Comment: Why my union is out to fight for the Union

Picture: HeMedia
Picture: HeMedia
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Despite Alex Salmond’s claims to the contrary, the referendum campaign has been under way for over a year. Yet in that time we have heard relatively little about the views of trade unions and the working people we represent across the country.

The outcome of the vote in September 2014 will have significant consequences for the lives of working families and the trade union movement, so it is vital that our voices are heard.

Earlier this month, Community, the steel workers’ union I am proud to work for and be a member of, became the third trade union to pledge its support to the campaign to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom.

As Alistair Darling set out in his lecture in Glasgow recently, there is a strong and positive “head and heart” case for Scotland remaining in the United Kingdom.

Whilst it is right to point out the implications of breaking 
up Britain, those of us who support working together must present the case for a United Kingdom.

Nowhere is this positive message more evident than in the trade union case for the United Kingdom.

Trade unions are about solidarity. The very name of our movement is symbolic of the fact that we are bound together by ties that go beyond nationality or location.

We stand together with colleagues across the UK, campaigning as much for fairness in Scotland as we do in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

At a time of economic turmoil across the world now more than ever we need to stand together in the pursuit of social justice. Putting up barriers between workers in the rest of the UK makes no sense at all.

Workers across the whole of UK stand united in solidarity. Whether we are from Glasgow, Grimsby or Glamorgan, we know that by working together we can achieve so much more than we could apart.

Why would we want to put that at risk by separating Scotland from the rest of the UK? What is progressive about abandoning colleagues south of the Border?

Working together with trade unionists across the UK we have achieved so much. From the National Minimum Wage, which the SNP forgot to support, to health and safety legislation, pooling our resources across the UK has resulted in significant improvements for our workers.

The SNP have said nothing – not one single word – about employment rights in an independent Scotland. In the recent review of UK employment legislation by Adrian Beecroft again the SNP were shamefully silent.

It seems that a party which is always looking to pick fights with Westminster didn’t want to pick one on behalf of Scottish workers.

The complete failure of the SNP to support the Scottish steel industry when contracts were being handed out for the Forth Road Bridge replacement was also a huge let-down for our members in Scotland and indeed the across the United Kingdom.

Leading up to and throughout the tendering process the SNP told us the contract would provide an unprecedented boost for Scottish industry but in reality they placed so much emphasis on cost rather than social benefit that high value aspects of the project went overseas.

The SNP’s economic case for breaking up Britain appears to rest on cutting corporation tax for big business. When companies like Starbucks, Vodafone, Apple, Google and npower stand accused of avoiding tax on a grand scale Alex Salmond wants to reduce their burden even further. The fact that he wants to cut tax for big business more than George Osborne tells you all you need to know about the SNP’s intentions.

We are promised Scandinavian-style public services and investment but Irish-style levels of low taxation. It simply doesn’t stack up.

One area of significant concern to steel workers in Scotland is the impact of separation on pensions. Campaigners fought long and hard to establish the Pensions Protection Fund (PPF), the UK- wide scheme which supports workers whose pension schemes go bust.

What will happen to this if Scotland breaks away? The failure of the SNP to provide any credible assurances on the PPF’s future is indicative of the flimsiness of their case.

Working together and pooling our resources is what the trade union movement, and Community in particular, is all about.

Creating divisions on the basis of nationality is contrary to our whole world vision. We are so much stronger and better together as part of the United Kingdom.

• John-Paul McHugh is the Regional Organiser for Scotland at Community Trade Union