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STUC 2012



Austerity isn't working: Mike Kirby lays out the STUC's vision for domestic and international solidarity

Mike Kirby STUC 2012

In a wide ranging presidential speech today from domestic to international issues, UNISON's Mike Kirby laid out eloquently and comprehensively what we stand for as a movement and why there is a better way than austerity. Here we publish his speech in full.

"May I begin by thanking my own trade union UNISON,
and the General Council, for the opportunity you have given me, given to so few, for even a short period of one year
to be placed at the helm of the Scottish Trade Union Movement.

A distinction it would have been at any time, but as many of you know, that was paired with taking up the position of Scottish Secretary of UNISON, after 16 years as the senior elected lay activist in Scotland.

As well as the support from my own union I have been able to rely on the support of the STUC. Agnes Tolmie as Vice President, Grahame Smith as General Secretary and the staff at the STUC, who as many previous Presidents will attest
have been unfailingly helpful throughout.

To be given that leadership role at such a challenging time for Labour and Trade Union Movement has been an honour.

This is a defining period for the trade union movement in Scotland.

Despite its dramatic collapse in 2008, Neo-Liberalism appears to have re-asserted itself
with a swing to the political right across the western world.

And in the UK we’ve had to come to terms with new systems of government.
A coalition which is set against everything which has general, and almost universal support, from the body politic and civic society in Scotland.

It may be easy to map out the ways in which relations between the Lib Dems and Tories will deteriorate. Legislative dead lock, debilitating personal acrimony,
but that doesn’t mean that this project will implode any time soon.

Cameron needs Clegg
to show that he can deal with the national economic emergency.
Clegg needs to show that coalitions, multi party government is workable.
As has been said, after the engagement on the lawns of Downing Street,
that if the partnership needed romance to survive
it would have ended long ago.
But this is business,
all be it for us this business is extremely personal,
to us, our families our communities.
In Scotland we are faced with something
which was never supposed to happen
under devolution and proportional representation,
that is a clear majority administration.
Another thing that was never supposed to happen
under the “settled will of the Scottish people.”
The dynamic of devolution asserting itself,
through a combination of enforcement by majority rule,
administrative competence of the party in power,
and anger at what government elsewhere is doing to us.

The challenge to the trade unions has been immense.
Manufacturing base has collapsed. Attacks on Public Services.
Attacks on trade union rights.
A disengagement with organised politics, and our elected representatives,
and what they stand for questioned and often rejected.
And as work reduces, trade union members reducing.

So we’ve faced a challenge.
A challenge to organise.
A challenge to lead.

And a challenge to which the trade union movement in Scotland has risen.
Because we know that There Is a Better Way.
A Better Way for Jobs, for Services, A Living Wage and Fair Taxes.
And why should the jobs and services go if the need still exists?
The cuts we are facing across the UK
are not about money but about politics.
A politics that hates public services and loves to profit from privatisation.
A politics that sees a workforce engaged in caring, educating, nursing,
not as an achievement to be celebrated
but as a problem to be tackled.

Why should the jobs and services go if the need still exists?
There is a crisis.
It is not as the Con Dems insist a crisis of Public Finances.
There is an economic cost of high unemployment and stagnation.

Our campaigning and organising agenda
has engaged communities and civic society,
not just in the demonstrations of March and October.
Or of the public services general strike of November.
Or the demos and stunts at the party conferences –
“Tories Kettled at Troon” - one of my favourites.

But through activities in local campaigns and trade union councils,
a social movement has joined with a political movement.

And this will continue in next month’s local government elections.

The services local government provides are used by all –
and vital for many.

We need to see a renewed political purpose from Scotland’s Councillors.
They are not elected to manage Local Authorities
(Councils employ people to do that).
If Councillors are going to shrug their shoulders
and say that there is nothing they can do –
then we are entitled to ask precisely what Councillors are for.

Councillors should not be passive administrators
of a cuts package determined elsewhere –
but champions of their areas, their authorities
and the services their local populations rely on.

A Better Way.

Because this government is seeking to destroy
the welfare state and welfare systems,
which a social consensus of generations,
since the Second World War, has taken to build.

Or so we thought!

The Con Dem Government in the UK
shares the outlook of their counterparts who are running things in Europe.
Remember, Thatcher, when leader of the Tory Party,
once declared there is no such thing as Society,
and then went on to spend the best part of two decades
trying her best to make it so.

So when a politician talks of “The Big Society”,
you know that something is about to get smaller.
And in this case it is the state, the public services.

But why should you care,
if it’s not something which you yourself will ever need.

Kevin Maguire, Associate Editor of the Daily Mirror
has stated that the current Tory Party is more ideological
than in the Thatcher era.
A remarkable 76 individuals
have donated more than £250k each
to the Tories under Cameron’s leadership.

The state, that test of civilisation,
how we look after those in need.
The state, that enormous damaged machine,
once invented to protect the weak against the strong
and to bring people towards security and equality,
is being mutilated.

It has been said
that this is a worse blood-letting than anything undertaken by Thatcher.
At its height in the early 1950s,
the state owned or supported the railways, the coal and steel industries,
gas and electricity, telecommunications, water and inland waterways,
road haulage, public transport, public housing.

A few, steel and road
had already been sold before Thatcher came to power in 1979.
But she, and successor Major,
privatised most of what was left of the public sector
and removed countless subsidies and decimated trade unions,
in the name of reducing the state.

But the Cameron Government is going for the heart.
Cutting the social and cultural public provision.

Between Thatcher and Cameron,
New Labour, captured by the allure of the free-market and Neo-Liberalism,
made its contribution to weakening the state.
Railway privatisation was not reversed.
Financial services deregulation
left the City in contempt of Government,
when after 2008, it defied state regulation,
and even as we pay for that calamity, the folly and deceit of delinquent bankers,
politicians are shy of regulating what we now own.

The Banks “don’t get it”? But Oh! They do!

The Welfare State appeared after 1945.
After six years of sacrifice and the misery of the 1930s never again.
But the Universalism of that time is being destroyed.
A Universalism which guaranteed a standard of living for the working class
and “cash back” for the middle class in return for security for all.

Because the quality of life of all of us,
depends upon the quality of life of us all.

Inequality in Briton diminished until the late 1970s.
But today the gap in health, living standards and wealth
is back to the gap of 90 years ago.
In Britain and the cuts,
it is arguable that the Scottish Parliament
and the body politic in Scotland, provided by civic society,
have presented a bastion of faith in the public service state.
Cooperation over competition
has given us health service and free prescriptions,
school meals and university education,
personal care and public transport for the elderly.

“The state’s contract with the Citizen” as Neal Ascherson has called it.

And as the early froth of the constitution debate settles,
and we enter a period of serious debate,
that’s the question we must ask.
How can we defend that? These principles.
What sort of place do we want to live in?
And then examine the limits of existing powers
under the current constitutional settlement.
And then what can the Parliament do with current powers?
And then what additional powers might we need.

A mature debate.
The issue of the future governance of this country,
defined by what kind of society we want to live in,
where there is quality of life for all, in peace and progress.

That will define the best system to achieve our goals,
the best system of governance.
Not historical romance. Not a reaction to the views of others.
And born of confidence in ourselves,
not a fear of future options or scare stories.

Regardless of the referendum to come,
the UK has four separate governments,
and now the three devolved administrations,
in Scotland, Wales and the North of Ireland,
are winning greater economic and legal powers,
ending London’s grip on the country.
In each part of the UK,
notions of nationhood and Britishness are changing
and, arguably the links are weakening.

But the links which we can strengthen are of our community, of our class.

Let me quote you something from the Financial Times.

“The Government is to press for radical change in pay bargaining in the UK. It is seeking an end not only to national negotiations, but to the annual pay round, the concept of the going rate, wage and salary comparability and job evaluation. If we can move to a system where pay increases are based purely on performance, merit, company profitability and demand and supply in the local labour market, we will dethrone once and for all the annual pay round and the belief that pay increases do not have to be earned.”

(Seems familiar)

“An agenda for what would amount to an almost entirely fresh approach to pay determination was set out last night in a key policy speech by Mr Kenneth Clarke, Paymaster General and Employment Minister.” 12 February 1987.

Cuts, unemployment, Tory Government,
the return of leggings and hot pants
just like the 1980s.

Headline “Tories Unemployment Figures”

may be read as Tories,..........Unemployment,............Figures.

But the world is changing
and the trade unions must also change,
and some of these changes have begun.
A workforce of home workers, call-centre operators
have become de-collectivised.
Only in the public sector does that major aggregate of workers really exist.
Our armoury must be adapted.
We have shown that industrial action is possible,
but some of the greatest successes were achieved by argument
rather than aggression.
Our first duty may be to win the argument for the fairer society.
But when the force of argument fails,
we will use the argument of force.

I have focussed on the domestic agenda,
but the Congress has a proud tradition of Internationalism.

In my time on the General Council
you have sent me to other places
to show solidarity and to learn.

Most recently to Lisbon and the Congress of CGTP-IN.
A Congress of 1000 delegates
putting the organising agenda into action,
last month leading a General Strike against austerity measures.
And at the parallel conference of 200 delegates from across the world,
I was swamped by delegates
not just from the Basque Country but elsewhere,
eager to know of our Constitutional Debate.

In 2010 you sent President Martin Keenan and others of us on the General Council to China.
Some believe soon to rule the world.
Not through Imperialism of Western cultures,
but showing not just economic but cultural expansion.
The so-called soft-diplomacy, soft-economics though
may be showing itself as a different kind of aid imperialism
on the African Continent, in the film When China Met Africa.

And Scotland is not immune
as clothing manufacturing and petro-chemicals testify.

It is worth noting that the global swing to the right
has not manifest itself in Latin American countries,
because Neo-liberalism and its “Shock Therapy” are all too familiar there.
In 2009, I witnessed in Venezuela the pursuit of a better, fairer way,
proving it can work.
Venezuela, elections this year, will not be without interference from the States.

And Cuba has experienced that attention for 60 years
of resistance and assistance to others in need,
but the Miami Five are incarcerated by lies and distortions.

To South Africa,
where the ANC this year celebrates 100 years,
and in 2000, a group of trade unionists academics and lawyers
witnessed the legacy of Apartheid, in its social systems
and the exploitation of the people of the mining communities
ravaged by the diseases of mining asbestos.
As the ANC celebrates 100,
there are challenges of transition, of engagement, of delivery,
of relations between party in power and party in the country.
I could be talking of the UK and New Labour.

There is a growing apartheid elsewhere, in Palestine.

There have been many changes since my first official visit
with Bill Speirs, Eddie Reilly and Malcolm Burns in 2001,
during the Second Intifada.
We were challenged by different militia,
as we were escorted throughout the Occupied Lands by PGFTU, our hosts.

On leaving, at the last stop at Jerusalem,
we met members of the British Press Corps,
who challenged us that we had only visited one place met with one people.
Eddie Reilly’s reply still pertains
“We met many Israelis on our travels in Palestine.
They were all armed and wearing uniforms.”

Order may have been restored in many parts
under the control of democratically elected representation of Fatah, democratically elected Hamas, and other political organisations,
but that order is still enforced
by a circle of unlawful Occupation,
and the Apartheid Wall divides communities from their lands and work,
and families are split apart.

Last year we adopted a policy of Boycott, Disinvestment and sanctions.

Last year the Israeli Government continued its offensive
against groups and organisations which criticise government policy,
with the Knesset’s enactment of the Boycott Law.
This law creates tort liability
for any Israeli individual or entity
that calls for an economic, cultural, or academic boycott of Israel, its institutions,
or “an area under its control”.
The passage of the Boycott Law is a red line
that has been crossed regarding the democratic foundation of the State of Israel.

Last week,on Palestinian Prisoners Day,
five British women were imprisoned by the Israeli Government
for their part in ‘Welcome to Palestine 2012’.
Some 3,500 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel started a hunger strike that day
demanding rights to family visits and education,
an end to isolation and an end to administrative detention,
a procedure under which detainees are held without charge or trial.
In total Israel holds 4,610 political prisoners, including 6 women and 203 children.

The five women,
from Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Manchester, Dumfries and Glasgow,
were taken to Givon prison on landing at Tel Aviv airport on Sunday.
They were amongst 1,300 international participants
of the ‘Welcome to Palestine’ initiative
that sought to highlight Israel’s blockade of the West Bank
and attempts to isolate Palestinians.

Joy Cherkaoui, who works for Dumfries and Galloway Council,
Lynn Leitch, 61 year old retired teacher from Midlothian Trades Union Council, for whom Lynn is due to represent at next week’s STUC Annual Congress,
local doctor, UCU member and Aberdeen University lecturer Karolin Hijazi.
Nurse and UNISON member Terri Mclaughlin from Glasgow and humanitarian peace activist Paveen Yaqub from Manchester.

Whatever the challenges we face at home,
we shall not forget our international responsibilities.

And whatever the challenges we face at home,
these will not find resolution in a narrow national or domestic context.
The European Trade Union Movement could play a critically important role,
and we could play a greater role in that movement,
in combating xenophobic nationalism.

By providing a clear vision, by organising,
by arguing that good and fair employment rights,
a well trained, competent confident and valued workforce
can benefit business,
and in the sector which gave me employment for thirty six years,
can put the ‘public’ in Public Services,
that’s the type of place this labour and trade union movement strives for,
because we know that There Is A Better Way.



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