Sturgeon must be bold and fight the TU Bill

Nicola-SturgeonThe First Minister has the power to protect trade union rights, says Unite’s Pat Rafferty

Last Thursday, thousands of people gathered at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall in support of the STUC campaign to stop the Tory Trade Union Bill. Scotland’s First Minster Nicola Sturgeon was one of them.

Amid the rally’s rousing contributions, the First Minister should have left firm in the belief that Scotland can be the vanguard for the defeat of this senseless Bill which will erode democracy, fairness and prosperity across Britain.

Yesterday, Sturgeon visited David Cameron to tell him that the imposition of his government’s trade union reforms in Scotland is “unacceptable.”

I hope the First Minster also made the point that it’s not just unacceptable in Scotland but it is unacceptable across the rest of Britain too. If she did so, the First Minister would be on the side of public opinion.

In September, YouGov revealed that more than two-thirds of those polled across Britain on the Trade Union Bill were against these plans to curb democracy.

Furthermore, 65 per cent were against the use of temporary labour to break strikes and 54 per cent believed the Bill would worsen public services and compromise health and safety.

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has already called for the Bill to be scrapped, while publicly challenging the Scottish Parliament presiding officer’s feeble refusal to grant a legislative consent motion that would block key parts of the Bill in Scotland.

An increasing majority of our local authorities have made a vow of non-compliance with the Bill. The tide is turning.

Arguably, the fight against the Trade Union Bill is a test of the Scottish government’s “progressive” credentials.

Over the last year in particular, the people of Scotland have been subject to plenty of talk about “making Scotland the fairest nation on Earth” or “making Scotland a fair and prosperous country.”

However, as I pointed out during my own contribution at last week’s rally, Scotland is far from being the fairest nation on Earth.

The employment rights abuses so prevalent across contemporary Britain are just as acute in Scotland — just look at the likes of Tullis Russell in Fife or Mahle in Kilmarnock where workers were given less than 24 hours’ notice by text and tannoy that redundancy was coming their way.

We know that the British economy is governed by some of the weakest employment laws in the EU, but we have got to stand up for our labour and human rights using every power we have at our disposal and we can make a better fist of this in the Scottish Parliament than we currently are.

The recent history of the Scottish Parliament appears to be dominated by a debate about what we can’t do.

The Scottish government argues that rolling out the living wage, banning blacklisting or implementing public ownership models across our transport infrastructure are outside of its competence. On the Trade Union Bill it needs to be much bolder.

We can’t sit back in a state of grudge or grievance and say: “We could do better” or “if we only had control of this,” while the cut and gut of democracy, livelihoods and basic human rights gathers apace.

We can do more in Scotland and not just for ourselves but for working people across the whole of Britain.

There is nothing to prevent the First Minister adopting mitigation strategies to ensure that full trade union recognition is a prerequisite for any company seeking to tender for Scottish government contracts.

There is nothing to prevent the First Minister from establishing best-practice models such as sector forums across the key industries in our country, bringing employers, government and trade unions together to rebuild and grow our economy.

There is nothing to prevent the First Minister from taking on the Tories by telling Cameron that she will use every means at her disposal to prevent the biggest attack on the rights of working people since the days of Thatcher.

By joining the front line of the fight against this assault on basic democratic rights, the First Minister will find she has many allies across Scotland and Britain.

In doing so, not only can she make the Scottish Parliament a shining example of progressive politics for the rest of Britain to follow, she will help to turn the mainstream political tide that will ultimately lead to the defeat of this heinous Tory Bill.

Pat Rafferty is Unite Scottish secretary. This article first appeared in the Morning Star.

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