A small selection of news items and reports that have a particular relevance to Scotland or Scottish workers and our communities.
STUC congress set to start campaign against exploitative contracts
SCOTTISH trade union reps will declare war on “exploitative” zero-hours contracts today at the start of the annual STUC congress in Dundee.
Workers suffering on such terms have given damning testimony to the STUC and delegates will vote on a motion demanding action to stop the abuse.
Scottish affairs committee MPs have also called for them to be scrapped, with chairman Ian Davidson MP saying that “the overwhelming majority of zero-hours contracts are abusive and exploitative and should be abolished.
“Zero-hours contracts put workers in such a vulnerable position that they are unable even to assert their lawful right to the meagre benefits these contracts offer.”
And he warned that “zero-hours make blacklisting easy.”
About 85,000 people in Scotland are on the contracts.
The STUC motion condemns zero-hours and hours to be notified contracts as a “one-sided employment relationship in favour of the employer.”
It commits the STUC to campaign against them — including a ban “across the public sector and by any companies seeking publicly procured contracts.”
Care support worker Zahira told the STUC that zero-hours was the “worst contract I have ever had in my whole working life.”
She took the post because she couldn’t find another part-time job, but now believes that “I have less rights — it feels like I have no rights.”
She said: “I have been expected to work when I have been notified approximately 30 minutes prior to a shift.
“If I refuse the likelihood of being called again is very low — and this has happened, with no work over a period of two months.”
The Scottish affairs committee found that one in five workers on zero-hours contracts are paid less than their permanent equivalents doing the same job and that one in 20 are paid less than the national minimum wage, even although this is illegal.
“Thousands of social care workers are illegally denied payment for time spent travelling between appointments,” the MPs said.
The committee also heard evidence that some jobcentre staff are pressing people into taking work with no guaranteed hours and threatening sanctions if they turn the position down — or for trying to sign back on if the hours turned out to be insufficient.
Mr Davidson said both Westminster and Holyrood must use “every lever at their disposal to affect a cultural change” against exploitative contracts.
The STUC wants the pro-devolution parties to bring forward separate proposals for enhanced devolution
The Scottish TUC (STUC) called yesterday for two-thirds of the revenue spent in Scotland to be raised in Scotland in a new plan for enhanced devolution if there is a No vote in September's referendum.
STUC general secretary Grahame Smith said: "While we have not come to a definitive view on recommending a Yes or No vote, it is increasingly clear that there is a strong case and strong public support for building on the current status quo."
The STUC wants the pro-devolution parties to bring forward separate proposals for enhanced devolution in the event of a No vote - and identify a set of proposals on which they all agree.
Grahame Smith called on the parties to give "very clear commitments both in respect of future tax powers and in defending the level of a residual block grant."
The 20-page discussion paper A Just Scotland - Enhanced Devolution argues that the Scottish Parliament should be able to intervene on a wider range of policy issues - including the labour market and various aspects of pay, employment rights and welfare.
Further devolution of tax and spending powers should be accompanied by an increase in the revenue-raising autonomy of local authorities.
Other STUC proposals include the establishment of a Scottish Equalities Commission, devolution of health and safety enforcement, the employment tribunal system and some powers over immigration.
And the STUC claims that "enhanced devolution need not entail a reduction in the number or function of Scottish MPs."
Union man Stevie Deans was hounded from Grangemouth job
THE DAUGHTER of former Unite convener Stevie Deans led calls to renationalise the giant Grangemouth oil refinery yesterday after watching billionaire owner Jim Ratcliffe hound out her dad and hold Britain to ransom.
Ailis Deans held back tears as she told Unite conference how her dad was “portrayed as a criminal” for standing up for 800 workers facing the sack.
She recounted how Mr Ratcliffe “victimised him in public and even humiliated him” in his bid to break the union at Grangemouth.
“Jim Ratcliffe — the man who didn’t care that it broke mine and my 12-year-old sister’s hearts to see my dad portrayed as a criminal in newspapers and on TV,” stormed Ms Deans.
“He’s a man who didn’t care that our mum was terrified to leave our house because journalists were camped outside on our doorstep.
“He’s a man that didn’t care and, as a result of his attack, my dad was left broken.”
The youth delegate described the ordeal that began last October as the “toughest time my family has ever faced.”
Mr Deans quit his role as Unite convener and left the refinery amid a barrage of allegations that he signed workers up to the Labour Party to fix the selection of the party’s candidate for the Falkirk by-election.
Police and Labour Party investigations showed the allegations to be baseless.
Hitting back on behalf of her family yesterday, Ms Deans added: “Jim Ratcliffe set out to damage the trade union movement.
“But I think everyone here will agree with me that he didn’t damage it at all — he made it stronger.”
Unite leader Len McCluskey and more than a thousand members leapt to their feet in a spontaneous ovation for Ms Deans as left the stage.
Convener Mark Lyon was also sacked by Mr Ratcliffe in the wake of last year’s industrial dispute sparked by his ultimatum to workers to choose between pay and pension cuts or a future on the dole.
Orchestrating his smear campaign from a £130 million yacht, Mr Ratcliffe also demanded millions in public subsidies to keep Grangemouth open.
Mr Lyon said it would be easy to blame the billionaire for the dispute but said it proved “ownership is the nub of this issue.
“This was a site that was publicly owned in the 1970s,” he said.
“It was privatised because they didn’t want public intervention in the market.
“Except when the intervention is to hand over millions and millions of pounds of public money. They’ve got no problem with that intervention.”
Delegates unanimously agreed that key industries should be nationalised to stop a repeat of the scandals.
Grahame Smith examines the disinformation around the Unite-Ineos dispute
The central importance of the Morning Star for trade unionists and the left in Scotland has never been in doubt, and the STUC has long supported its promotion and distribution in Scotland.
But if fresh impetus were needed, the events of mid-October at the Grangemouth petrochemical plant should inspire us all to redouble our efforts to grow the readership and encourage all progressive forces to do the same.
As I have written elsewhere, the events at Ineos revealed all we needed to know about where power lies in Britain today, and it is frightening.
The story of Grangemouth is that the government was powerless to prevent one individual deciding the fate of a strategically vital national industrial asset, its 1,300 strong workforce, and thousands more workers besides, and the fate of a local community.
And while Ineos CEO Jim Ratcliffe’s decision not to proceed with the closure of the petrochemical plant following the workforce’s acceptance of his “recovery plan” was variously described as another illustration of the “lack of union power and influence,” it was in fact a crisis for political and industrial democracy.
Despite all the cajoling of Scotland First Minister Alex Salmond, Energy Secretary Ed Davey and Secretary of State for Scotland Alistair Carmichael, it took the Ineos workforce and their union Unite to take the decisive step that made it impossible for Ratcliffe to walk away as he was determined to do just two days previously.
It is beyond belief that one of the supposedly most powerful nations on the globe was incapable of stopping the closure of the Grangemouth plant.
The closure of a community centre in Grangemouth would have required a more extensive due process and greater transparency and accountability than was involved in the decisions to close a vital industrial facility.
Some part of this analysis was recognised by the Scottish media.
In the week prior to the Ineos ultimatum, some journalists did recognise the nature of the company — venture capital-funded, lightly regulated, “too big to fail” in the context of the British fuel market and the wider supply chain and with an aggressive management style.
But there was a near universal failure by journalists when judging the role of Unite within the dispute to apply any of this context in a way which might have reached a more nuanced understanding of why things happened as they did or what the implications might be.
Within days we were treated to an anti-union narrative, promulgated not just by the right-wing media but by centre-left commentators whose cut was deeper because they purported to be the labour movement’s friend.
What was lost among the many other issues involved at Ineos that the strike ballot of Unite members had a turnout of 86 per cent — exceptional by any standards — with 82 per cent in support of strike action and 92 per cent in support of action short of strike.
Implicit in this legal requirement on the union to ballot is the expectation that the employer will recognise its outcome and the strength of feeling it demonstrates and respond accordingly — a fact which was generally ignored by the mainstream media.
The mainstream media’s tendency when talking of unions to focus on perceived negative and hostile emotional responses — “anger, fury, threat, threaten, battle and attack” — has been extensively documented. Unions are led by “bosses, barons and chiefs.”
In this context it may seem natural to employ similar pejoratives such as “capitulation” and “surrender” when unions suffer a reversal, but it’s not good journalism.
During the dispute it was as painful to witness the mindless adherence to stereotype as it was to watch the vitriolic assault on decent and committed trade unionists such as Stevie Deans.
Given the Scottish media’s overwhelming obsession with the independence debate, it was also surprising that it failed to provide any real analysis of the implications of the Ineos dispute for the the Scottish constitutional debate, a debate which is meant to be about where power should lie.
The debate about powers will be of little real relevance if government, wherever it sits, does not have the power to prevent private equity capital threatening the stability of a country’s economy.
That is why it matters that there is at least one national daily newspaper available in Scotland which is committed to supporting trade unionists and providing the real news, a paper which understands where power lies and why and how it should be challenged.
Grahame Smith is general secretary of the STUC.
The Grangemouth owners waged a vindictive smear campaign
Yet another vindication of former Ineos convener Stevie Deans acts as a reminder of the high personal price he paid for standing up against that company's union-busting bosses.
The Grangemouth owners waged a vindictive smear campaign against a man they saw as a fundamental barrier to their plan to attack the terms and conditions of the union members who elected him to represent them.
A craven anti-union media - this paper being an honourable exception - and spineless politicians afraid to stand up to the firm's bully-boy threats to pull the plug on a crucial petrochemicals plant placed Deans and his family under an unbearable strain.
In the end it cost him his livelihood.
News that police have found "no evidence of any criminality" in emails seized on Deans's work computer will come as little surprise to those who know this decent hard-working Scot.
However, the anti-union poison whipped up by the company's bosses, who chose in a crude smear tactic to leak parts of the documents to the Sunday Times, continues to linger over the Labour Party and the whole movement.
The complaints of "victimisation" from Ineos managers, who at the time were threatening to extinguish hundreds of livelihoods, by a few peaceful activists holding Unite union placards was seized upon by the Tories to threaten more shackles on the right to protest.
But the relatively tame treatment received by bosses acting on behalf of a billionaire industrialist pale in comparison to Deans's trial by media and the hounding that he and his family have faced at the hands of a rag-bag of rightwingers reaching all the way up to Westminster.
The response by Labour has been misplaced too.
Instead of standing up robustly for the right to protest, against the blackmail tactics of Ineos, and recognising trade unions' vital and historic role in its own party structures, Ed Miliband was like a rabbit caught in the headlights.
The party's bruised Blairite right wing seized their opportunity to mount a counter-offensive against increasingly vibrant trade unions which they saw as a threat to their own power.
The final outcome of discussions on future links between the unions and party will be decided in the next few weeks, hopefully in more sober circumstances than the hysteria that surrounded the Grangemouth dispute.
Whatever the result, in all this there has only been one real winner - the Tories and their backers. They have revelled in driving a wedge into the heart of the Labour Party at a time when the labour movement should be uniting to focus its energies on creating a future that rids us of the social crisis created by this rabid government.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey did not mince words yesterday.
"The anti-union hysteria whipped up by certain sections of the media and their friends to pursue a spiteful agenda has been shocking.
"Their witch-hunt has been exposed to be without foundation and a lie.
"Stevie Deans is a decent and honourable man who has been smeared and hounded with a callous disregard for him and his family."
There are those who will be hoping that the treatment meted out to this solid trade unionist will act as a warning to other potential "trouble-makers."
Those hopes are destined to be dashed.
While an exploitative society remains, in which millions are forced to toil for a pittance to make others billions, there will always be people like Deans who choose to stand up and be counted.
Conference applauds former Grangemouth convenor Stevie Deans who was 'hounded from job'
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey won prolonged applause from delegates when he defended his union’s role in the Falkirk constituency.
The applause reached a crescendo when Mr McCluskey asked the conference to demonstrate its support for Stevie Deans, former Unite convenor at the Grangemouth oil refinery.
Mr Deans was “a decent working man, a loyal Labour member and a trade unionist” who had been “hounded out of his job,” declared Mr McCluskey.
Unite had been doing in Falkirk what everybody now said they want unions to do — encouraging its members to join the Labour Party.
“So let me make one thing crystal clear. The party has said, the police — who should never have been involved — have said and I’m saying it here today, my union did nothing wrong.”
Mr McCluskey added: “Let me finally say to those elements inside the party who seek to edge us out, or to the grandees who snipe from the sidelines — this is our party and we are going nowhere.”
The Unite leader welcomed the opportunity for change provided by the Collins proposals.
Unite’s executive will later this week consider its membership affiliation payments to the Labour Party in the wake of the changes voted through on Saturday.