STUC General Secretary's speech to Scotland United Against Austerity Rally

June 20th 2015

At last months general election, the vast majority of the people of Scotland, indeed the vast majority of the people of the UK didn’t vote for a Tory government.

The vast majority of people didn’t vote for Tory austerity;

we didn’t vote for a further 30 billion pounds of cuts;

we didn’t vote for a further 12 billion pounds of welfare cuts targetted at the most vulnerable; and didn’t vote for attacks on trade unions; for attacks on the facility time of union reps; to give employers the green light to use scab labour to strike break; and we didn’t vote for their plans to outlaw strike action by introducing ballot thresholds.

Democracy is about more than the number of politicians in parliament. it is about people and we, the people, challenge the democratic legitimacy of this tory government; a tory government elected on only 37% of the popular vote and only 24% of those eligible to vote; on only 10% of those eligible to vote here in Scotland; and we challenge their democtratic right to impose policies against the will of the people.

We know that austerity makes no economic sense. We know that its primary purpose is ideological intended to entrench the economic and political power of a self interested, privileged elite.

It is the same ideology that is behind the Tories unjust and undemocratic attack on the trade union movement:

Their strike ballot plans are an outright attack on the fundamental, democratic right of workers to withdraw their labour.

They are a violation of ILO conventions and an affront not just to workers rights but to our human rights and civil liberties.

They should be of concern not only to union members but to everyone who values freedom and democracy and the legitimate right to peaceful protest.

The Tories talk about outlawing undemocratic strike action.

This is nothing to do with democracy or participation.

I’m all in favour of more workers participating in strike ballots.

If this was just about participation we should be allowed to conduct secure online ballots or secret workplace ballots.

This is about the naked self-interest of a privileged elite, attempting to prevent any organised resistance to its ability and desire to wield its economic and political power unchallenged.

No one should be in any doubt about the threat to the future of the trade union movement posed by these proposals.

And no one should be in any doubt about our determination to resist them.

It is inevitable that if implemented these proposals will place unions in conflict with the law.

We would not be standing here today if our predecessors had not broken bad laws.

Across the world, civil and human rights have been won and protected only because people united to break bad laws.

If that is what it takes to ensure that unions can continue to represent their members then so be it.

Others have tried to use the law to destroy the trade unions and we are still here. And we are not going anywhere.

We will mobilise our members. But we need the support of our political and civil society allies if these attacks on us are to be defeated.

Colleagues let me finish on this point.

The obvious unfairness of the Westminster electoral system which produces majority government on little more than a quarter of the eligible vote is a matter requiring urgent attention.

The credibility of our democracy demands an effective and credible challenge to politicians and governments from out-with our established political structures.

Democracy is about more than politicians and Parliaments. It is about how we the people influence the decisions that affect our lives.

The Smith Commission proposals and the current Scotland bill are a half-baked and incoherent political compromise, precisely because of an absence of proper engagement with the people of Scotland, and they will not satisfy our demand for change.

There has been too much talk by some politicians about whether or not we should have another referendum.

While it will be for politicians and Parliament to legislate for a referendum it will be for the people to decide if and when there should be another referendum.

That is an issue for another day. Whatever your view on another referendum or how you voted in the last referendum, our current task is to unite with progressive forces across the Uk, against austerity, against attacks on unions and human and civil rights, against this undemocratic Tory government and for positive and progressive policies that put people first.

As we have demonstrated throughout our history, the trade union movement is ready and willing to be a leading partner in a coalition of opposition to austerity and to theses attacks on working people, their families and communities.

A strong and effective trade union movement is vital if we are to resist austerity.

To be anti-austerity is to be pro trade union and to build a successful anti-austerity movement is to build an effective and successful trade union movement.

Our campaign will be political and industrial. We will campaign to change government policy – however long that takes. And at the workplace, unions will take whatever action their members believe will be most effective in defending their jobs; their conditions and their communities. And if that involves industrial action then the STUC will give whatever support is required.

Thank you again for being here today and for your commitment and solidarity.


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