The Scottish TUC came alive with discussion on the European Union – despite attempts to avoid the debate...
Delegates representing nearly 651,000 workers met in April at the Scottish TUC annual conference in Inverness, with the theme “There is a Better Way”. The news that the government had sanctioned a further £10 billion to the IMF to be used to prop up the euro served to fuel a more determined will to oppose the European Union and its attacks on workers.
For the opening session a video had been prepared highlighting the various demonstrations and actions that had taken place in Scotland over the previous 12 months against government attacks. It was readily apparent that government attempts to get workers to accept absolute decline are failing. The word “growth” was used frequently; but much discussion is still needed on what is meant by growth and the politics and actions needed to bring it about. For example, the parliamentarian argument over the merits of the Coalition’s “front-end loaded” monetarist attack, as opposed to Labour’s “back-end loaded” Keynesian approach, is sterile, keeping the discussion within the parameters of a failing capitalism. The challenge in 2012 is to break out from this sterility.
The Scottish TUC in session in Inverness.
It was in this context that each speaker in the morning session described the difficult conditions that they face, and the problems affecting their particular trade. Each one studiously avoided making the connection between the apparent lack of resources at their workplace and the government’s seemingly boundless resources available to help prop up a currency that British workers have refused to join. There was certainly an initial reluctance by speakers to break from “orthodox” discussion – they were using just half their senses.
The conference went on to meander through various equality issues – only serving to negate what it means to be a member of the working class by substituting a vague concept of “fairness” – meaningless under capitalism. Balance was restored later by strong calls for revitalisation of manufacturing and apprentice skills schemes.
A low point was the foolish invitation to First Minister Alex Salmond to address conference. Giving the unions praise and promises, he attempted to put over his separatist agenda, which would split the working class of Britain. Speakers throughout the rest of the conference hit out at his attitude, pointing to the “deceptions and deceit at its heart”, his lack of action on manufacturing, unemployment, banks, agency workers and redundancies in shipping. The ferry services are in danger of privatisation and it was one of his MEPs who invoked an EU ruling in favour of this, as outlined in his New Draft Ferries Plan. A leaflet given out condemning separatism was well received by delegates.
Running out of time
There then followed a session on the media, with reference to the plight of journalism in Scotland, the Murdoch press and the Leveson enquiry. Despite the topical interest, it became apparent the conference executive was dragging out proceedings. A glance at the last motion of this main day’s agenda was enough to see why – namely the question of Britain’s relationship with the European Union, due for discussion at 5.10 pm. The executive saw every chance of this EU debate being timed out. But then at 5.15 pm, they were outdone by the proposer of the next motion, who agreed to withdraw discussion on the need for high speed broadband in rural areas.
The EU motion and debate was now on, and it was at this point that the conference came alive. Trades Council delegates – Clydebank, Dundee, Kilmarnock – were the ones pushing the issue forward. A solitary voice spoke in favour of the EU; the executive, fearing the outcome, nominated one of its own to be the “voice of reason”, but to no avail. The motion was passed almost unanimously, albeit as a composite with many contradictions. But in leaving the conference that evening, there were strong indications that most realised the significance of the vote as a step towards getting out of the EU. A fringe meeting reinforced that anti-EU feeling.
The day’s events also served as an example of the infuriating ambivalence that has resided within our labour movement for far too long – time we stopped avoiding the necessary tasks. ■