Standing up for Scotland’s working class majority

THE SSP: a party that stands up for the millions, not the millionaires

THE SSP: a party that stands up for the millions, not the millionaires

by Richie Venton, SSP national workplace organiser It was Easter Monday. As I drove to work, the car radio announced the next programme, ‘Wake up to Money’. Aye, right, is that what they call £7.13-an-hour, at this hour of the day, on a public holiday? On ‘Wake up to Money’ some analyst from Aberdeen was bemoaning the latest report by KPMG on the profits of the five biggest banks. Apparently he found it disappointing they only mopped up profits of £20.6billion in 2014—a 62 per cent leap compared to 2013.

Seems like some people really do ‘wake up to money’, mountains of it! But they’re a tiny handful, the 1 per cent: the wealth owners, not the wealth creators. We live in an ill-divided world, a class-divided Scotland, with 510,000 workers in ‘severe poverty’ whilst a handful of bankers ‘wake up to money’.

So since Labour’s Jim Murphy launched his leadership bid for the Scottish branch Labour with the preposterous slogan “Standing up for the prosperous and the poor”, he has some explaining to do.

Is Murphy really standing up for the low-paid Usdaw union members in retail who ‘wake up to very little money’, on wages hovering around the pathetic national minimum wage? Or is he doing what he and his Blairite Labour Party have done for decades, standing up for bosses and bankers with the help of the Thatcherite anti-union laws and the most deregulated labour market in the whole of Europe, as his mentor Tony Blair boasted, when Prime Minister?

Labour has belatedly discovered some rhetoric about ‘working people’, after years of telling us, in the infamous phrase of Tony Blair, “We’re now all middle class”. In their desperate bid to con workers into voting for them, these Labour chancers promise “an £8 minimum wage”, and to “tackle exploitative Zero Hours Contracts”.

Two immediate, vital health warnings are required here. An £8 minimum wage seems attractive to those who do NOT ‘wake up to money’—including the 1.2 million languishing on the pitiful minimum wage, or the millions more below anything like a living wage.

But Labour only pledge £8 by 2020—leaving millions to struggle with the promise of a minimum wage which by 2020 wouldn’t be worth much more—if any more—than today’s £6.50! When it comes to Zero Hours Contracts, these Labour vote-seekers speak with forked tongues. What do they mean ‘exploitative’ Zero Hours Contracts? They’re all exploitative!

They should be abolished outright, straight and simple. But Labour want to amend Zero Hours Contracts, rather than abolish them.

To have a scheme where after 12 weeks on one of these contracts, you’d get a contract for the average hours worked. But it leaves the power with employers to dodge and weave, cutting down average hours worked, or dismissing and replacing workers after 11 or 12 weeks to avoid this clause.

We can be forgiven for doubting Labour’s promises on Zero Hours Contracts; Blair promised to abolish them back in 1995 at the Labour conference yet despite 13 years of subsequent Labour government, Zero Hours Contracts have in reality rocketed to an estimated 200,000 in Scotland alone.

Labour’s lamentable stance on these issues makes life easy for the SNP, making it easy for them to sound much more radical and worker-friendly than the party originally founded by trade unionists and socialists over a century ago.

But before backing the SNP, workers need to listen carefully, both to what they say and what they do. On the issue of poverty pay, the SNP make all the right attacks on the uphill struggle to cope faced by working people in 21st century Scotland.

Up until their very recent conference, the SNP confined themselves to their headlined support for the so-called Living Wage—currently £7.85-an-hour. At their recent pre-election conference/rally, the SNP sought to outbid Labour’s cooing sounds towards workers by pledging not £8, but an £8.70 minimum wage.

At least that would have the merit of being legally enforced. But again, not for another five years, not until 2020, at the very best making it worth no more than today’s when inflation rises again, as predicted by the economists are taken into account.

At least up until now, the SNP has regularly used the same phrase as Labour’s about ‘abolishing exploitative Zero Hours Contracts’.

So far, no unequivocal announcement of total, unqualified abolition of them all. And whilst the SNP have spoken and written about ‘embracing the trade unions’ they have nowhere and never committed to outright repeal of the battery of anti-union legislation that makes this country the most repressive, in terms of workplace rights, in the whole of Europe.

The SNP make much of ‘Standing up for Scotland’. Sounds good, to people downtrodden by undemocratic diktats from Westminster for decades, suffering the theft of our natural wealth and taxes by a business elite concentrated in the City of London and the stockbroker belt of the Home Counties. But which Scotland do the SNP claim to ‘stand up’ for?

Over the past four years, in contrast to their current promises to oppose austerity, the SNP government in Holyrood has failed to ‘stand up’ to about £4billion in cuts to the nation’s funding by Westminster. They’ve passed on these cuts to local authorities and the likes of Further Education colleges.

In councils they control, the SNP has just as shoddy a record of imposing cuts to jobs and services, and of keeping apprentices on the slave-labour rates of £2.73-an-hour, as their Labour councillor counterparts.

And in the case of Edinburgh council, the SNP has joined forces with Labour in an axe-wielding coalition. They’ve restricted Scottish public sector workers’ pay to derisory, below-inflation levels. They have shielded the likes of the NHS from the worst excesses of cuts, closures and privatisation imposed by successive Labour and Tory Coalition governments down South.

But a party that imagines you can ‘stand up’ for everyone in Scotland is ignoring the stark truth that there are two Scotlands, divided by class, by a gaping chasm of differences in wealth and power—and by a fundamental clash of interests, where the increased profits of one class are the decreased wages of the other (majority) class.

Which Scotland are the SNP offering to ‘stand up for’? The Scotland of the 432 individuals who own half of the entire land in the nation, including the vast tracts of rich, arable land—or the tens of thousands (including employed workers) who rely on the indignity of food parcels from food banks, for three days at a time, to avert literal starvation?

The SSP doesn’t hesitate to declare which Scotland we side with. We will stand up for Scotland’s working class majority. We are a working class socialist party out to end the dictatorship of capital, for socialist democracy, including in our workplaces and communities. We want a campaign not only for a maximum working week of 35 hours, as the first step to a 4-day week—crucially, with no loss of earnings—but also for employers to be obliged to offer a minimum number of guaranteed hours per week.

In contrast to talk of £8 or £8.70-an-hour minimum wage a full five years down the road, in 2020, the SSP demands £10 NOW, in 2015, based on the modest formula of two-thirds median male earnings, with equal pay for women—rising with wages or inflation, whichever is the greater. We stand up for outright repeal of all anti-union laws, and the implementation of a Charter of Workers’ Rights.

That to include: full employment rights from day one in the job; the right to join and organise unions without victimisation; fu full and equal employment rights for all, the constitutional right to strike, after a simple majority vote, including the right to take solidarity action with fellow workers full union recognition and free collective bargaining in all sectors.

We stand up for public, democratic ownership of the profiteering banks, all forms of energy, transport, construction, big industries, services. For those millions of working class people in Scotland who do not ‘wake up to money’, we need a party that stands up for the millions, not for Scotland’s millionaires.

We need to ‘wake up to the choices’ between profit and pay, full and democratic rights of the working class majority, or the untrammeled right to get rich, at our expense, for the 1 per cent. The growth of support for the SSP amongst Scotland’s working class majority is a vital part of that awakening.

• Read the full, unedited article on Richie Venton’s blog here.

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