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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

The great debate in Scotland

by New Worker correspondent

LAST WEEK the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) held its 125th annual meeting in the Music Hall at Aberdeen.

The meeting passed largely unobserved in the Scottish media, apart from the obligatory speeches from the leaders of the SNP and Scottish Labour. This is, however, a suitable occasion to look at the state of the trade union movement in Scotland.

First, the attendees. From Aegis the Union (a small financial services union) to the University College Union, there were 31 affiliated unions present with 253 delegates. The largest two were Unite and Unison, with 33 and 27 delegates respectively. In addition, there were 13 trades union councils with 32 delegates and the four specialist STUC conferences (Black, Disabled, LGBT and Young Workers) sent 11, making a grand total of 296 delegates.

The STUC presently represents 545,840 workers, who in theory pay £1.64 from their union dues to belong to the STUC. This is down from a peak of a million in 1980.

The Scottish TUC is a separate organisation from the TUC. It was founded in 1897 after a dispute with the TUC over the importance of securing separate working class political representation in which the then powerful local trade union councils were particularly prominent. Unions for women workers were another base upon which the STUC was built. The STUC has never been in competition with the TUC, which has a formal base in Glasgow providing educational services for trade union activists.

Ambitious Scottish secretaries always have always had an eye on becoming general secretaries of their UK union rather than leading the STUC. Despite the rise of the SNP, left-right- and other factional-groupings reflect UK-wide patterns.

At present 41 trade unions are affiliated to the STUC. One of these is the National Union of Mineworkers (Scotland Area), which now exists only as a museum piece with a UK-wide membership of only 199 and so did not appear. On a more positive note, this year the STUC welcomed the Professional Footballers Association and the Pharmacists’ Defence Association.

The pattern of union membership is similar north and south of the border, with the greatest strength in the public sector and an aging membership.

Due to mergers over the last century only four STUC affiliates are exclusively Scottish. Two are serious players: the Educational Institute of Scotland and its rival the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association. We need only politely mention the existence of the Scottish Artists Union and the Scottish Society of Playwrights.


The latter two must have very little industrial muscle and spend their energies on contractual matters. What do playwrights do when theatre managers complain that their offerings are not up to Shakespearean standards or when the audience boos?

Mystery surrounds the STUC’s finances as they do not widely publish detailed accounts. A rumour has been circulating for years that no less than 60 per cent of its funding comes from the SNP Government due to the funding it gets for Scottish Union Learning, which runs various training courses for union members. About a third of the STUC’s staff work in this branch.

The STUC claims 20 trades councils are affiliated but I counted 19, which suggests one is not very good at form filling. Although there were 13 trades council present at Aberdeen, this does not mean they are thriving. They are generally very small and are kept going by retired trade unionists. Those trades council delegates whose faces are known to this correspondent all have many wrinkles and little hair.

Including its General Secretary and two deputies, the STUC has 33 employees. One of them was recently deposed as Scottish Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union but found in the STUC a nice lifeboat, an arrangement which keeps everyone happy.

Amongst the staff there are two communications officers, who do not seem to be particularly efficient. Even the basic fact about the STUC’s address is unclear, the website gives a temporary address in a business centre just outside Glasgow whereas the President’s report confirms they moved to their new offices last August. It is a something of a mystery why the STUC, when forced to move from its Victorian premises in the west end of Glasgow, did not decamp to Edinburgh (where it maintains a branch office) to be near the Scottish Parliament. Instead it moved into a smaller newly built building in the Orange part of Glasgow’s east end. It is likely that financial necessity and the reluctance of officials to up sticks to the east coast are responsible for its present location.

The STUC is not very good are announcing the results of the Congress. There are three online videos of the event that doubtless report the results of the deliberations – however, the first lasts six hours and 12 minutes, the second seven hours and 15 minutes and the third five hours and 46 minutes. The first 20 minutes of the first video were taken up with the platform party taking their seats and before the President finally, formally opened the meeting.

At this point your correspondent gave up in despair and so remains unaware of the outcome with regards to the votes, beyond what can be gleaned from the Morning Star, as the rest of the press and broadcast media did not give much attention to the proceedings.

For the record, the STUC denounced the SNP’s plan for a national care service as being a step towards privatisation and also attacked plans for “Greenports”, as Freeports are to be called in Scotland.

against sin

This does not really matter very much, for three reasons. Firstly, most of the motions were in trade union terms like being against sin and in favour of goodness. Nobody at Aberdeen was going to approve of P&O’s sacking of 800 staff. The Standing Orders Committee can generally be relied on to iron out any differences and water down any troublesome motions so they become almost meaningless.

Secondly, in any case the STUC is no place for controversy. A motion from Prospect, and supported by GMB, in favour nuclear power as part of a “balanced energy” strategy was withdrawn to avoid any disagreements being made public, even though Unite also favours nuclear power. Another major controversial energy issue, the merits or otherwise of developing a new oil field in the North Sea, which is supported by major unions with members in the industry, was passed over in complete silence to prevent aggro from the ‘green’ elements. No mention was made of the recent failure of the campaign to prevent the closure of the McVitie’s biscuit factory with the loss of 450 jobs, which might cause some bad feeling, nor of issues involving the arms industry.

Thirdly, the results do not really matter. Just as the Tory Government ignores motions from the TUC, the SNP will do the same with any disagreeable votes, although the SNP Government will put out press releases praising the wisdom of the STUC for any motions it likes. Additionally, the STUC leadership can be trusted not to take any serious action on critical motions because they want to boost their salaries by sitting on the boards of those quangos that are in the gift of the SNP Government.