Monday, 24 April 2017

Address to STUC Annual Congress by Nicola Sturgeon MSP, First Minister of Scotland

Nicola Sturgeon MSP
First Minister of Scotland
120th STUC Annual Congress

Introduction



Thank you, Grahame.  Let me again congratulate today’s award winners. 

Their achievements have made a very real difference to people’s lives - and helped to further the values of the trade union movement.

Of course, they are just a few of the outstanding examples of the important work being done by union reps across Scotland.  That work is just one of the many things that makes trades unions so vital – to our economy and our society.

And that’s relevant to what I’m going to speak about today.  Because I want to talk about the some of the ways the Scottish Government works with the STUC, and employers, to make Scotland a fairer and more prosperous country.  

General Election/Brexit

But first, I want to talk about the important decisions that Scotland faces.

Because we are, of course, at the start of a general election campaign.   

A general election campaign called by the PM for one purpose - to strengthen the grip of the Tory party and crush dissent, and to do so before criminal prosecutions for alleged expenses fraud at the last election catches up with her.

So the question that confronts us is this: what kind of country do we want to be? 
  
The different parties will obviously set out their competing visions in the weeks ahead.

One of those visions, the Tory vision, should be ringing alarm bells loud and clear across Scotland.

The hard-liners have taken over the Tory Party.

And now those Tory hard-liners want to take over the country.

Scotland knows there has always been a cost to voting Conservative.

But the price of voting Tory at this election has never been higher.

And it will be those least able to pay that price who will bear the biggest burden.

The Tories will impose a double hit on Scottish families and communities:

They will make Scotland a poorer country.

And a more unfair, unequal society.

Don't just take my word for it.

The Resolution Foundation think-tank issued its annual audit of living standards recently.

It said this: “A particularly tight squeeze on poorer households will actually see their incomes fall, and is set to drive the biggest rise in inequality over a parliament since Margaret Thatcher’s time in Downing Street.”

And they go on to say:

“….the unequal impact of the upcoming squeeze is the result of government policy on tax and benefits.

Now, much of political debate in the UK at present, of course, is dominated by Brexit.

And our relationship with Europe is of central importance to the kind of country we will be.

But the hard-line Tory plans for post-Brexit Britain are about far more than EU relations.

They see Brexit as a means to an end.

And that end is a low tax, low wage, low regulation UK. 

We already know Brexit will hit wages and jobs here in Scotland.  Leaving the single market will cause serious damage to our export prospects.  It could jeopardise the vital inward investment that creates jobs.  And it could limit our ability to attract and retain those EU citizens who contribute so much to our society and our workforce.

The UK Treasury itself has said Brexit will leave the whole of the UK “permanently poorer”.

But there is even more at stake.  EU legislation currently guarantees us important rights – covering things like paid leave, working hours, and maternity pay.  It sets baseline standards when it comes to health and safety practices and the treatment of agency workers.  And it provides us with important protections from discrimination.   

But now the Tories are threatening to walk away from the EU entirely and in their words “change our economic model.”

We should be in no doubt. 

A changed model is precisely what the former Chancellor, Lord Lawson had in mind when he said: “Brexit gives us the opportunity …..to finish the job that Margaret Thatcher started.”

That would be a catastrophe for Scotland’s communities.

Even with a small majority the Tories have introduced the bedroom tax,  the two-child tax credit cap and the shameful rape clause. 

With a large majority of hard-line Tories, our social security system – that so many depend upon – will never have been in greater danger. And we have seen just this weekend that the triple lock on pensions will be under threat too.

The truth is the Tories are starting to think they can do anything to Scotland and get away with it.

Brexit is a good example of that. 

Despite saying she would seek a UK approach to triggering Article 50, the Prime Minister rejected the Scottish Government's compromise plan to protect our place in the single market.

Indeed she announced unilaterally, with no consultation, that the UK was to leave the Single Market – no matter the cost. 

As a result Scotland now faces the prospect of being taken out of the EU, against its will.

And I know we share the same concerns as the STUC and want to see many of the same solutions.  How many of us could honestly look any worker in the eye and say we trust Theresa May’s Tories with the minimum wage, employment rights or equalities law.  I know I couldn’t.

Far from seeing an overdue crackdown on zero hours contracts by a UK government, for example, we'd be more likely to see an erosion of workers' rights that would be both dangerous and unacceptable.

And when it comes to migration - yes there are challenges that must be addressed - but we cannot stand by and watch EU citizens living in Scotland be deprived of their rights and nor can we allow Theresa May to shut the doors of this country to a valued workforce in a way that risks shutting the doors of many of our businesses or driving away essential staff for our public services.  That would be an act of economic self harm that would damage all of us. And it would be wrong. Politicians must have the courage to say so.

So I can tell you that the SNP and the Scottish Government support the 6 key demands that the STUC is making and with a strong voice at Westminster and a strong Scottish parliament we will keep fighting to bring those powers to Scotland at the earliest opportunity. 

The fact is that it has never been more important for people across Scotland to think clearly and ask themselves this question:

How can we best protect Scotland from the hard-line Tories? 

That’s why the next few weeks – and the next two years, as Brexit negotiations are completed – will be hugely important for Scotland’s future.

Indeed, faced with the prospect of a PM who, in her own words, wants to strengthen her own hand to deliver the kind of hard Brexit she wants, it is more important than ever that, firstly, Scotland sends strong voices to Westminster and then, when the terms of Brexit are clear, that the people of Scotland should have a choice about our own future.  

For a Westminster government to seek to block that choice - and instead decide our future for us - is undemocratic and unsustainable. 

Meeting Economic Challenges

Of course, in addition to protecting our relationship with Europe, the Scottish Government is also working with unions to meet other challenges that our country faces.  We’re still recovering from the global downturn in the oil and gas sector.  UK cuts to public spending have harmed our economic growth, our public services and our social security system.  And, partly as a result, too many people find themselves in jobs that offer too little stability or security.   

There are other longer term issues facing our economy.  These include our need to raise productivity; to adapt to the requirements of an ageing population; to ensure that everyone can earn a decent living, as more jobs become automated; and to manage the move to a low or no carbon economy.

Now the Scottish Government has taken major steps to meet these challenges and seize new opportunities.  

For example, we’ve supported the establishment of eight innovation centres – bringing together academia and businesses – to ensure Scotland remains at the forefront in areas of huge economic importance, like biotechnology, oil and gas, and data science.

We’ve made unprecedented investment in Scotland’s infrastructure, through transport projects like the Queensferry Crossing, the Aberdeen Western Peripheral route, and the Edinburgh-Glasgow rail improvements;   and through our broadband programme,  which is on track to deliver superfast broadband access to 100% of homes by 2021.  

And we’ve taken every opportunity to support a vibrant green economy.  That support has helped Scotland become a world-leader in renewable energy.

But we know that one of the most important things we can do to build a stronger economy is to tackle inequality.  The evidence is clear that greater inequality has a negative impact on economic growth.  That’s why creating a more equal society is at the heart of our economic policy.

Support for Trade Unions

And we know that strong trade unions play a hugely important role in helping achieve that.  Research shows that lower levels of union membership reduces pay – not just for union members, but across society. 

That’s why we value trade unions and the contribution you make to our economy.  That is why we opposed the UK Trade Union Act.   That legislation represents a direct threat to unions; to the fundamental rights of workers; and to the collaborative approach we take here in Scotland.

And let me make clear today - the SNP supports it's immediate repeal.

But in the meantime, through our Trade Union Fair Work and Modernisation Fund, we’ve sought to limit the negative effects of the Act.  Today, I can announce that over the next year we will provide an additional £250,000 to that Fund.  It will ensure that trade union reps are not needlessly diverted by the burdens of the legislation from their most important role – supporting members and promoting fairer work practices.

And where the Scottish Government has the power or the discretion, as an employer, we will not invoke the provisions of the Act against unions.  We will ensure that check-off remains and is not delivered at cost which penalises unions.  And we will use our discretion as an employer to ensure the minimum one week notice period for industrial action is required.

Make no mistake. The Tories' legislation is designed to weaken unions. To cast you as an enemy.

Well, let me be clear. You are not the enemy. You are our partners.

Sometimes, you are critical partners - that's as it should be.

But you are vital partners. 

By standing together and working together, we will build a better country.

Fair Work

That's why we must do more than just mitigate the consequences of the UK Government’s Trade Union Act.  We want to work with you to build a fairer, more prosperous nation.  For example, the Scottish Government and the STUC have agreed to work together on a project examining the impact of technological advances on the labour market.  That’s going to be one of the key issues affecting the workforce in the coming years.  So it’s vital that government, unions and employers work together to adapt to its implications.

This kind of partnership approach underpins Scotland’s Fair Work Convention.  The Convention brings together representatives from unions and the public, private and third sectors to help shape and drive our agenda for Fair Work. 

As you know, the Living Wage is a big part of that agenda.  The Scottish Government was the first government in the UK to pay the real Living Wage.  

And wherever we can, we use procurement to encourage its use in all public sector contracts.  And through the initiative that the Scottish Government funds, more and more Scottish-based organisations have now become accredited Living Wage employers.  When I spoke to this Congress in 2015, 150 companies had signed up.  Today, more than 780 organisations are accredited.  And we’ve set a target of increasing that number to 1000 by the end of the autumn. 

In addition, almost 350 companies have signed our Scottish Business Pledge - committing themselves to good employment and business practices.  One of the values the Pledge seeks to encourage is gender equality in the workplace.  That’s another major focus of Fair Work agenda.  

We know we need to close the gap between the proportion of men and the proportion of women in the workforce.  Our commitment to almost double free childcare entitlement will help achieve that, by removing one of the main barriers that prevents women returning to work.  

And we also want to address the lack of women in senior positions.  That’s why, later this year, we will legislate to ensure gender balance on public sector boards.  

But as you all know, there are employment inequalities across other protected characteristics – like race and disability.  So I can announce today that, through our new Workplace Equality Fund, we will provide an initial £500,000 to help address these disparities.  The money will go to groups who can demonstrate that their efforts will help people overcome barriers to employment.

It’s a small but potentially significant way in which we can help address a major economic and social issue.  And it’s in-keeping with the broader principles of the union movement.  By ensuring everyone in society is able to flourish, everybody in Scotland will benefit.  

Conclusion

Since the start of devolution, the STUC has worked with different Scottish Governments to make Scotland a more equal, inclusive and successful country.  You’ve helped the Scottish Parliament legislate for social progress.  And you’ve been at the vanguard of making workplaces more productive and protecting  people in Scotland from the worst effects of austerity.

As I said at the beginning of this speech, this is a challenging time for Scotland.  We face the prospect of a Brexit, implemented by an out-of-control, hard-line Tory party. 

But through all the challenges we face, our trade union movement remains a source of huge strength for our country.  I want to thank you for all you do.  And I pledge that the Scottish Government will continue to work with you to make Scotland a fairer, more prosperous and more equal nation.  

Thank you.

Address to STUC Annual Congress by Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of the Labour Party

Jeremy Corybn MP
Leader of the Labour Party
120th STUC Annual Congress

Comrades and friends, it’s great to be in Scotland, and it’s wonderful to be here at the STUC.

The STUC has a wonderful tradition of fighting for working people in Scotland and influencing public policy debates on behalf of working people. 
The STUC, and its trade union and trades council affiliates, have been at the forefront of progress in Scotland. 

It’s the collectivism of the trade union movement through working people fighting alongside each other that has always been and always will be the driver of great progressive change in Scotland, in the rest of the UK and across the world. 

And no more so is that the case than the inspiring young activists involved with the Better Than Zero campaign.  Their vibrant and engaging action is a shining example of modern trade unionism, carrying on the historic fight in a system still rigged against working people.

But that fight is one we have all collectively committed to and continue to do so, because friends, it works.  And we won’t let anyone tell us otherwise.
It’s trade unions that have driven up wages and living standards, health and safety in the workplace, and challenged prejudice and discrimination.
And its Unions that have worked with ourselves in the Labour Party to transform our society to offer the opportunities to our people that so many of our forefathers, and especially our foremothers, unfortunately did not enjoy themselves.

They are our heroes. It was our predecessors who suffered exploitation in the workplace and wider society, and it was they who were not prepared to stand idly by, who instead chose to fight back and win many of the gains that we enjoy today. 

Our NHS, our social security safety net, our education system, and so much more, were won on the shoulders of these giants in the Labour and trade union movement and none of us should ever forget that. 

Friends, that’s why I could not be at a better or more appropriate place to start our General Election Campaign in Scotland.

We are standing for the many, not the few. And it is through our collective power in a trade union that we ensure the many, standing together, have the power to stand up to the rich and powerful few.

The Labour Party will always cherish, sustain and protect our relationship with the Trade Union movement and the working people you represent. You are our DNA, you are our family, and we will never, ever apologise for the closeness of our relationship with you.

Friends, just like Keir Hardie, I am proud to be a trade unionist and I carry my card everywhere I go!

That is why one of the very first things we will do when forming our Labour Government will be to repeal the vicious Tory Trade Union Act, giving working people the rights to collectively organise and make their lives better, safer and more content.

While the timing of the election was unexpected, the choice is clear and the stakes are high.

But let no-one be in any doubt: we are in this election to win it, and we will fight for every seat in every corner of these isles.

I said the other day that the dividing lines in this election could not be clearer from the outset: it is the Conservatives, the party of privilege and the richest, versus the Labour Party, the party that is standing up for working people to improve the lives of all.  That is the real choice. 

Only us or the Tories can form a Government, and I implore Scots to fight for the party of progress, and not the vicious Tory Party, who alongside their previous coalition partners, the Lib Dems, unleashed an unprecedented attack on working people in this country. 

The choice facing the country at this election is clear: it's the people versus the powerful. 

Labour will challenge the rigged system that is holding our country back.
In this election Labour will offer hope to the nurse, the teacher, the small trader, the carer, the builder, the office worker, the bus driver, the factory worker, the farm labourer and the factory worker.

We will provide the change and the transformative policy programme that puts power and opportunity in people’s hands. 

We will fight this election offering a positive vision for our country. We will present to the British people an economic and political alternative, and a promise that we will make our country work for the many not the few.

We will make jobs better and more secure with a real living wage and stronger rights at work. 

We will end the public sector pay cap that disrespects our committed public servants every day.

We will end the need for food banks. 

We will upgrade our economy to create wealth for all our people in the 21st Century through investment in our infrastructure, helping our small businesses, delivering high skill jobs and ending poverty pay. 

We will never put tax giveaways to the corporations and the wealthiest above our vital public services like our social care system and NHS, and those engines of opportunity our schools and colleges. We will give them the funding they need.

The Scottish people are facing a crucial choice in this election. The Tories are trying to use Brexit to turn Britain into a low-wage tax haven, run in the interests of the powerful. 

Labour will negotiate a Brexit that will build on the gains won for workers, consumers and the environment in the EU. We will put jobs, living standards and human rights first.

Friends, this is a General Election; it is not a referendum, and only Labour can form a Government and offer an alternative that will transform the lives of Scots.

The truth is that the Tories and SNP are obsessed with their power struggles against Brussels and Westminster, when the energy should be used to change and transform our economy to ensure no-one and no community is left behind.
The Tories are Tories…they will always seek to undermine, dilute or simply eliminate all the gains that we won. That’s who they are and that’s what they do. 

The Tories act for the powerful, and the powerful back them.  That’s what we are up against, that’s what our predecessors were up against; it never stopped them and it won’t stop us.

Much of the media and establishment are saying that this election is a foregone conclusion.

They think there are rules in politics, which if you don’t follow you don’t win. 
So you start doffing your cap to powerful people, accepting their parameters so nothing can really change. Comrades, it is when you start doing that, that you really can’t win.

Our movement knows it. It is only by us standing together as the people, for the many not the powerful few, that we really win. 

Friends, only Labour has the policies that will challenge these powerful interests, and transform the lives of working people. 

And friends let us remember that the only REAL Progressive Alliance is the Labour and Trade Union movement WORKING TOGETHER … it always has been and always will be. 

That’s why Labour is campaigning to win every seat across the whole country. 
The deal we'll do is with the electorate is to be a government for the many not the few.

The truth is that the politics and policies of Labour are needed now more than ever as our country becomes more unfair, more unjust and more unequal. 
In Scotland, 260 thousand children, 40,000 more than last year, are living in poverty.

Health inequalities stubbornly persist, educational attainment differences are worsening, and the numbers of people working but still considered to be living in poverty are at their worse point since devolution. 

That’s surely where the focus of all politicians should be.

We will redistribute the wealth in our society to ensure that people are paid at least a real living wage of £10 an hour. 

Transforming the lives of the near half a million Scots who currently earn less than the living wage, wiping out at a stroke the concept of ‘working poor’.
We will protect pensioner incomes by legislating to keep the Triple-Lock on state pensions, protecting the pensions of over 1 million Scottish pensioners, guaranteeing them a basic income necessary to live a dignified life in retirement. 

Only Labour will protect pensions.

We will make sure public spending will be used to force a change for good in working and environmental conditions, equal opportunities and fair pay. 
We will put conditions on the massive public spending budget with private business to ensure no company wins a public contract if they avoid or evade taxes, don’t pay their local suppliers on time, or don’t recognise trade unions. 
This will benefit Scottish workers and Scottish small businesses currently contracted by the UK Government to the tune of billions of pounds. 

We will create a Scottish National Bank under Scottish control and backed by the National Investment Bank, with £20bn of lending power to deliver the funds to local projects and Scotland's small businesses, creating work and stimulating the economy. 

We will aggressively take on the tax avoiders and evaders, starting with having corporations publish their tax returns.

We will ban zero hour contracts, giving new protections to the 60,000 Scottish workers currently with no guaranteed hours. How can people plan or just pay the rent when they have no security of income? 

Is it right they wake every morning and then wait for a text? Not a text from loved ones or a family member, but to see if they have a job that day?

Unlike others, we will set up inquiries into blacklisting and Orgreave, and we would urge the Scottish Government to set up an inquiry into the actions of the Scottish police during the Miners’ strike.

We will give all workers equal rights from day one, to stop some workers being exploited and others undercut.

We will introduce a right to own, giving workers first refusal when their company faces a change of ownership or closure.

We’ll properly fund the Health & Safety Executive, shamefully cut back under this Government, compromising those great gains that our movement has historically fought so hard for.

And we will work with trade unions and industry to reintroduce sectoral collective bargaining across the country.

We will also introduce 4 new public holidays giving people the time to lead better and more fulfilling lives, helping productivity at the same time. And we will ask for the support of the governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland so that the same four holidays can be enjoyed across the United Kingdom.

Friends, our aim is a country where everyone who can has the dignity OF work, and where everyone has a guarantee of dignity AT work.

Friends, these are the type of transformative policies that can change people’s lives for the better.

Just like always has been, it is only Labour that will deliver for working people, small businesses and our most vulnerable people, none of the rest would even think of these type of policies, let alone achieve them.

Friends, it is only Labour that will focus on the kind of country we need to have after Brexit.

In the coming weeks Labour will lay out more of our policies that will unlock opportunities for every single person in this country.

We will focus on giving people real control over their own lives and make sure that everybody reaps a just reward for the work that they do.

We will no longer allow those at the top to leach off of those who bust their guts on zero hours contracts or those forced to make sacrifices to pay their mortgage or their rent.

Instead of the country’s wealth being hidden in tax havens, we will put it in the hands of the people of Britain, because they are the ones who earned it.
In this election Labour will lead the movement to make that change. 

We will build a new economy worthy of the 21st century, and we will build a country for the many, not the few.

Thank you very much.

Presidential Address to 120th Congress

Helen Connor, EIS
Presidential Address
120th STUC Annual Congress

Good morning Congress and welcome to Aviemore.  It is an honour and a privilege to address you as STUC President.  To be honest, I’m not exactly sure how I got here – but here I am – my usual quiet, unassuming self.

Those of you who know me well will know that I don't normally, indeed almost never, write a speech before delivery. The one time that I do...what happens? A little change has to be made?...Eh no! A General Election is called! A detailed response to this will be given later in Congress but it would be remiss of me not to comment.

Let's look at Theresa May, the person who, apparently whilst walking in Wales came to this decision. This is the same Theresa May who, on at least 3 occasions since she took office in July last year said: 'there will be no general election'. This is the same Theresa May who was a ‘remainer’ during the Brexit referendum but has now done a huge volte- face. This is the same Theresa May who, when a 2nd Independence Referendum was being discussed said ‘Now is not the time!’

So I tell you what slogan cannot be used in the next 7 weeks - Trust Theresa? Trust the Tories? I don't think so!   How can we trust her on employment rights? How can we trust her with our pensions?  How can we trust someone who thinks it is right to have a rape clause in the welfare system? Shame on her and shame on Ruth Davidson who has consistently refused to condemn it!

So Congress, as a movement, it's full steam ahead for the next 7 weeks. We must engage our members in the debate, we must ensure that poverty, jobs, public services, transport, the NHS and education are at the forefront of this campaign.

We must ensure that the next UK Government is one which has the interests of working people at heart.   We must work together, as a movement, to ensure that the Tories do not form the next Government! But I’ll say more on looking at the next few weeks later, in the meantime you'll forgive me if I look back.

On occasions like this sometimes we can get nostalgic, and forgive me if I look back a little before addressing the wider issues facing us.  The one thread which has run through all my life, even as a youngster, is a hatred of injustice.

At school and at college I was always at the forefront of campaigns which tackled this issue – whether that was about fairness for the then non certificate pupils at my school, the challenge to teachers who really only bothered with the ‘most able’ or the injustice in the late 70s of the attempt to close Colleges of Education in Scotland. I still remember the boldness of student unions across the country in occupying colleges to keep them open. Indeed I well remember being involved in occupying the then Jordanhill College for 10 weeks. There was a degree of excitement in being able to be on the switchboard saying Jordanhill College of Occupation, rather than Jordanhill College of Education!  We built that campaign over a period of time and did indeed save these colleges for at least the next 10 years.

I still smile to myself when I remember that during that time I was so busy with the occupation that I failed all my exams. I didn’t tell my parents. I just worked really hard for the resits and passed all of them! 

At that time in my life the greatest injustice for me was the sudden loss of my father at the age of 52.  My wee dad was one of the cleverest men I’ve ever met but he was the oldest of a family of 5 and had to leave school at 14 in order to make money for the family.  He worked all his days in Welma/Sunblest bakeries and was involved in the trade union there.  He wasn’t a party political man but had a huge sense of fairness which he passed on to me – along with his love of Partick Thistle.  Sadly he died a few months before my graduation but I hope that over the years I have made him proud in my continued fight for fairness.

Another major turning point in my life was linked to the loss of my mother to lung cancer.  I was teaching in a fairly challenging school in Coatbridge at the time and took some time off to look after my mum. I had no regrets about doing that. However on my return to work, my experience was not a great one!  Without going into too much detail, I was very clearly bullied. Let’s not forget that most people who are bullied in their workplace are bullied at the point when they are most vulnerable!  I know, for a lot of you in this Auditorium, the idea of me being bullied is a bit odd. After all she’s loud, articulate, confident, you might say!!  That is true now but it has not always been the case.  From the time this happened to me, I became determined that I was not going to allow this to happen to anyone else and that determination is what has driven me ever since.

One of the most rewarding parts of my year as President has been the opportunity to address the Equalities Conferences, meet new delegates, young and old and share my story.   I hope that story and my openness about how tough things can and have been will help encourage others.  The message of the Trade Union Movement has to be - no matter where you are in our Movement, others will be there to support.  We are only as strong as one another. We must never forget the individuals who face difficulties in their workplace day and daily. That is who our Movement is here to protect.

My involvement in the EIS locally and nationally over the last 30 years has been very varied – as in all unions, we’ve had successes and failures – we’ve experienced highs and lows but rest assured without the EIS, teachers and lecturers across Scotland would be far worse off.

Without my involvement in the EIS, I would never have become involved in the STUC and I’m grateful to everyone in the EIS over the years for their encouragement to become involved in the wider trade union movement.  Of course I wouldn’t have become involved in the EIS if I hadn’t been in education.  For the last 32 years I’ve been a teacher, both in primary and secondary sectors.  In all that time I can rarely recall a period when I was more angry than I am now! 

We are faced with a Scottish Government whose mantra is “We will close the attainment gap”.

We will improve Scottish education whilst at the same time cutting back on money given to Local Authorities which run education.  We have a Government which embarked on a governance review in education which no-one appeared to want, a governance review intended to divert directly to Head Teachers.  Earlier this year, the review was put on hold pending consultation and, excuse my cynicism, to avoid it being an issue in the forthcoming Council elections. But lo and behold, the Pupil Equity Fund emerged. And what does that do? It gives money directly to Head Teachers!  Don’t get me wrong, additional money for education is always welcome but this approach is fraught with danger. It can undermine the role of Local Authorities in running our schools and being accountable for doing so!  It could, longer term, lead to the academy approach which we see down South!

Let me be very clear to the Scottish Government and indeed the Scottish Tories, that the approach will not be tolerated in Scotland.  We value our children’s education too much to allow it to become a lottery!











Don’t get me started on closing the attainment gap!  This is an issue which goes far wider than the education system – it is directly linked to poverty.  How do you expect children to attain when they are hungry, don’t have heating in their homes or indeed a permanent home? You need look no further than the I Daniel Blake film to see how devastating poverty is in the lives of many!  Tackling this issue is a wider societal issue!  Schools can help but the deep rooted causes of poverty begin far earlier than that.  I’ll tell you how you don’t tackle the attainment gap- and that is by continually testing children by the use of standardised tests! As a teacher, as a professional, I will not give the same test to all children when I know that their abilities are different. Why do we differentiate our teaching and then administer the same test! I didn’t come into teaching to see children fail!  Just as well I’m retiring soon, as I will not sacrifice my professionalism and the self-confidence of my pupils in order to provide the Scottish Government with data! Our children deserve better.

Our children also deserve a better future – a future without poverty, a future without greed, a future without war, a future without fear.  You can tell from this that I am desperately trying to be optimistic about the future.  Easier said than done.

I reflect back to Dundee last year and listening to Lawrence’s Presidential Address and thinking to myself – I’m sure things will get better!  How wrong was I?  It has been a very quick but extremely eventful year.

Who would have believed that we would have woken up on June 24th to find that the UK had voted to leave the EU.  No matter your views on this Congress, I know they’ll be varied, make no mistake about it, that referendum did not take place because the British people wanted it. It took place because David Cameron was trying to appease people within his own Party!  It was a shameful abuse of power by a Prime Minister. Incidentally where is he now?  Rest assured he’s not worrying about factories closing, border controls or zero hours contracts, and the trepidation of EU citizens living, working and studying in Scotland and fearful of the future!  No, he and George have got their cosy wee jobs, leaving the Trade Union Movement to champion the cause of the workers.  After that Brexit vote I heard a lot of people saying – well it’s the will of the British people so we must honour the result. It is our responsibility to challenge the assumptions underlying that result. It is our responsibility to challenge anti-immigration feelings. It is our responsibility to make it clear to the people of Scotland, and indeed the UK, the risk we face to the rights which the EU affords us as workers, citizens and unions.

This feels like a year when truth died to be replaced by fear. This is not just a UK phenomenon. Look at developments across the world.  It is very difficult to look at the last year and not mention election of Donald Trump, the chaos this has caused and the legitimacy it has given to the rise of the political right across the world. 

Again I go back to our role to challenge. It is not good enough to abhor his views, Le Pen’s views, UKIP’s views from the side-lines. We must be upfront as a Movement in our challenge to them. Whether it is your neighbour, workmate or family member, it has to happen.    We also have to openly challenge the abhorrent rape clause in the recent child benefit forms!  What kind of society do we live in that thinks that kind of treatment of women and children is acceptable.  Ruth Davidson should be ashamed of herself for acting as an apologist for this abhorrent policy.

We must never let an injustice go by unchallenged.  As Martin Luther King said – ‘what you do not say is often more important that what you do’!

So how do we, as a Movement, continue and strengthen challenge within society?  How do we make trade unions and the trade union activity more relevant?  Sure, we hear on the news and in the media when there are strikes, normally when they’re pointing out the inconvenience caused. I never quite get why the media appears surprised at this inconvenience. The whole point of industrial action is to demonstrate the inconvenience that would be caused if workers were not doing the job that they do. Let there be no mistake though Congress, industrial action will always be the last resort for trade unions and their members and so it should be.  Industrial action has to be the culmination of a campaign and a tactic which must ensure success!

However let us also be very clear that the fundamental right of an individual to withdraw their labour is paramount.  It is a right which has been fought for over the years and one which the Trade Union Act seeks to undermine.  As a Movement we are very clear – we will never surrender that right!  We have work still to do on the Trade Union Act, and let the message go out from this Congress that our fundamental right to strike is not and never will be up for grabs!

One of the biggest challenges facing us as a Movement over the next few years, and I do mean years, is that of public sector pay!     The 1% pay cap on the public sector over the last few years has meant a real terms pay cut for public sector workers who are often working long hours, very stressed, suffering from work-related illnesses and feeling extremely undervalued.  So, I ask myself, why have we not had mass industrial action across the country in order to highlight this issue and put maximum pressure on employers and politicians?  The answer to that is very varied and I’m sure we all have our own interpretation and analysis.  My analysis, and it is only my analysis, is that as a Movement we need to ensure that all of our affiliates have a detailed organising strategy.  By that I mean an organising strategy which is long-term!  Let me take a few minutes to explain what I mean.  Those of you in the Auditorium who know me well will no doubt have a wry smile at me choosing a cake analogy here!

A cake, as you all no doubt know is made up of many layers ending with the ‘icing on the top'.  A trade union and its members are exactly the same. In order to get to the ‘icing on the cake’ which is very well supported industrial action, we must get the ingredients of the other layers correct. Those layers are the organisational strategy. Those layers are about the work of reps, and stewards at branch level Those layers are the small but very worthwhile gains made by union branches day and daily, whether they be on health and safety issues, or ending zero hours contracts, or achieving guaranteed tea breaks or facilities, or automatic time off for training, or sick pay, or pensions or equal pay and the many other gains made at workplace level all the time. 

Those layers are about communicating with members in many different ways, through traditional meetings, through speaking to people one to one, through social media. Those layers are about ensuring our members have access to quality union led workplace learning. Those layers are about training and supporting people on a daily basis wherever and whenever they need it.  Those layers are about the STUC’s role in supporting affiliates in their organising work, including access to the Union Modernisation Fund which will enable all of these activities to happen!

If we, as a Movement, work on making sure these layers are built on a solid foundation then when we get to the stage of putting the cake in the oven, everything will be in place.  Without a long-term organising strategy how can we expect people to support trade union action. It is arrogant of us to expect members to follow our lead if we have not led them properly, if we have not taken them with us.  With the Movement organised and involved then the icing on the cake should bring us victory every time.

Continuing on the theme of challenge, the STUC itself faces challenges in the way we operate with and co-ordinate within our affiliates.  My Presidential year has been a challenging one as we embarked on a restructuring internally and a reorganisation of affiliation fees through a hard fought agreement with affiliates and the TUC to ensure that Congress is properly resourced to meet the growing demands of devolution and to develop the STUC's campaigning and organising. As an organisation, we have a key role to play in supporting unions in their organising and campaigning activity. I assure you we will continue to fulfil that role.  And, as ever, the work of our Equalities Committees and Conferences will be at the forefront of the work we take forward in the coming year. What they do in tackling discrimination and campaigning for equality is central to our work.

None of the work of the STUC can be taken forward without the dedication and hard work of all of the staff.  It’s not really until you are in this position that you realise the amount of work the staff put in.  I would like to put on record my personal thanks to them for their support during the last year.  I’d also like to thank Satnam, my Vice-President and Pat Rafferty, our Treasurer, and all other members of the General Council for making my year such a smooth and enjoyable one.

I’ve left three people to the end as I feel they deserve special mention.  My own union, EIS General Secretary, Larry Flanagan.  At meetings of the General Council you can always guarantee Larry has read all the papers thoroughly and will ask the difficult and informed questions!  On a serious note, Larry has been a great support to me during this last year – always a good listener.

My thanks also go to Dave Moxham, the STUC's Deputy General Secretary, for all his support and encouragement throughout the year – again always available to advise.

Last but certainly not least, my sincere thanks go to Grahame Smith, the STUC's General Secretary.  A few people have said to me that Grahame has aged during my year as President. The poor guy is always on tender hooks as to what I’ve got up to say or do next!  I’m sure I’ve not been as rebellious as he thought.  From the many briefings at 8am to the odd ‘well I wouldn’t advise that’ his advice, support, sometimes grumpiness, but very genuine friendship has been great.  Thanks Grahame.

In conclusion Congress, I’ve had a great year, I remain optimistic that together as a Movement we are stronger together and I hope you enjoy the next few days.


Thank you for listening. 

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Protect Scotland’s Pubs



It is estimated that there are nearly 1000 tied pubs in Scotland with one in almost every community. Tied pubs are those ‘tied’ into rent arrangements with large owning companies – often known as ‘pubcos’.

Under the current arrangements, these tenants often have a contractual obligation to buy some or all of their products from the pubco at inflated prices. This can restrict the choice of beer, cider, wine and spirits available for customers and result in more expensive drinks.

From my experience meeting with Tied Pub tenants in my own West Scotland region, I know how one-sided these tied arrangements can be. Many tied pub tenants have described the difficultly in making a profit with increasing rents and prices. Some have also described their frustration at being unable to sell local products, which are popular with customers and support their communities.

In May 2016, a Pubs Code and Adjudicator alongside a Market Rent Only option was introduced in England and Wales to give more freedom to tied pub tenants there. It will give tied pub tenants the potential opportunity to opt out of their tied arrangements should they wish and ensure they pay a fair market price for their premises.

A new voluntary code was recently introduced in Scotland, but is not adhered to by all pub companies and does not go as far as the statutory code in England and Wales.

Under the current arrangements, Scottish tied pub tenants are unfairly disadvantaged compared with their counterparts in other parts of the UK. That’s why I have launched a consultation on a proposed Tied Pubs (Code and Adjudicator) (Scotland) Bill to make conditions fairer for tied pub tenants in Scotland.

My Bill would establish a Scottish Pub Code and Adjudicator alongside a Market Rent Only option like the one currently in place in England and Wales, giving Scottish tied publicans the same rights and opportunities as those south of the border.

This Bill is about three key things: fairness, choice and jobs. Fairness for Scotland’s publicans so that they pay a fair price for their premises and the products they sell; greater choice over the products on sale and the creation and protection of jobs in Scotland’s pub and brewing industry.

Times are tough in the pub sector in Scotland with many local community pubs under threat of closure.

Access to a fair and reasonable market rent for premises, without strings attached, should be a right for Scottish publicans. By enabling Scottish tied pub tenants the opportunity to opt out of their tied arrangements if they wish, this will provide them with the flexibility they need to react to changes affecting their business in a crowded and competitive market place. It would also provide customers with a greater choice of products at potentially lower prices.

As GMB Scotland Organiser Martin Doran has said, with greater protection for workers in the industry as well as the potential opportunity to create lots of new jobs, this proposal would provide a much needed boost to Scotland’s pub and brewing industry.

It is for all of the aforementioned reasons that this bill already has the support of several organisations including GMB Scotland, Scottish Licensed Trade Association and the Campaign for Real Ale.

The consultation will be open until the 20th of June 2017 and I would ask everyone who is passionate about their local pub and the wider pub industry in Scotland to respond. The more responses received, the more momentum we can get behind this Bill which would ensure a fairer deal for Scotland’s publicans.

For more information on the Proposed Bill and to respond to the consultation please visit our campaign website at: www.protectourpubs.scot.



Neil Bibby MSP | West Scotland | Labour