Friday, 17 October 2014

Decent Work, Dignified Lives: Grahame Smith's conference speech

A warm welcome to today's conference.

I am delighted that you are here today, over 200 people from Scotlands trade unions, voluntary sector organisations, NGOs, faith organisations, from academia and from government and other political institutions.

Todays conference is, of course, being held at a remarkable time in Scotlands history; less than a month since the referendum.

While we are still trying to assess the short, medium and longer term implications of the referendum for all of us and the organisations we represent, the one thing that can be said with complete certainty is that the referendum was a triumph for democracy, and something of which the country can be proud.

The phenomenal turnout on the day came on the back of months of discussion and debate in workplaces, in communities and within families.

There was a thirst for information and engagement the like of which I have not previously witnessed.

And I am immensely proud of the role the STUC and the trade union movement in Scotland played through our ‘A Just Scotland’ initiative in responding to that demand.

The long and largely - civilised campaign resulted in a startling reinvigoration of Scottish politics.

The priority now is to ensure that a political culture, in the process of being radically transformed, starts to spawn new and effective policy solutions to Scotlands deeply embedded economic and social problems.

So the purpose of todays conference is:

To provide a space where new and effective policy interventions to tackle inequality can start to be debated and developed;

To enhance our thinking about what package of new powers might best increase the capacity of the Scottish parliament and government to deliver better outcomes for our economy and society; and to

To be constructively provocative!

The referendum debate was an enriching, empowering experience for the country as a whole, but frankly speaking - too much ‘debate(if i can call it that) during the campaign was either side playing to its own echo chamber.

Todays conference has been expressly designed to challenge preconceptions and stimulate original thought.

The excellent programme of speakers in the plenary sessions, in the workshops and in the closing panel session, was not designed to flatter the prejudices of the audience!

This will become clear throughout the day. I expect this approach to both provoke robust debate and lead to better outcomes.

Economic context

The economic context in which we are having this debate remains challenging to say the least.

Scotlands recovery from the financial crisis, the 2008/09 recession and the prolonged period of stagnation which followed, continues to be tortuously slow.

Although headline growth and employment figures suggest the recovery has gained momentum many of you here today will be aware of the reality which lies behind often misleading headline statistics:

The unprecedented collapse of real wages since 2009;

The stubbornly high levels of youth unemployment;

The historically high levels of underemployment;

The failure of full-time jobs to grow with the recovery of headline employment;

The rise of low wage, low hours 'forced' self-employment; and

The increasingly widespread use of zero hour and other forms of insecure employment contracts.

Scotland might be generating new jobs but many are low quality too many Scottish citizens, in and out of work, are not sharing in the recovery.

This is hardly surprising when the UK coalition government embarked on a programme of austerity manifestly designed to undermine the living standards and security of a substantial proportion of the population including societys most vulnerable.

In the face of a government aggressively asserting the opposite, the STUC argued in 2010 that austerity was avoidable, unnecessary and regressive and so it has turned out.

The bedroom tax, real terms cuts in benefits and wages, deep job cuts for those providing the essential public services on which the poorest rely mosti could go on.

And isnt it revealing that the FT reported only yesterday that UK tax revenues particularly from income tax - are coming in way below OBR forecast. The new model the coalition is trying so hard to embed is simply unsustainable.

If a better and fairer Scotland is to emerge at the end of the process of constitutional change that is currently focusing on enhanced devolution, a new model of economic and social development will have to evolve and quickly.

Whilst macroeconomic issues such as currency and fiscal sustainability dominated the referendum campaign, it was surprising how little economic development issues featured - dominant orthodoxy was generally not challenged by either side of the debate.

The Scottish government’s lengthy papers on re-industrialisation and economic policy choices are helpful as far as they go.

But nothing like a distinct model of Scottish economic development ever looked like emerging from the referendum debate.

In that context I'm very much looking forward to Professor Williams' presentation this morning that will point the way towards a new foundational economyapproach for Scotland. 

Policy solutions such as basic income, hitherto regarded as too radical or controversial, must be properly assessed; which Frances Coppola’s contribution this afternoon will undoubtedly help us do.

Despite the best efforts of the STUC and others in this room, some of the factors which exert a profound influence on the shape and nature of Scotlands development were almost completely absent from the referendum debate or covered in ways that were hardly serious.

These include:

How currently deeply ingrained asymmetries of economic power might be rebalanced through extending collective bargaining underpinned by enhanced trade union rights;

what is the purpose of tax and what quantities of revenue must be generated to support a better and fairer society?

And how should the financial sector be structured and regulated?

We were constantly told that tackling inequality was a priority but the policies discussed during the campaign fell far short of a serious, coherent policy programme.

The policy interventions required to tackle inequality are many and varied

But let us be under no illusion that a central plank of any strategy to tackle inequality is the presence in the workplace of strong, and effective free trade unions.

It is no coincidence that the decline in real wages as a share of our national income, the growth in zero hour contacts and forced self employment and other forms of insecure work have  occurred at the same time as unions have been under attack  politically  and industrially.

And the power imbalance we see in our economy will not be reversed until the legitimate role of unions in the workplace and in wider society is recognised and an environment exists where unions can function effectively and responsibly in the interests of working people, their families, and wider society.

The Working Together review

Earlier this year, at the suggestion of the STUC, the Scottish government established the working together review chaired by Jim Mather.

This review is potentially the most important piece of work I've been involved in in my near 30 years at the STUC and 35 years as an active trade unionist.

It is a piece of work that stands in sharp contrast to the Carr review which was launched by the UK government in the wake of the Ineos dispute to prepare the ground for legislation limiting the right to strike in key utilities and public services depending on the outcome of the 2015 UK general election.

In August, in the week that the Carr review bit the dust because neither unions nor employers provided it with evidence and Ministers undermined it by making statements prejudging its outcome, the report of the Working Together review was published in Scotland.

The report gets behind the headlines and shines a light on what unions do at a strategic level with government; the role we play as part of civil society; what we contribute at a sectoral level; and of course the impact we have in the workplace through our workplace reps.

I would encourage you to read the report and its recommendations.

I believe that if implemented the recommendations have the potential to completely change the culture of industrial relations in Scotland, to the benefit of workers, their companies and organisations, and the Scottish economy.

Enhanced devolution

The recommendations of the working together review were set in the context of our existing devolved constitutional settlement.

Following the referendum that debate has moved on, perhaps more rapidly than many of us anticipated.

Earlier this year the STUC published proposals for enhanced devolution. 

These included:

the devolution of income tax including the ability to vary all rates and bands;

more extensive borrowing powers;

the devolution of employment services and active labour market policy;

the devolution of health and safety regulation and of employment tribunals; and

increased flexibility over immigration policy.

As part of our proposals we also made the case for radical reform of local taxation.

Of course, we published our views on enhanced devolution in March, six months before the referendum.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then and it would be odd if we did not recognise and respond to the changed and changing political context post the referendum.          

Constitutional change is about powers but it is also about purpose.

For us and for a vast number of those who voted yes and no, that purpose is a fairer more socially just Scotland.

To date, the focus on enhanced devolution has been on fiscal and welfare powers. However, important levers are also those over wages and the labour market.

In formulating our response to the Smith Commission we are looking again at the case for the devolution of powers over employment and trade union law, including union recognition and collective bargaining and other forms of workplace democracyenabling interventions in the labour market and the creation of jobs to be matched to positive employment practice and action on wages. 

Helping shape the passion and enthusiasm which has manifested itself during and post the referendum into policy prescriptions which are relevant to Scotlands circumstances is a significant challenge.

It is important to be as ambitious as possible for the people whove suffered most over recent years. 

And its essential that the environmental challenge isnt relegated to an afterthought.

But the constraints imposed by being an open economy on the periphery of Europe cant be ignored.  

Policies must be radical but effective; progressive but coherent. A new approach must continue to engage those whove stood outside the political process for too long.

The STUC looks forward to working with the range of organisations represented in this room to make sure this happens and to take forward the thought and discussion that will take place at today's conference.

Thank you for coming today and I look forward to an interesting, challenging, provocative and ultimately productive day.  

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Decent Work, Dignified Lives - speeches and presentations

Yesterday's STUC conference Decent Work, Dignified Lives attended by 200 people from Scotland's trade unions, NGO's, civic organisations and Government was a great success with a number of fascinating and challenging presentations delivered through the course of the day.

Here's link to the presentations (will be updated in due course):

Plenary sessions

Grahame Smith, STUC General Secretary speech to conference

First Minister announces creation of Fair Work Convention

A New Development Model for Scotland - Karel Williams and Sukhdev Johal, Centre for Socio-Cultural Change, Manchester University

Basic Income by Frances Coppola

Scottish Labour Market in 11 charts - Stephen Boyd, STUC


Workshop 1: Inequality in Scotland - David Bell and David Eiser, Stirling University

Workshop 2: Reindustrialisation

Graeme Roy, Senior Economic Adviser, Scottish Government

Stephen Boyd, STUC

Workshop 3: Regional Economic Development - Mike Danson, Heriot-Watt University

Workshop 4: the Living Wage

Implementing the Living Wage - Rachel McEwen, Scottish and Southern Energy

Living Wage: how it is calculated and what difference it makes - Jeanette Findlay, University of Glasgow

Further Reading

The End of the Experiment: from competition to the Foundational Economy, Williams, Johal et al, 2014

The Foundational Economy: Rethinking Industrial Policy, Bowman, Froud, Johal and Williams

How to Build a Fairer City, Johal, Williams, Salento, Engelen

British Industrial Policy remains plagued by the antidote fallacy, Williams

Three posts on Basic Income, Frances Coppola

Pieria - Basic Income

Inequality in Scotland: trends, drivers and implications for the independence debate, Bell and Eiser

Constitutional Change and Inequality in Scotland, Comerford and Eiser

Reindustrialising Scotland, Scottish Government

Monday, 13 October 2014

Decent Work Dignified Lives: But what do we mean by decent work?

On the 18th October the STUC is organising a March and Rally in Glasgow under the strap line ‘Decent Work, Dignified Lives: Scotland needs a Pay Rise’ which adds to a national day of action across the UK. Coming as it does in ‘challenge poverty week’ a key message coming out of this march is around the need to raise pay and benefit levels and ensure a good level of income for people in Scotland.

However, we haven’t simply called our march ‘Scotland needs a Pay Rise’ instead we have talked about the need for ‘Decent Work’. This term isn’t simply a nice catch phrase, it speaks to a much wider concept that incorporates, but goes beyond, rates of pay and looks instead more widely at social justice issues and how the labour market functions.

‘Decent Work’ is a meaningful term that is used in international treaties and is underpinned by concepts developed by the UN and International Labour Organisation to improve workers lives and the functioning of the global economy and contributes to the fight to eradicate poverty.

The International Labour Organisation describes ‘Decent Work’ in the following way:

“Decent work sums up the aspirations of people in their working lives. It involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.”

In this way Decent Work is not simply work that pays enough for people to escape poverty but is work which is safe, which is regular and can be relied upon, thus removing the stress of imminent job loss or irregular hours. It is work that offers development and training opportunities, where workers can organise and where workplace democracy exists in a meaningful way, allowing workers a degree of autonomy and control around decisions that affect their every day working lives.

The concept of decent work underpins the Millennium Development Goals particularly MDG1: “Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger”. In the past much of the work and the focus in this area has been directed at the extreme abuse and hardship that we see in the developing world, however, with attention turning to the Post-2015 Development Agenda there is a concerted effort to place ‘Decent Work’ front and centre in the drive to eradicate extreme poverty, but also to take a broader view of where the ‘Decent Work’ agenda applies, including within more developed economies.

It is clear that much could be done to improve the UK economy and the way the labour market functions. Across our economy we have seen a number of worrying developments: growth in insecure work, including zero hours contracts, out-sourcing, and an increase in agency work; wages for the lowest paid either falling or stagnating, while wages at the top of the income spectrum continue to grow; enforcement around the minimum wage practically non-existent; enforcement of health and safety rules increasingly under-threat; and anti-trade union laws designed to restrict activity and limit workplace democracy and the coverage of collective bargaining agreements.

Many of these issues existed within our economy before the global crisis of 2008 and whilst this crisis and subsequent austerity pursued with vigour by the UK Government have exacerbated the inequalities in our labour market, and increased the plight of working people, and those struggling to find work, many of the building blocks for an economy focused on low road economic outcomes rather than high road ‘Decent Work’ objectives have been in place for some time.

The two graphs below give some idea of how workers were fairing in our economy even before the economic crash, the first showing wages as a proportion of GDP from 1955 to 2008 and the second showing the growth in weekly earnings for workers at different points of the income distribution scale from 1970 to 2010. Taken together these graphs paint a worrying picture of how our economy functions, and give some idea of how we find ourselves in a situation where workers are turning to ‘pay day loan’ companies or foodbanks, and why even if we do begin to see the economy recover, things need to change for workers to benefit.

GB weekly earnings, full-time employees, constant 2009 prices, controlled for RPI inflation, £ per week

Source Resolution Foundation analysis, ONS, ASHE, indexed using RPI

The STUC’s work on the referendum, ‘A just Scotland,’ helped put issues of social justice front and centre in the debate about the sort of Scotland that we want to see. For us, this debate was never going to end with the casting of votes on the 18th September, but rather remains a rallying point for all on the left and a challenge to kept working and striving towards the sort of country where ‘Decent Work’ for all is a reality. Indeed we are running a major conference on the 15 October which will look at issues of how our economy functions and will pick up on ideas embedded within the ‘Decent Work’ agenda.

The ‘Decent Work, Dignified Lives’ march on the 18th October is a focal point for all those who want to create a Just Scotland, tackle poverty and put ‘Decent Work’ at the heart of the political agenda. More information on attending the march can be found here.

Helen Martin

Friday, 3 October 2014

‘Post referendum – making common cause’

In post Referendum Scotland, as political priorities are set out and new alliances formed, some care should be taken over the conclusions being drawn from limited polling evidence. 

There is absolutely no doubt that it was a wonderful collective achievement to see 84.6% of those eligible to vote turning out on 18th September. The suffragettes, the working women and men, the parliamentarians and the trade unionists, who campaigned so hard for the right to vote to have a say in the laws that governed their lives, would never have believed that less than 100 years later, 16 and 17 year old women and men would be at the polling stations across Scotland. The STUC welcomed that extension of the vote and believes this should apply to all elections, across Scotland and the UK.

Numerous articles and blogs have quoted the Ashcroft poll carried out by speaking to 2,000 people after the poll closed on the 18th September. ‘71% of young people voted Yes’ the papers announced. Of the 2000 polled, 14 (yes, 14) were aged between 16 -17. 10 recorded a Yes vote, 4 a No vote.  Hardly adequate for conclusive analysis.  Looking at the data from the 98 young people polled aged 16 – 24, the outcome was much more even, with 51% voting Yes , and 49% voting No. But maybe that is not such an exciting headline.

According to a YouGov poll  51% of voters aged 16 to 24 voted no, and every age bracket, except 25 to 39 year olds (which was more ‘yes’), showed a narrow no vote majority, with a wider margin for the no vote amongst the over 65s.

Yet headlines ran which portrayed a big gap between the optimism of the young, aligned to a Yes vote, and the ‘conservative’ No vote.

There is now a danger of division developing between young and old which is damaging to the wider movement for progressive change. From our experience of the women’s movement and the trade union movement, we know that collective responses to the different issues faced at different times in our lives, are the most effective way of getting results.

Immediately following the referendum, social media was awash with comments which encouraged division.

Many of the older men and women who were on the receiving end of criticism for being ‘feart’, cautious, selfish, or for asking too many questions, are the same men and women who have spoken up for health and safety at work, for public services, for their communities and families, for a decent wage, defending terms and conditions, shaping so much of what we currently hold as important in our society.

Many of those ‘older women’ are women we know, with a proud tradition of campaigning on violence against women, fighting for good childcare, campaigning for good reproductive health policies; fighting for abortion rights; and speaking up for care work to be given the respect and pay it deserves. These are our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, and partners.  
Women in their thousands took to the streets on 30 November 2011, fighting to defend public sector pension schemes, not only for themselves and their families, but also for those who come after them. So when the young are urged to talk to their grandmothers, as at the Yes rally outside the Scottish Parliament on Saturday 27th September, let’s hope the exchange is mutually enlightening as to why each voted as they did.

Financial independence and job security were, and still are, key planks of the women’s liberation movement. For women facing a longer working life, without a huge income, no criticism or shame should be attached to being ‘cautious’. It’s the responsibility of us all to address that insecurity.  The latest labour market statistics (1) show that between May and July this year the number of people aged over 65 in employment increased by a remarkable 20,000 .  Since the start of the recession the number of people aged over 65 in employment has increased by over 65%; an increase of 80% for women. The trade union movement must demonstrate that we understand those workers’ concerns and speak for them in negotiating a better deal. This will not be well served by further division between young and old in our society, not recognising where common cause exists.

The STUC Women’s Committee and Women’s Conferences over the years focus on what unites us, and that includes ‘freedom from fear’ being so important for a safe working environment, for safe communities, and freedom from fear in the home. ‘Fear’ should not be used as a criticism of those who express it.

Women’s voices have been heard loud and clear throughout Scotland for a long time if we choose to hear them, and looking ahead, we can be sure that women must be heard around every table. Voting matters – but so does what we do next.

Ann Henderson STUC Assistant Secretary 2.10.14