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Address by Grahame Smith, STUC

9 Jul 2009


PRESIDENT, DELEGATES.

IT GIVES ME TREMENDOUS PLEASURE TO BRING YOU THE WARMEST GREETINGS FROM THE GENERAL COUNCIL AND STAFF OF THE SCOTTISH TUC.

OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE IRISH CONGRESS OF TRADES UNIONS IS ONE ON WHICH WE PALCE GREAT VALUE.

WE HAVE BEEN DELIGHTED TO HAVE HAD DELEGATES FROM CONGRESS ATTEND OUR CONGRESS FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS NOW AND TO HAVE HAD YOUR PRESIDENT ADDRESS OUR CONGRESS ON YOUR BEHALF ON THE LAST FOUR OCCASSIONS (SOMETHING OF A RECORD).

AND WE WERE DELIGHTED TO HAVE HAD YOUR GENERAL SECRETARY ATTEND OUR CONGRESS THIS YEAR, FOR THE FIRST TIME, TO PARTICIPATE IN A SPECIAL DEBATE ON THE CURRENT ECONOMIC CRISIS AND TO HEAR NOT ONLY THE IRISH LABOUR MOVEMENT PERSPECTIVE BUT ALSO A WIDER EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVE.

AND OF COURSE WE HAVE THE TRADE UNION COUNCIL OF THE ISLES MEETINGS, INVOLVING OUR CONGRESSES THE WALES TUC AND THE BRITISH TUC WHICH HAVE BEEN AN IMPORTANT MECHANISM FOR DIALOGUE BETWEEN THE TRADE UNION CENTRES IN BRITAIN AND IRELAND AND WHICH PROVIDES AN INVALUABLE OPPORTUNITY FOR US TO LEARN FROM EACH OTHER AND TO WORK TOGETHER TO ADDRESS THE MANY CHALLENGES WE FACE.

AND MANY OF THOSE WHOSE ANCESTORS CAME FROM IRELAND AND SETTLED IN SCOTLAND HAVE BEEN STALWARTS OF THE SCOTTISH TRADES UNION MOVEMENT.


IN FACT I’VE YET TO MEET A SCOTTISH TRADES UNIONIST WITH IRISH ATECEDENTS WHO HASN’T CLAIMED TO BE RELATED TO JAMES CONNELLY.

CONNELLY WAS OF COURSE A SCOT BORN OF IRISH PARENTS WHO BEFORE RETURINING TO IRELAND WAS AN ACTIVE TRADES UNIONIST AND A DELEGATE TO THE DUNDEE TRADES COUNCIL. IN FACT I’VE MET MANY SCOTTISH TRADES UNIONISTS WITH NO IRISH ANCESTORY WHO ALSO CLAIM CONNELLY AS A RELATIVE.

SO OUR CONNECTIONS ARE INDEED MANY, VARIED AND DEEPSEATED.

ECONOMIC CRISIS

THE RELATIONSHIP WE HAVE IS OF COURSE VITAL IN ENABLING US TO WORK TOGETHER TO CONFRONT OUR BIGGEST CHALLENGES, AND AT PRESENT OUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE IS HOW WE RESPOND TO THE ECONOMIC CRISIS.

I WOULDN’T CLAIM THAT WE PREDICTED THE SCALE OF THE BANKING CRISIS OR THE SEVERITY OF THE RECESSION BUT UNIONS WERE CERTAINLY AMONGST THE SELECT FEW TO QUESTION THE SUSTAINABILITY NOT JUST OF THE FREE MARKET FUNDAMENTALISM OF THE REAGAN AND THATCHER YEARS BUT THE MARKET FRIENDLY NEO-LIBERALISM OF CLINTON AND BLAIR - OF THE SUSTAIABILITY OF AN ECONOMIC MODEL THAT FAILED TO ENSURE THE FAIR DISTRIBUTION OF THE PROCEEDS OF ECONOMIC GROWTH.

THAT WE CHALLENGED THAT ECONOMIC ORTHODOXY AND WERE PROVED RIGHT GIVES OUR ALTERNATIVE APPROACH SIGNIFICANT CREDIBILITY.

FOR OUR GENERATION, THESE ARE UNPRECEDENTED TIMES. THE NATIONALISATION OF SCOTLAND’S TWO BIGGEST BANKS – WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT THAT THAT TRANSITIONAL DEMAND WOULD EVER BE MET. AND MANY OF THE CERTAINTIES OF LIFE HAVE PROVED NOT TO BE SO.

BUT IT’S THE HUMAN FACE OF THE BANKING CRISIS AND THE RECESSION THAT MATTERS - THE IMPACT ON OUR MEMBERS JOBS, THIER HOMES, THEIR FAMILIES AND THEIR FUTURES - THREATENED BY CORPORATE GREED AND IRRESPONSIBILITY.


THE ANGER AT THE RECKLESSNESS OF THOSE WHO CONTROL OUR ECONOMY BUT ALSO AT OUR COMPLICIT POLITICIANS, IS IN DANGER OF TURNING TO DESPAIR AND DISILLUSIONMENT AND OF DRIVING MANY WHO STRUGGLE TO MAKE SENSE OF WHY WE’RE IN THE MESS WE’RE IN TO SEEK IRRATIONAL AND EXTREME SOLUTIONS.

IN THE UK, THIS, COUPLED WITH THE MPS EXPENSES SCANDAL, IS CAUSING MANY TO QUESTION THEIR REASONS FOR SUPPORTING OR PARTICIPATING IN MAINSTREAM POLITICAL PARTIES OR INDEED IN THE ELECTORAL SYSTEM.

WE WITNESSED THE CONSEQUENCES OF THIS WITH THE ELECTION OF TWO RACIST BNP MEMBERS OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT.


THE EXPENSES SCANDAL REFLECTS A MORE FUNDAMENTAL MALAISE IN BRITISH SOCIETY, ONE THAT HAS BEEN AROUND FOR SEVERAL DECADES AND HAS ITS ROOTS IN THE RISE TO PROMINENCE OF AN IDEOLOGY THAT VALUES INDIVIDUAL OVER COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY AND THAT SHUNS THE PURSUIT OF EQUALITY AS A POLITICAL OBJECTIVE.

DESPITE OUR BEST EFFORTS, WHAT POLICY MAKERS SIMPLY IGNORED WAS THAT THAT THE WEAKENING OF WHAT WE MIGHT CALL THE ECONOMY’S EQUALISING INSTITUTIONS, PROGRESSIVE TAXATION, MINIMUM WAGES, AND OF COURSE TRADE UNIONS, WOULD HAVE A PROFOUNDLY DETRIMENTAL IMPACT ON EQUALITY, SOCIAL MOBILITY AND COHESION AND ULTIMATELY ON ECONOMIC SUCCESS.

WHILST TIMES ARE TOUGH, WHILST THERE IS A REAL DANGER THAT WIDESPREAD PUBLIC DISILLUSIONMENT WITH SOME OF OUR KEY INSTITUTIONS – WITH OUR POLITICIANS, WITH OUR BANKS AND FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS, WILL CREATE A MORE INDIVIDUALIST SOCIETY, THERE EXISTS A TREMENDOUS OPPORTUNITY FOR CIVIC AND MORAL RENEWAL BASED AROUND THE COLLECTIVE PURSUIT OF THE COMMON GOOD.

AND IN THAT THE TRADE UNION MOVEMENT HAS A RESPONSIBILITY TO PROVIDE LEADERSHIP.

DESPITE THE GLOOM THERE ARE POSITIVE SIGNS.
STRONG UNIONS
IN SCOTLAND TRADE UNION MEMBERSHIP IS RISING – OUR MEMBERSHIP OVER THE PAST TWO YEARS HAS INCREASED BY 15,000, PUTTING IT AT ITS HIGHEST LEVEL SINCE THE MID 1980’S.

WHILE MANY JOBS IN UNIONISED COMPANIES HAVE BEEN LOST IN THE RECESSION, AN INCREASING NUMBER OF WORKERS ARE SEEKING TO JOIN UNIONS BECAUSE OF UNCERTAINTY AND INSECURITY AT WORK AND THE ACTIONS OF SOME EMPLOYERS TO CUT COSTS AND REDUCE WORKERS RIGHTS.

IN THE UNITED STATES THERE IS THE CAMPAIGN OVER THE EMPLOYEE FREE CHOICE ACT WHICH, IF IMPLEMENTED, WILL MAKE IT EASIER FOR TRADE UNIONS TO ORGANISE IN US WORKPLACES.

IN SUPPORTING THE EMPLOYEE FREE CHOICE 40 PROMINENT US ECONOMISTS INCLUDING 3 NOBEL LAUREATES, HAVE SIGNED UP TO A STATEMENT THAT INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING LINE: ‘A RISING TIDE LIFTS ALL BOATS ONLY WHEN LABOUR AND MANAGEMENT BARGAIN ON RELATIVELY EQUAL TERMS’.

THIS MAYBE BLINDINGLY OBVIOUS TO US, BUT NEVERTHELESS THIS SIMPLE STATEMENT UNDERMINES THE ORTHODOXY THAT HAS UNDERPINNED ECONOMIC POLICY IN THE US AND UK FOR 3 DECADES.

AND IN NORTHER IRELAND THE VISTEON WORKERS, AND IN THE SOUTH THE ELECTRICIANS AND OTHERS HAVE ACTED COLLECTIVELY FOR WHAT IS RIGHT AND REFUSED TO BE BROWBEATEN BY THOSE WHO CALL THEM IRRESPONSIBLE FOR TAKING ACTION DURING AN ECONOMIC CRISIS THAT THEIR DENIGRATORS CREATED.

DIAGIO
AND IN SCOTLAND, DIAGIO, A COMPANY YOU KNOW WELL, IS FACING A FIGHT, NOT JUST FROM ITS WORKFORCE BUT FROM THE CIVIC AND POLITICAL COMMUNITY, OVER ITS PLANS TO CUT 1000 JOBS IN SCOTLAND AND TO CLOSE ITS PLANT IN KILMARNOCK.

I NOTICED THAT IT’S PR AROUND THE JOB LOSSES IN SCOTLAND MIRRORRED IT’S PR WHEN IT ANNOUNCED THE CLOSURE OF THE DUNDALK AND KILKENNY BREWERIES LAST YEAR, TRYING TO SOFTEN THE BLOW WITH SOME POSITIVE SPIN.

WELL, IF ITS PLANS FOR SCOTLAND GO AHEAD, THE BLOW WON’T BE SOFTENED FOR A THOUSAND WORKERS AND THEIR FAMILIES: WORKERS WHO ACCEPTED A LOWER PAY RISE LAST YEAR AND HAVE ACCEPTED SHORT TIME WORKING AND ENFORCED HOLIDAYS THIS YEAR IN RESPONSE TO THE RECESSION.

AND DIAGIO ISN’T A COMPANY IN TROUBLE. IT’S THE WORLDS LARGEST DRINKS COMPANY WITH AN ANNUAL TURNOVER OF $12 BILLION. IN JUNE, IT ANNOUNCED AN INCREASE IN PROFITS FOR THE YEAR OF 6%. IN AUGUST 2008 IT ANNOUNCED ANNUAL PROFITS OF OVER £2 BILLION. THIS IS NOT A COMPANY THAT NEEDS THE £40 MILLION IT WILL SAVE CLOSING ITS KILMARNOCK PLANT.

THIS IS A DECISION THAT HAS MORE TO DO WITH THE COMPANY’S SHARE PRICE THAN IT HAS TO DO WITH THE RECESSION. IT HAD THE DESIRED EFFECT. ITS SHARE PRICE ROSE AFTER IT ANNOUNCED THE JOB CUTS.

THIS PREOCCUPATION WITH SHORT TERM SHAREHOLDER VALUE IS SOMETHING THAT HAS BLIGHTED UK MANUFACTURING FOR YEARS.

WHAT MAKES THE DIAGIO SITUATION ALL THE MORE DEPRESSING IS THAT THIS IS A COMPANY THAT HAS MADE MUCH OF ITS CONSTRUCTIVE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE TRADE UNIONS BUT WHICH ANNOUCED ITS DECISION WITHOUT ANY UNION CONSULTATION.

COMPANIES REQUIRE TO RESTRUCTURE, TO MODERNISE. GOOD COMPANIES DO THAT IN CONSULATATION WITH THE UNIONS, AND USE THEIR WEALTH TO MAKE ANY TRANSISITION JUST AND FAIR.

THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR NOT DOING SO, PARTICULARLY IF YOUR WORKFORCE MAKES AS MUCH MONEY FOR YOU AS DIAGIO’S DOES FOR IT.


AGENDA FOR REBUILDING COLLECTIVE PROSPERITY

I MENTIONED THE NEED FOR UNIONS TO DEMONSTRATE LEADERSHIP AND TO ARTICUALTE A DIFFERENT COURSE FOR THE ECONOMY AND FOR SOCIETY.

AT OUT CONGRESS IN APRIL WE LAUNCHED OUR AGENDA FOR REBUILDING COLLECTIVE PROSPERITY.

AS WELL AS ARGUING FOR THE REBALANCING OF THE ECONOMY AND FOR MORE SUPPORT FOR MANUFACTURING; FOR COMMON SENSE MEASURES TO SUPPORT THOSE FACED WITH REDUNDANCY; FOR INVESTMENT IN PUBLIC SERVICES; AND ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE; THIS AGENDA PUTS TACKLING POVERTY AND INCOME INEQUALITY AT THE HEART OF ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT IN SCOTLAND.

ACCORDING TO THE OECD OF ALL THE MAJOR ECONOMOMIES, THE UK IS THE 7TH MOST UNEQUAL, BETTER ONLY THAN THE LIKES OF ITALY, PORTUGAL AND THE USA. IRELAND WAS ONLY JUST BEHIND THE UK IN 9TH PLACE.

SO CENTRAL TO OUR CAMPAIGNING IN THE PERIOD AHEAD WILL BE BUILDING A CIVIC AND POLITICAL CONSENSUS AROUND DEMANDS FOR PROGRESSSIVE TAX REFORM; FOR A LIVING WAGE; FOR THE ELIMINATION OF GENDERED PAY DISCRIMINATION; FOR INCREASED AND BETTER ADMINISTERED WELFARE BENEFITS; AND FOR IMPROVED TRADE UNION AND EMPLOYMENT RIGHTS.


THE SIGNS ARE THAT THE LABOUR GOVERNMENTS POLICY RESPONSE TO THE RECESSION IS NOW MOVING IN OUR DIRECTION WITH MORE ACTIVE STATE INTEVENTION IN THE ECONOMY –WITH ITS INDUSTRIAL ACTIVISM APPROACH – TOWARDS FAIRER TAXES WITH ITS 50P UPPER TAX RATE – ADDRESSING INEQUALITY THROUGH ITS EQUALITY BILL – AND OPPOSING THOSE WHO ADVOCATE CUTTING PUBLIC BORROWING AND SPENDING RATHER THAN INVESTING PRTICULARLY WHEN INTERESTS RATES AND PRIVATE SECTOR DEMAND FOR FINANCE IS LOW.
THE IRONY IS THAT OTHER FACTORS MEAN THAT THE UK GOVERNMENT IS MORE UNPOPULAR NOW THAN EVER AND THE ELECTORAL BENEFICIARIES, AT LEAST IN THE SHORT TERM, LOOK LIKELY TO BE THOSE WHOES IDEOLOGY GOT US INTO THIS MESS IN THE FIRST PLACE.

WHIST DAVID CAMERON’S TORIES MAY NOT BE AS OPENLY HOSTILE TO UNIONS AS HIS PARTY’S GOVERNMENTS OF THE 1980’S AND 90’S, THEIR CORE IDEOLOGY RUNS CONTRARY TO OURS AND THEIR POLICY APPROACH IS LIKELY TO OFFER US FEW OPPORTUNITIES TO ADVANCE THE PROGRESSIVE AGENDA REQUIRED TO ADDRESS THE CONSIDERABLE GLOBAL ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL CHALLENGES WE FACE IF THEY ARE ELECTED FOLLOWING THE GENERAL ELECTION.

PALESTINE
PRESIDENT I HAVE SPOKEN ABOUT LEADERSHIP AND I WANT TO CLOSE BY COMMENDING THE LEADERSHIP SHOWN BY THIS CONGRESS IN YOUR DECISION TO SUPPORT BOYCOTT, DISINVESTMENT AND SANCTIONS AGAINST ISRAEL BECAUSE OF ITS ACTIONS IN VIOLATING THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF THE PALESTINIANS, THROUGH ITS OCCUPATION; ITS SEPERATION WALL; ITS ILLEGAL SETTLEMENTS; AND ITS DENIAL OF THE RIGHTS OF PALESTINIANS TO FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT; TO LAND; TO WATER AND TO SELF DETERMINATION.

THE STUC FOLLOWED YOUR LEAD WHEN WE REACHED THE SAME DECISION AT OUR CONGRESS IN APRIL. LIKE YOU WE HAVE BEEN CRITICISED. WE HAVE BEEN CALLED RACIST AND ANTI-SEMETIC, CHARGES I STRONGLY REFUTE.

FIVE YEARS AGO THIS WEEK THE INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE RULED THAT THE SEPARATION WALL IS ILLEGAL. DESPITE THE COURT'S DECISION, ISRAEL CONTINUES CONSTRUCTION ON THE WALL, DENYING THOUSANDS OF PALESTINIANS ACCESS TO WATER, FARMLAND AND BASIC SERVICES, SOMETHING I SAW FOR MYSELF WHEN I VISITED THE WEST BANK IN MARCH.

WE ARE TRADE UNIONISTS. WHEN AND WHERE WE SEE INJUSTICE WE ARE OBLIGED TO SPEAK OUT AND TO ACT AND TO PERSUADE OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN THE INTERNATIONAL TRADE UNION MOVEMENT, INCLUDING HISTADRUT, TO DO LIKEWISE.

IN THIS WE CAN STAND TOGETHER.

CONGRESS, THANK YOU FOR THE OPPORTUNITY TO ADDRESS YOU TODAY AND PLEASE ACCEPT THE GREETINGS AND SOLIDARITY I BRING FROM YOUR COMRADES IN THE SCOTTISH TUC.