Wednesday, 3 September 2014

STV debate and the STUC's position on the referendum

I regret having to write this short blog which I worry will look stupidly self-important. But I don’t think I can get away with not doing so given proximity to the referendum and the fact that the STUC’s non-aligned position has until now been scrupulously maintained.

During last night’s live STV referendum debate (which, being on a train home from Manchester at the time, I didn’t see) Douglas Alexander MP, speaking on behalf of Better Together mentioned my name...whilst inadvertently handing me a promotion! Here’s the full context:

The following question was asked from the floor:

"Given Labour's move to the right under the guidance of Douglas Alexander and Tony Blair, would you not think Scotland would be better placed, as a left wing Labour voter, under a Labour government voted in for by the people of Scotland, in an independent government?"

Douglas answered thus:

"Well, I would start with the historical mission of the Labour movement, which has been to look out for the interests of working people.  Why is it there is not a single large trade union supporting Yes?  It’s because the Labour movement understands that our unity is our strength and it will disadvantage, not help, working people across Scotland if we have a race to the bottom on wages, on terms and conditions; if we were to see a higher tax, higher regulation, higher terms and conditions Scotland alongside what would be suggested by a Tory Government in England, lower tax, lower wages, lower regulation, what's the logic of capitalism?  That those businesses would move south.  The way that we've made advances as the Labour movement over the last 60 years is by working together.  It took the votes of working men and women in Newcastle and Belfast and Cardiff to deliver a National Health Service and a welfare state.  I believe the way that we can do that is by having redistributive policies and after seven years of a Scottish Government here in Holyrood, they haven't implemented a single redistributive measure.  Don’t take my word for it; look at the words of Stephen Boyd, the Deputy General Secretary of the STUC.”"

Although I’m very confident this wasn’t the intention, Douglas mentioning my name in this context could leave the impression that I (and by extension the STUC) am hostile to the Scottish Government and/or anti Scottish independence. I accept that a precise reading of the words doesn’t necessarily lead to this conclusion but I’m already aware that some didn’t hear it in this way.

While being unable to recall writing anything which directly conforms to the above characterisation I certainly make no apologies of being critical –sometimes very critical - of the Scottish Government although it must be stressed that I always endeavour to ensure that any of my personal media contributions – mainstream or social – are wholly consistent with STUC policy. Areas where the STUC has been most vocal in its opposition to Scottish Government policy, and where I am the policy lead, include corporation tax, tax framework post-independence and small business bonus.

Scottish Ministers tend to react reasonably constructively to this criticism.  On some issues we agree to disagree but in other areas where the STUC is not uncritical – inequality, industrial policy – there is ongoing dialogue aimed at improving policy outcomes. At our last meeting with the First Minister we agreed a programme of work to develop policy in three areas: the foundational economy, manufacturing/reindustrialisation and inequality. Being official-led this work is behind the scenes, boring and long-term. It might lead to nothing or, who knows, we might develop world changing interventions.

The STUC was of course heavily involved in the recently published Working Together review of progressive workplace policies which stands in stark contrast to the approach to industrial relations at UK level and to which the initial response from Scottish Labour was rather underwhelming.

Regarding the referendum, the STUC’s approach – which I hope is widely recognised by now – is set out in the first two A Just Scotland reports. Our third and final (pre-referendum) report will be published next week. Post referendum – whatever the result – AJS will proceed with a conference and march/rally in October.

For the sake of clarity, no individual at the STUC will take a public Yes/No stance on the referendum and will not do so as it will undermine the position of the STUC. Yes, we might from time to time take a position on social media that is more challenging to the interests of one campaign (for me that’s sometimes meant being harder on Yes as we’ve yet to be convinced by Scottish Government/Yes arguments on the macroeconomic framework) but our overall position is set out in the AJS reports. This approach will not change before the 18 September.

Stephen Boyd

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Solidarity with Gaza

The ITUC has declared today a day of action on Gaza and is calling on trade unionists and others around the world to do two things:

1. Send a message on Twitter to the UN and the Government to support peace. The message should read ‘We @ituc (@Your union name) support peace & democracy everywhere. @UN (@your national government or politician) act now for #gaza.’
If you are not on Twitter, you can post your message on Facebook.

2. Join the ITUC postcard campaign 'Peace Like Mine' and send a message to the UN Secretary General supporting peace.

To take part in the ITUC postcard campaign, you can go to the website and use a PC or mobile device to send a real postcard to the UN Secretary-General with your personal message and photo. This website allows you to send a photograph that depicts your view of peace. It might be a photo of your family or community or an activity that depicts everyday life. It also means you can add your personal message to the UN Secretary-General.

Here’s mine. Let’s see yours #peacelikemine

Everyone should be able to raise their kids in peace and stability #peacelikemine

Helen Martin

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Why we are calling on MSPs to support five motions in the Scottish Parliament calling for peace, justice and the implementation of sanctions against Israel

Five MSPs have lodged important motions in the Scottish Parliament as a response to the crisis in Gaza. 

STUC has made a statement on that crisis here

The STUC has, for some years now taken the view that Israel should be subject to an international campaign of Boycott Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS). 

As we say in the introduction to our BDS campaign pack, it was a decision not taken lightly. Over a period of two years, STUC considered the issues; consulted with Palestinian trade unionists; listened to the views of the Israeli trade unions; and in 2009, organised a major fact finding mission to Israel/Palestine where the delegation spoke with dozens of peace and solidarity organisations.

In 2009 we said:

“60 years of United Nations resolutions have not resulted in any progress for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories in Gaza and the West Bank – including occupied east Jerusalem. Israel’s continuing policy of building settlements in Palestinian territory is a violation of international law. These settlements are rightly classed by the United Nations as areas of military occupation. Over twenty thousand Palestinian homes have been destroyed by Israel since 1967 and a segregated road system is used in the West Bank to carve it into Bantustans limiting free movement, free association and economic activity.

Israel’s eighteen-foot concrete and barbed wire barrier “security fence” which is based on the expropriation of Palestinian land and the physical separation of communities has been declared illegal by the International Court of Justice and the UN. It deserves its increasingly common description as the “apartheid wall.”

The current situation

There has been no improvement since 2009 in the situation in Israel/Palestine and for many thousands not least those who have been killed, been injured or been dispossessed the situation is worse.

The STUC joined the international community in condemning the horrific kidnapping and killing of the three Israeli teenagers  which is one of central the reasons cited for the current Israeli violence in Gaza.  It is far from clear that the claims made by the Israeli Government that the killings are linked to Hamas is true  and even if it were true, there can be no justification for the scale and nature of the current Israeli attack on the people of Gaza.  Equally, STUC has condemned the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel, but neither does this justify the scale and nature of the so-called response.

Whatever actions we in the West might desire of the Government in Gaza and of the Palestinian Authority, it is inconceivable that peace can be built while the current injustices in Israel/Palestine continue.  The viability of an independent Palestinian state has been ceaselessly undermined by successive Israeli Governments and it is in the power of Israel and no other party to begin to right the wrongs of generations, starting with the dismantling of illegal settlements and sitting down to negotiating a just peace based upon United Nations Resolutions and international law. 

We desperately need a ceasefire, but a ceasefire can only be temporary until fundamental injustices are addressed.

There are many examples of national oppression across the world whether within or between states.  STUC condemns all such incidences and actively campaigns against many of these injustices.

It is sometime, therefore asked of us, why Israel/Palestine continues to be a priority and why it is Israel rather than other countries upon whom we argue that BDS should be applied.

There are a number of reasons.

1)    The United Kingdom has a particular historical responsibility in the area.  As the former colonial power;  the author of the Balfour Declaration and the party to the 1948 partition, it must play a positive role in fostering peace. 

2)    The UK does not play this role.  It continues to have a military relationship with the Israeli state and fails to argue in a consistent manner for the upholding of international law.  Whilst we might have certain tactical and policy differences with the UK Government over its stance on China, or Iran, Zimbabwe, Syria or other countries where human rights abuses are common, we are generally both on the same side in condemning repression.

3)    Because the UK and many in the international community do not take effective action to force Israel to contemplate a just peace, the situation in Israel/Palestine becomes ‘normalised’.  Settlements which are illegal under international law are just described as settlements, the ‘separation wall’ is described as a ‘security wall’ etc.  As the situation becomes normalised and people begin to accept that ‘that’s just the way things are over there’ the prospects of justice and peace diminish.

4)    However distant a prospect achieving peace and justice might be.  A just peace in Israel/Palestine could be the catalyst for achieving wider peace in the region and across the world.

5)    As a democracy, at least for the majority of Israeli citizens, and in its desire to normalise the situation in Israel/Palestine, the Israeli state can be pressured through a targeted BDS campaign and the efforts of the international community to return to the negotiating table in pursuit of a lasting peace, but only if the pressure increases.  This pressure must be political, economic and cultural.  It must, as priority, begin with the cessation of the sale of all military equipment to Israel.

Dave Moxham

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Flying the flag for LGBT Rights

So the Commonwealth Games are in full swing, and so is our rainbow flag campaign. Here are some pictures of unions flying rainbow flags in solidarity with LGBT people around the Commonwealth.

Rainbow flags outside the EIS

Rainbow flags in the window of the NUJ and Equity offices

A rainbow flag in the window of the Musician's Union

A rainbow flag fluttering on the GMB office

A rainbow flag on the UCU building

Unite flying the rainbow flag

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Flying the Flag for LGBT Rights!

Today’s the day. The opening ceremony is in just a few hours and Glasgow is buzzing and melting! What a great combination. To top it all off here are some pictures of rainbow flags to brighten up your day.

The STUC is pleased that the response to our campaign to fly the rainbow flag has been so successful. Trade Union buildings across Glasgow and all over Scotland will be flying the flag.
The Rainbow Flag on the STUC building 

A number of Councils have also joined us including Dumfries and Galloway, East Ayrshire, West Dunbartonshire and West Lothian. Glasgow City Council, as host city, is required to work within strict protocols around the flying of flags during the Commonwealth Games. It did, however, fly the rainbow flag from the City Chambers on 11 July as a symbol of solidarity with the LGBT community in Glasgow and across the Commonwealth.

The STUC was also pleased that the Scottish Government agreed to join our campaign and fly the rainbow flag on St Andrew’s House for the duration of the Games. This is the first time that the rainbow flag has officially flown on a Scottish Government building.
The Rainbow Flag on St Andrew's House

By flying the rainbow flag during the Games we aim to show solidarity with LGBT people all over the Commonwealth. Currently 42 out of 53 Commonwealth countries criminalise homosexuality resulting in LGBT people being subject to harassment, degrading treatment and even imprisonment or death. This is simply unacceptable and it is right that we should use our Commonwealth Games to raise awareness and promote a more positive vision of the future.

Join our campaign by posting pictures during the Commonwealth Games using the hashtag  #gamespride

Helen Martin

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Holiday Pay Claims Explained

 If you are paid less than your normal pay when you take a holiday then you might have a claim against your employer worth thousands of pounds.

You will have a claim if you normally receive additional payments on top of your basic salary. These might include payments for:

    Regular Bonus;
    Overtime (whether contractual or not);
    Shift allowance;
    Nightshift payments
    On-call allowance;
    Unsociable hours payments; or
    Any other payment linked to carrying out your job.

If your employer stops making these payments during periods of annual leave then you will have a claim. Due to a recent change in the law, it is unlawful for your employer to pay you basic pay when you are on holiday. If your employer has not been paying you in the correct way, you can ask the Employment Tribunal to order your employer to pay you the difference between what you have been paid and what you should have been paid. You may be entitled to claim for any underpayments going back to 1998.

It doesn’t matter what job you do. You might be working in a call centre and receiving commission for any sales you make. You might be working in a care home and receiving an allowance for when you work at night or at weekends. It doesn’t matter who your employer is- do not assume that because you work for a big employer with an HR department that they have been paying you in the right way- the chances are, they have not.   

Useful links

Please note: it is unlikely that you will have a claim if the only additional payment you receive is for expenses

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Mandela Day Book Appeal 2014

To celebrate Nelson Mandela International Day the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) and Action for Southern Africa Scotland (ACTSA) are asking people to donate children’s books to be sent to school libraries in Nelson Mandela’s home Province of Eastern Cape, with which Scotland has a particular link.

Trade Unions are opening up their offices across Scotland to the general public on Friday 18th July as collection points for the book appeal.

What are needed are children’s books, in English, to encourage reading for fun. Story books or factual books for all ages from pre-school to teenagers are welcome.

The offices taking part in the appeal are:     


333 Woodlands Road
G3 6NG

35 Young Street North Lane

Kimberley Buildings,

38 Whitehall Street

UNISON Highland Area Resource Centre
53 Shore Street,

A full list of organisations taking part in the appeal is available here:

All donations, big or small, towards the cost of shipping the books are also gratefully received.

Helen Martin

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Why the Commonwealth needs to listen to its LGBTI citizens

Below is a guest blog from the Kaleidoscope Trust. The Kaleidoscope Trust is a UK based charity working to uphold the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people internationally. 

The Commonwealth Games is one of the world’s largest and greatest sporting events, bringing together athletes from every corner of the world. From Africa to Asia, the Paciļ¬c to the Caribbean, the Commonwealth’s 2 billion people make up 30% of the world’s population and are of many faiths, races, languages, cultures and traditions. The Games themselves are an amazing celebration of the diversity of the Commonwealth – an organisation that refers to itself as a family, held together by the shared values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

In that light it is shocking that of the 53 member nations of the Commonwealth family, 42 continue to criminalise consensual same-sex activities between adults. More than ninety per cent of Commonwealth citizens live in a country that criminalises homosexuality. Over half the countries in the world that have laws banning homosexuality are in the Commonwealth. Across the Commonwealth lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people are denied equal access to rights, education, employment, housing and healthcare.

Sadly, despite the fact that there are LGBTI people and organisations in every Commonwealth country, our existence is often denied, our rights are violated and we are treated as a foreign and alien import. The voices of LGBTI people continue to be ignored in many Commonwealth spaces – political, diplomatic, sporting and otherwise. Commonwealth leaders regularly deny that LGBTI people exist in their countries, or where they do accept our existence they paint us as immoral, disordered.

Countering this myth is what underlies a lot of the work that the Kaleidoscope Trust does.  For true equality to exist across the Commonwealth, attitudes toward LGBTI people need to be changed wherever we face social and legal discrimination. In the battle for public opinion visibility is our most powerful tool. When we are visible it becomes much harder for the opponents of equality to deny our existence. When we are seen as what we are – sons and daughters, siblings and parents, workers and bosses, friends and neighbours – it becomes much harder to paint us as immoral, threatening and foreign.

That’s why we’ve been working with the Equality Network and Pride Glasgow to ensure that when the Commonwealth Games is celebrating its amazing diversity, LGBTI people are not forgotten. We are working with LGBTI people from all over the Commonwealth to make sure our voices are heard – at the LGBTI Human Rights Conference, the Pride House, Glasgow Pride and other events. Through raising our voices together we can counter the narrative that being gay, or lesbian, or bisexual or trans, or intersex is a European or an American peculiarity. Through raising awareness of the amazing work that is going on around the Commonwealth to resist invidious laws and discriminatory attitudes we can truly celebrate the diversity of LGBTI struggle, successes and lives. LGBT people are part of the incredible diversity of the Commonwealth family and we are committed to its values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

That’s also why the Kaleidoscope Trust is delighted to support the STUC’s call for unions, employers and the public sector to show their support for LGBTI rights in the Commonwealth by flying the rainbow flag during the Games. If visibility is our strongest weapon, the more rainbow flags, proudly flown from buildings across Glasgow and Scotland, the more visible we are. The rainbow flag is a vital tool in showing our solidarity with LGBTI communities across the Commonwealth and showing that LGBTI people are a part of the Commonwealth family.

For the time being, the voices of LGBTI people may be ignored by many of the governments and institutions of the Commonwealth, but we are not going away. Governments must heed us, must meet with us and must embrace us as full and equal members of society. Anything less will fatally tarnish the Commonwealth, render the Games’ fine commitment to inclusion for all meaningless, and call into question the apparently shared values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Alistair Stewart 
Assistant Director
The Kaleidoscope Trust

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Why unions can fly the rainbow flag but Pride House can’t

It might be somewhat geeky but in the course of organising the STUC’s campaign around flying the rainbow flag, (for more info on this read my last blog) I discovered a quirk in the law.

In the run up to the Commonwealth Games the Scottish Government passed some legislation restricting advertising in and around Games venues while the Games are being held. This legislation is for the most part reasonable and designed to prevent advertisers taking advantage of the Games and, in particular, aims to prevent ambush marketing, where companies try to associate themselves with an event and profit from it without going to the expense of actually sponsoring it.

This legislation therefore restricts displays (including flags) in specifically determined Games zones, in an effort to keep any unauthorised profiteering to a minimum.  

Within the legislation, quite rightly, there is a specific exemption for protest which means that the STUC, Trade Unions and others can fly the rainbow flag, even within restricted Games zones, without falling foul of the legislation. We are after all not aiming to profit from the Games, we are simply raising awareness of the fact that a group of people are routinely and systematically denied their Human Rights all across the Commonwealth – with 42 out of 53 Commonwealth countries criminalising homosexuality.  The legislation recognises our right to have a demonstration and to promote a campaign and therefore we can fly the rainbow flag as a symbol of protest and solidarity.  

So far so reasonable but then we get to Pride House.

When organising a rainbow flag flying campaign you very quickly run up against the question: ‘where do I get a six foot rainbow flag from anyway?’  To answer this, I turned to Leap Sport Scotland, the organisers of Pride House, naturally expecting Pride House to be adorned with giant rainbows advertising its existence to all the world. I was surprised to learn, however, that they had received instruction that no rainbow flags were to be flown on the building as it is within a restricted Games area.


Well you see it all comes down to the wording of the exemption around demonstrations. While protest is allowed to publicise a campaign, the exemption does not apply to activity that promotes a good or service.

Pride House is a venue that welcomes LGBT athletes, fans, and their supporters during international sporting events. Akin to the various national houses, it is a welcoming place to enjoy the event, to learn about LGBT sport and homophobia in sport, and to build relations. In this respect Pride House could be described as offering a ‘service’ to LGBT people during the games, and advertising a ‘service’ is not allowed.

So here we are in the strange situation where Trade Unions and others will be flying the flag for LGBT rights during the games but Pride House is prevented from doing the same.

This to me seems odd and out of step with the ultimate desire of the legislation – to restrict companies from profiteering and prevent ambush marketing. Given that Pride House is designed to support LGBT athletes and visitors during the Games, it seems a shame that it cannot identify itself with the internally recognised symbol of LGBT equality (after all I am sure Scotland House will fly the saltire).

The STUC, for one, hopes that this decision will be reconsidered before the start of the Games as making LGBT people visible within sport and within the Commonwealth more generally is a key aim of our campaign and also seems to be a key part of running a Pride House in the first place.

Helen Martin

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Fly the Rainbow Flag! Solidarity for LGBT people around the Commonwealth

The Commonwealth Games are coming to Glasgow. In just 27 days we will all be sitting down to enjoy the opening ceremony and looking forward to watching what is sure to be another great sporting event.

It's right that everyone in Scotland, and Glasgow in particular, should take pride in our Games and should welcome with enthusiasm the athletes and visitors to our country, but while enjoying the occasion we should also not forget some of the issues that still exist around the Commonwealth and we should aim to project a positive image of Scottish values around the world.    

It is in this spirit that the STUC is planning to fly the rainbow flag on our buildings throughout the Commonwealth Games and we are asking trade unions, employers and individuals to do the same.

By flying the rainbow flag we are recognising the Human Rights of LGBT people and celebrating the distance that Scotland has come in promoting equality for this group of people. But we are also rejecting the anti-homosexuality laws that still exist in 80% of Commonwealth countries and we are showing solidarity with the fight for Human Rights that is still being fought by LGBT people across the Commonwealth.

Why the Rainbow Flag?

The Commonwealth accounts for 30% of the world’s population. Unfortunately it has shown a stubborn refusal to recognise or protect the Human Rights of its LGBT citizens.

42 out of 53 Commonwealth countries still maintain laws which criminalise consensual and private same-sex activities between adults. The Commonwealth’s Charter may be committed to opposing ‘all forms of discrimination’ including discrimination against LGBT people, but few countries within the Commonwealth recognise this or are working to reduce discrimination against LGBT people, rather many are going in the opposite direction.

Penalties under anti-homosexuality laws across the Commonwealth include: 10 years imprisonment and hard labour in Jamaica; 14 years in Kenya; 20 years plus flogging in Malaysia; and 25 years in Trinidad and Tobago. Bangladesh, Barbados, Guyana, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Tanzania have a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, while in the 12 northern states of Nigeria the maximum penalty for male homosexuality is death.

While these laws are not always enforced, they actively create a negative and hostile environment for LGBT people who often feel like second-class citizens. They also contribute to a wider culture of abuse, harassment and degrading treatment that continues unchecked in many countries across the Commonwealth.

In Uganda the Anti-Homosexuality Act was signed into law on 24th February 2014. This Act greatly expands the range of same-sex sexual activities that are punishable by life imprisonment, including “touching with the intention” of committing homosexual acts. It also criminalises ‘promoting homosexuality’, effectively criminalising care and counselling and discouraging assembly and advocacy by Human Rights groups, NGOs and Trade Unions. Any organisation trying to work with LGBT people, will risk losing its license and individuals found guilty of ‘promotion’ face five to seven years in jail.

It is against this back-drop of criminalisation and widespread abuse of LGBT people across the Commonwealth that the STUC is running its campaign. By flying the rainbow flag we are rejecting these laws but we are also offering a symbol of hope and solidarity to LGBT people.

Join us by flying the rainbow flag in your own home or office building. The greater the visibility of the campaign the greater a symbol of hope the Glasgow Games can be.

Helen Martin

Friday, 13 June 2014

Industrial Policy - again...

The First Minister will today set out his plans for reindustrialising Scotland. Reading between the lines of last week's Sunday Herald report and listening to this morning's radio coverage it doesn't appear as if the Scottish Government paper being published today will include a great deal that wasn't already been signalled in the White Paper.

Anyway, I think I've said all I want to say on the subject of industrial policy/manufacturing and constitutional change (see here, here and here).

But I thought it might be helpful to set out the scale of the challenge that awaits. Although we hear lots about the sector's strengthening recovery, manufacturing output remains 5% below pre-recession levels and in Scotland its recovery is being sustained by only two sub-sectors: food and drink (including of course whisky) and transport equipment (just less than 1/4 of the size of food and drink).

All the other sub-sectors remain well below pre-recession output levels and, worryingly, some continue to decline.

Now anyone arguing that this failure to 'reindustrialise' or 'rebalance' is all the fault of the Scottish Government is living in cloud cuckoo land: much more relevant are the UK's longstanding structural problems that work against manufacturing (see above links) and, crucially, weakness in key export markets. But therein lies the rub: unless under any constitutional scenario policy is targeted at these structural problems (it isn't currently) and global demand is strong, domestic policy is unlikely to make much difference. Even if policy does improve, the outcomes will be long-term and highly uncertain.

No reason not to do it and I wait with great anticipation to hear the detail of what is being proposed today. As the STUC has regularly stated it's a very good thing that politicians at all levels are taking an interest in manufacturing again. But placing incredibly speculative figures on the supposed per capita financial benefits really isn't helpful. Nor is the use of those silly tropes ('levers', 'blueprints') so beloved of Government which seek to give a veneer of mechanical certainty to the outcomes of long-term economic development policy.

Stephen Boyd - STUC