic Connections – Sunday 5th February

31 Jan

The organisers of the concert celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Clydeside’s important UCS Work-in have unveiled the full line up for the Celtic Connections event scheduled for February 5.

It features a number of stars from last October’s gala concert alongside new artists, and is again being produced by Fair Pley with musical direction by Rab Noakes.

Rab Noakes said, “We hope this stellar line-up is a fitting celebration of the inspirational struggle won by the UCS workforce 40 years ago.  The UCS Work-in contributed, and continues to contribute to the civil and social conscientiousness of musicians, poets and artists. This concert is both the result of, and a tribute to those stewards and workers.”

Rab will perform, and links with the fundraising concerts of 40 years ago are being kept with the concert starring musicians Jimmie Macgregor, Arthur Johnstone, Dick Gaughan, and  Alistair MacDonald. Hilary Brooks and Fraser Speirs will be there in first-class accompaniment. Other musical performers will include James Grant (of Love and Money).

In addition Eddie McGuire’s new composition – Work-in at UCS – a celebration suite – will feature. Eddie wrote an original piece for saxophones in 1971, that he presented to Jimmy Reid. This piece will be performed by Eddie’s traditional music band, the Whistlebinkies, Sax Ecosse and Alba Brass.

Actor and director, David Hayman will perform some of the dramatic speeches of the time and poet Tom Leonard will give a short reading. Well known actor and musician Dave Anderson is MC for the night.

Stephen Wright of organisers FairPley said, “We are delighted  that Celtic Connections has recognised the UCS 40th Anniversary by staging this concert on the last night of the festival. The link between folk music and the struggles of ordinary people is unbreakable; the support of musicians and artists was a key feature of the Work-in.  As the concert on 5th February will demonstrate, their successful fight forty years ago to save shipbuilding on the Clyde continues to inspire artists to this day.”

The concert is being sponsored by Unite the Union, inheritor of many of the UCS unions’ members. Unite’s Scottish Secretary, Pat Rafferty said, “The UCS campaign touched all facets of community and country – including artists in many spheres. It is fitting that a working class struggle is remembered in a festival that connects so many artists. It should provide an example for the struggle of today’s trade unionists.”

ENDS

For Further Information please contact:

Chris Bartter (Communications) 07715 583 729, chrisbartter@btinternet.com

Stephen Wright (FairPley) 07734 350 247, swright@fairpley.com

Jim Lister (FairPley) 07793884136, jlister@fairpley.com

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Sparks fly at Aberdeen construction sector protest

27 Jan

Scottish construction workers employed by sector giant NG Bailey protested again this morning as the long-running dispute over industry wide de-skilling and pay cuts intensifies.

70 Unite mechanics and plumbers working on the new Aberdeen Royal Infirmary emergency care centre development demonstrated outside the site against imposed measures which will fuel a race to the bottom across the UK construction sector.

NG Bailey, along with Balfour Beatty and other industry majors are driving through the Building Engineering Services National Agreement (BESNA) which will tear up previous long-standing national agreements and slash pay by up to 30%.

Unite representative David Brockett said, “Unite members are telling NG Bailey and their cohorts in the construction sector that they will not accept their cut and gut agenda.

This BESNA will drive down overall industry standards, not only on pay but on skills, training and health & safety.  The industry majors say this is modernisation.  What’s modern about plunging tens of thousands of skilled workers into the low pay trap and driving industry standards down to the depths?

What we are witnessing is the needless destruction of an essential industry all in the name of corporate greed.  Its immoral and we will resist them every step of the way.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors:  For further information please contact Unite rep David Brockett on 07784860933 or Peter Welsh in the Scottish Campaigns Unit on 07810157931.

Let the people decide…

23 Jan

It’s been nearly five months since I argued that Scotland’s independence referendum could be a unique opportunity to achieve something genuinely different and better than the turgid neo-liberal orthodoxies our political system seems unable or unwilling to change.

Now that the starting pistol has been fired for a November 2014 referendum and a week of fevered rhetoric on both sides of the argument has passed, my original views have been reinforced and perhaps radicalised by recent events.

For the avoidance of any doubt, here are the key provisions I would like to see included in the referendum:

  • The inclusion of a defined increase of devolved powers option on the ballot;
  • 16 & 17 year olds to be empowered with the right to vote in this historic event;
  • Westminster handing over to the Scottish Parliament all powers required to fulfil the legal requirements of referendum; and
  • Then the referendum itself to be constructed and overseen by an independent commission to ensure the maximum fairness and transparency.

I’m not yet convinced about the SNPs arguments for independence.  They still have much to reveal about how an independent Scotland can rebuild and sustain collective prosperity.  Key questions remain unanswered.

But I don’t know if I can stomach the prospect of a probable Tory majority in Westminster after 2015, resulting in an extension of the austerity agenda aided by the subservient Lib Dems and weakness of the current Labour leadership.

Like many others in Scotland, I would welcome an increase in devolved powers as a means to counter the ConDem economic and social vandalism.  At the very least, I certainly want to debate the potential of an increased devolved settlement and have the opportunity to vote on it.

So from a trade unionist perspective it was pleasing to see the STUC take a deep breath before entering the debate.  Their call for the establishment of an independent Referendum Commission to explore all the potential options available in the formulation of this referendum and to offset legal uncertainty is entirely sensible.

Unfortunately it didn’t take long for our elected representatives to descend into predictable acrimonious bluster over ‘patriotism’, ‘Scottish-ness’ and such nonsense.  Politicians would do well get their minds focused firmly back on the issues at hand – proposals for economic growth, the future of our public services, dignity in retirement, tackling unemployment, making a positive case for your position in the referendum campaign…need I go on?  It would be a national embarrassment for gutter politics and buffoonery to dominate the next two years.  The stakes are simply too high for politics to be consumed by its own self-importance.

This process is a marathon and not a sprint.  With the eyes of the world focused on Scotland we have to show that we can deliver this referendum in a mature, open and truly democratic fashion.  The STUC proposals can help create a platform for the views of the Scottish grassroots to shape the referendum process prior to the campaign and vote itself, facilitating this objective. Surely this is something that any sensible politician should support?

We certainly need a renewed sense of ownership over our democracy.   In the last year my job has gave me the privilege of meeting people the length and breadth of the country.  Together, we’ve highlighted issues impacting their workplaces and communities.  We’ve also debated politics and policies; overarched by the spectre of the coalitions austerity agenda. And for me it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the status quo is no longer acceptable.

On the UK economy for example, we know we are being sold a pup. The sheer folly of this growth-less austerity is unravelling by the day exposing the dying neo-liberal ideology that many of us on the left have argued it to be from day one.  Last week’s downgrading of the French AAA credit rating by Standard & Poor merely highlighted this to a bigger audience and reminded us all that the UK can’t exempt itself from the economic sickness it helped spawn. It’s also a damning confirmation that our politicians are further descending into the post-2008 political aporia.

Whether people are employed in the public, private or third sector, or currently unemployed, they are increasingly unhappy and frustrated with our economic direction.  They want something better for themselves and their families but most of all they want fairness. Anger is mounting because they are being punished for an economic mess they did not create and yet they see hypocrisy and injustice all around them whether its financial sector bonuses, capital strike, phone hacking or the expenses scandal.

People have simply had enough of the tail wagging the dog.

And it’s the politicians themselves who must take a large chunk of the blame for this.  Politics has disenfranchised so many people from the democratic process through its own examples of hubris and weaknesses.  This referendum is a chance for politics to pay the people back.  But can our politicians be trusted to set aside party-political inertia, at least for a short-time, to maximise the scope of the referendum debate and empower the people they are there to serve accordingly?

On the face of it, we know what to expect from the SNP and the Conservatives. Their respective views will be argued with passion whether you agree with them or not. Indeed, the SNP have made proposals for the referendum process – altruistic or otherwise – which I entirely agree with (like the extension of the vote to 16 and 17 year olds).

But like many in the trade union movement I’m sure, it is Labour’s position I find baffling.  The party of devolution continues to reject the possibility of a third option on the referendum ballot.  Last November Labour’s Douglas Alexander argued that Scottish Labour must make the case for more devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament ahead of the independence referendum.  Yet last week we’ve seen Labour slip back into to the ‘stronger together weaker apart’ mantra that failed them in 2007 and 2011.  Devolution and independence are ‘separate processes’, say Labour.

Instead of a social-democratic party like Scottish Labour being able to carve their own niche and make progressive policy arguments for the extension of devolution, Johann Lamont will be on the same stump as David Cameron and Nick Clegg in the eyes of the Scottish people whether she likes it or not.

It concerns me deeply that out of our four main political parties we only have two outcomes being touted – yes or no to Scottish independence.  I think this narrow scope stifles democratic debate and ultimately treats the Scottish people with some contempt.  At least one mainstream political party needs to champion a campaign for further devolved powers, complimenting the arguments for independence and the retention of the union, enriching the political debate.

This blunt ‘yes’ or ‘no’ politics merely intensifies the need for the Scottish people to shape the identity of this referendum.  Whether you are pro independence, pro-union or pro-devolution; surely the Scottish people are best placed to set the terms and conditions of what is arguably the biggest political, social and economic decision many of us will ever have the opportunity to take?

Surely we don’t want the agenda to set by the malign influence of the Ashcrofts, Souters, and Sainsburys of this world or be left with some half-baked plebiscite formed from the scraps that the politicians could only agree on?

Politics has never been and may never be more interesting.  This referendum is a golden opportunity to revitalise an environment blighted by distrust and apathy. We’re shaping our futures here and I have faith in the Scottish people to set a shining example of democracy and debate to the rest of the world – and also have the mutual respect for each other to accept the final outcome.  It’s time that politicians on all sides started to listen and learn.

Let the people decide.

This article was first published on the  ‘A Burdz Eye View’ blog: http://burdzeyeview.wordpress.com/

Sparks Protests continue…

23 Jan

NG Bailey Week

Protest by Unite members continues this week at the imposition of the Building Engineering Services National Agreement (BESNA) by employers.

The protests are as follows:

Monday 23rd – Morrisons, Gallowgate, Glasgow at 7.30am then on to head office in Bellshill.

Tuesday 24th –Gore Tex factory, Livingston at 7.15am.

Wednesday 25th – Exhibition Centre, Edinburgh at 7.15am.

Friday 27th –Aberdeen Royal Infirmary at 7.15am.

Saturday 28th – Demonstration and Rally, Glasgow City Centre,  John Smith House at 10am.


Award ceremony at RBS Greenock

20 Jan

A group of Unite union learners recently participated in an awards ceremony at the Royal Bank of Scotland mortgage centre in Greenock.

The learners were presented with certificates by Stow College for courses they completed in Understanding Pensions and Computing. The courses were delivered as part of the active lifelong learning project on that site.

The learning programme was launched on 15 July last year, and a learning survey was conducted, gaining 226 responses – more than a quarter of the workforce. The learning programme was designed to meet this need. In addition to the courses mentioned above, there are also courses running in Spanish and British Sign Language, with a further British Sign Language course due to start on 24 January, and Communications on 1 February.

To address some of the higher level skills, the Open University will hold an open day on site on 27 January. We hope to be able to replicate the successful partnership programme we have with the OU at Rolls-Royce.

The lifelong learning programme at RBS Greenock started when ULR Sonya Cassidy and workplace rep Stephen McCauley did their training in November 2010. After meeting with management in February and developing a plan, the lifelong learning project was officially launched in July last year, with the open day and online survey.

Sonya and Stephen have also succeeded in recruiting other reps, and are in the process of setting up a workplace branch. They have also created a branch website.

By organising at work, creating effective structures and having visible union activity that responds to members’ needs, the reps have been very successful at recruiting too. RBS Greenock is a Unite 100% target, meaning it is a workplace where we have recognition, but we’re working to increase our density and quality of representation. When Sonya and Stephen came on board, density on site was very low. It has since risen by more than a 100%, and new members are continuing to join, encouraged by the reps effective response to their needs.

Because this approach has been so successful, we are hoping to be able to replicate it at other RBS and finance sector sites.

 

 

Proposals to resolve ambulance dispute announced

18 Jan

Proposals to end the long-standing dispute in the Scottish Ambulance Service over staff working time have been agreed.

This afternoon in the Scottish Parliament, Cabinet Secretary for Health & Wellbeing Nicola Sturgeon announced details of new arrangements following protracted negotiations between the joint trade unions, the Scottish Ambulance Service and Scottish Government representatives for the Health sector (see appendix for joint trade union statement).

The raft of new measures will now be carried forward with a view to ending an eight year stand-off over the issue of 2.5 hours a week unpaid working time caused by the 2004 Agenda for Change (AfC).

Unite Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty said, “Our members in the Scottish ambulance service have worked long and hard to ensure a satisfactory conclusion to this sensitive issue. Today’s developments are a step in the right direction and a reflection of their total dedication to this essential public service.

These proposals benefit both patients and staff, helping to deliver the best service possible for the public and moving towards a resolution on working-time that the workforce have long campaigned for.

We also welcome the positive participation of the Scottish Government over the last week.  Moving forward we call on the Health Secretary to build-on today’s developments and to keep working with the trade unions, ensuring our ambulance service receives the necessary investment and resources to meet future demand.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors: For further information please contact Unite Convenor in the Scottish Ambulance Service John Gallagher on 07789923749 & Peter Welsh in the Unite Scotland Campaigns Unit on 07810157931.

Looking for Growth!

16 Jan

The key issue facing our economy is how we can get elements of growth in the most sustained contraction since the 1930s. We now hear the constant mantra – or in political jargon, ‘the line’ – of how we can’t reverse the cuts; tough public spending rounds are here to stay; we need a fairer distribution of what is left in the ever-dwindling money-pot, and, we have got to stick to the vast majority of the Tory deficit plan no matter the social destruction this unleashes. This of course ignores the fact that this is a self-enforced deficit reduction straight-jacket!

The drip-drip effect played out in the media in order to be ‘credible’ means what’s left is debating an ever-narrowing number of options on the table of how we try to stimulate our economy. It does a massive disservice to those in unemployment, in poverty and struggling to make ends meet.

If we have the political will to face the root causes of the crisis, there are many potential solutions: a financial transaction tax; resisting the corporation tax cuts while companies hoard money in their accounts to the tune of up to £70 billion; addressing tax havens and evasion, and, applying constant bonus taxes on the Directors of companies who wrecked our economy until the debt they have caused is paid back.

There is an extensive list of potential taxes and levies which should be explored such as a Land Value Tax which can help to grow our economy. However, you don’t see this getting debated much because our political institutions and major parties seem wedded to accepting neo-liberalism or reigned-in capitalism.

A policy which has gained a lot of traction is a Living Wage. The gap between rich and poor has doubled in the last 30 years. It doesn’t take a genius to work out if there are fewer people in employment then those in employment must have higher wages in order to reflate the economy in order to consume products which in turn creates demand for production.

In Scotland the long-standing campaign for a Living Wage has intensified over the last year with the introduction of a Living Wage rate of £7.20p/h (uprated from £7.15) for all directly employed workers in Glasgow City Council and West Dunbartonshire Council. As part of their manifesto commitments Scottish Labour and the SNP pledged to roll-out the Living Wage.

Labour pledged to roll it out to all public sector workers while the SNP proposed to extend to all NHS and Government Agencies in addition to all Government workers who already receive it. An Inquiry is taking place in the Scottish Parliament at the moment on the Living Wage which our Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty gave evidence at in December 2011.

Statistics show that in 2009 there were 623,000 people employed in the public sector in Scotland, of which approximately 33,000 (5 per cent) were estimated to earn less than £7 an hour. By way of comparison, approximately 18 per cent of workers in the Scottish economy as a whole were estimated to earn less than £7 an hour during 2009. This shows why we can’t just restrict this policy to the public sector. We need to find ways to inflate the wages of workers across all sectors of our economy, thereby putting spending power back in people’s pockets and stimulating the economy.

The Scottish Government directly controls the pay packets of thousands of Scots through its various agencies, bodies and sub-contracting arrangements, yet they are failing to utilise the significant powers they have. There is no excuse for inaction. If the Scottish Government is serious about the Living Wage then they have got to lead by example. Otherwise, what hope have we got of the private sector following suit.

Unite Scotland’s ‘Making Devolution Work’ paper explores potentially how we can extend the concept of a living wage beyond the public sector where 77 per cent of all Scottish workers are in employment. Sectoral forums – the key strand of this strategy discussed at length on our website – also discusses how we can prevent public services being outsourced to the private sector. It would prevent private sector employers’ under-cutting their public sector counterparts paying the Living Wage.

I’ve never agreed with the London Mayor Boris Johnson in my life but I will make an exception, he said: “Paying the London Living Wage is not only morally right – with the potential to massively reduce child poverty in London- but also it makes good business sense. What may appear to a company to be an unaffordable cost in a highly competitive market is more appropriately viewed as a sound investment decision.”

If a Tory Mayor can say this then it is time for the Scottish Government to get moving by introducing a Living Wage for the whole public sector and supporting sector forums to help extend it to the private sector – not today but yesterday.