Cat Calling it Out

On International Women’s Day we thought we would take a look at the struggles still faced by working women today. Sexism within the workplace is still something faced by many workers across Scotland, with a wage gap that is getting larger rather than smaller and a government report released in 2018 showing that around one in five workers had experience d sexism in the workplace, with around one in twenty experiencing unwanted physical contact. Sexism and harassment in the workplace is unfortunately still alive and well. 

One group that is taking a stand against this, especially within precarious work, is Better than Zero with their Cat Calling it Out Campaign. Better than Zero, you might remember from an earlier article, is a group that fights for workers right in and around Scotland, especially focusing on workers stuck on zero hour contacts that are being denied their rights. 

We had a chance to ask Morgan (@morganwotwu), someone from our own Ayrshire that’s involved in both Better than Zero and the Cat Calling it Out Campaign a few questions.

Better than Zero has been championing workers rights in Glasgow for a few years now, fighting against unfair work conditions and underpayment of wages, why has this campaign focused specifically on harassment in the workplace, are people in precarious work more vulnerable to sexism within the workplace? 

I do think that sexual harassment is more prevalent in precarious workplaces, there is less of a likelihood that workers will be a member of a trade union, or have the skills and knowledge in workplace organising to organise around this. Especially with zero hours contracts, many women are scared to come forward in the fear that once they complain, they don’t receive any other shifts, essentially leaving them unemployed. For a lot of people, it’s easier just to deal with it.

I think the campaign was needed, especially with the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns gaining prominence in Hollywood. People are starting to have more conversations about sexual harassment and assault and I think that a campaign focusing on these issues in precarious workplaces is crucial.   

How did the campaign get started, what were some of the biggest roadblocks early on?

The campaign started through hearing women’s experiences of sexual harassment in precarious work environments and we tried to organise around the issue. One of the biggest roadblocks I found personally was finding women who felt able to come forward about their experiences. Without the stories, the people, and the want for this to change, there isn’t much that we can really do.

What’s been your own involvement in the campaign? 

I was involved in the campaign from the first meeting where we planned the campaign, and was involved in leafleting precarious workers around the issue and trying to spread the work. The first big action we did was in Cineworld in Silverburn, where we were leafleting the public and staff on Cineworld’s failure to combat sexual harassment. It took place on the opening weekend of the new Spiderman movie, and I think that we raised a lot of awareness on the issue. I ended up being pulled into a quiet part of the complex by a male manager who tried to explain to me what he thought of the situation, however a couple of comrades came and found me so that I wasn’t alone.

What have been the biggest successes of the campaign to date? 

I think the campaign did really well in spreading the word about sexual harassment in the workplace, it’s a highly prevalent issue and many women don’t feel like they can come forward. I would say my favourite thing we did for the campaign was speaking at an event out on by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Myself and another Better Than Zero activist spoke on the campaign, our personal experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace and how the issue affects many young workers. It was strange to hear that some workplace reps hadn’t even realised that this was an issue. However, a lot of the women were not surprised to hear this was still happening in today’s world, I think they were just surprised about how forward these men actually are. We got a lot of really positive feedback from the session, and to be honest I think it was really worthwhile.

In 2018 the Scottish Gov released a report saying the wage gap was increasing in recent years, and other studies have shown that women are far more likely to be in zero hours work than men, as well as significantly more likely to experience harassment in the workplace. Do you think the working conditions women face in modern Scotland are getting better or worse? Is the government doing enough?

I think that for as long as we live under this system – where businesses are allowed to essentially do what they want, things won’t get much better. There is only so much that any government – especially a centrist or right wing government – can really do. Neoliberalism promotes business and the individualism in society, the ‘every man for himself’ attitude under capitalism is the biggest problem. What we need is a complete transformation of society, of the workplace and how women are treated under capitalism. For as long as women are seen as the primary caregivers and the ones who hold sole responsibility of raising children and doing unpaid domestic labour – we’ll still see that women are more likely to be paid less for the work that they do. Women’s labour has always been taken for granted under the system, but I also think that women don’t understand just how extraordinary we actually are. 

If a reader is experiencing harassment in the workplace, and doesn’t have a union at work what’s the best way to reach out to Better than Zero?

The best way to contact Better Than Zero would be through our social media accounts. They have links to the email address and phone number for the campaign, but you could also send a quick message to the Facebook page. 


 

University Strikes: Staff and Students against Management

Across the country, both in Scotland and the rest of the UK, universities are being hit by a 14-day strike, with staff at over 74 universities taking part and thousands joining in support, both workers and students. Universities state they will attempt to keep services unaffected by the industrial action but this statement is looking increasingly hollow as classes are cancelled, and with many students actively supporting the strikers, the universities are increasingly looking like the weaker side. 

The University and College Union, the group that organised this wave of industrial action are taking issue with the way in which treatment of staff is continuing to deteriorate. Increasingly, consultation has set into the industry, with an increase in zero-hour contracts, an unresolved gender pay gap and worsening contract terms. The straw that broke the camel’s back for a lot of staff appears to have been changes to pension schemes meaning staff were paying more without the University increasing payments into the pot in kind. 

This will be the third time that uni staff have gone on strike, the last time happening just before Christmas and negotiations are still not landing at a reasonable result. During this time however support from students, according to the BBC is around 47% among students Keeping in mind this might be the third time some of these students have gone through a strike nearly one in two students still supporting the strike is both surprising and good news for staff. The strikes have also got the support from some politicians, notably including Labour leader candidate Rebecca long Bailey and Labour education shadow secretary Angela Rayner. Support from other parties is a bit quieter, not surprising since in previous strikes in Scotland SNP cuts were directly called out as a reason for industrial action, with Staff and union members warning as early as September last year about SNP policy making strike action more, not less likely. 

Support in Glasgow’s institutes remains high, and many students continuing to join staff at picket lines. The reasons behind the Scottish strikes are a little different than the strikes taking place elsewhere in the UK; as mentioned earlier, the cuts to education in Scotland were a driving cause, as was a reduction in real wages, with union representatives saying that some lecturers have had a reduction in pay of 20% over the last decade. 

One interesting form of protest that has emerged during these strikes is that staff are simply following their contracts to the letter without carrying out any of the additional duties they were doing outside of the role they were hired for. The effectiveness of this strategy is shocking, and cuts to the heart of the issue of casualisation in education. The fact that these institutes are crawling to a halt simply because people are only doing what they are paid to do exemplifies how much of a burden is being pushed on to staff without compensation. By forcing employees to burn the wick at both ends without even fairly compensating them for the additional work they are relied upon for, it was only a matter of time before workers took to defending their livelihoods against a deal that is tightening the screws on them. 

Although students continue to show their support, this has not been without consequences. Some universities have dealt students suspensions and expulsions for supporting staff, aiming to drive a wedge between teachers and students. This policy has put people’s educations at risk and at Stirling University, students that supported the strikes earlier last year were threatened with homelessness as they would be banned from university accommodation. The fact that university management is treating the support for staff with such an iron fist, threatening teenagers with homelessness is deeply chilling. The idea that universities are a place that young people can grow, learn but also develop a voice is not lining up with the reality, where you can now be kicked out on the streets for piping up. 

As the strike continues it’s important we all pay attention to what is going on: our centres of education are putting the squeeze on educators and support staff, and at the same time dealing out draconian punishments to dissenters. If you’re able I would ask you to support the strike in any way you can, or else the next generation will be taught about the world from underpaid, overworked educators and reminded constantly to keep their mouths shut.

Connecting Communities: Syria to North Ayrshire

As first reported in the Ardrossan Herald, it looks like North Ayrshire is set to welcome 30 more refugees from Syria. Council leader Joe Cullinane tweeted the Herald article stating:

My cabinet will agree our extended commitment this coming Tuesday meaning we will have resettled 230 Syrians by March 2021. Thank you to the North Ayrshire communities who have welcomed them with love, care and kindness!

This means that 6 more families will be settled here in North Ayrshire as part of a nationwide programme that is open to refugees that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) determines to be in the most immediate need for resettlement because of their vulnerability.

In the article, Mr Cullinane also thanks the teams that have worked to support these families in their transition to life here in Scotland and praises the people of Ayrshire after receiving feedback that the communities the refugees have moved in to have, by in large, accepted their new neighbours and made them feel welcome.

Of course we don’t live in a perfect world and he goes on the address the inevitable naysayers:

I said last August, and I repeat today, that I know there will be a vocal minority on social media who oppose our humanitarian efforts but I also know that the majority will welcome our new families with love, care and kindness over the coming months and for that I am eternally grateful.

It’s heartening to hear that these people who have lived through horrors most of us have the privilege of avoiding are being welcomed and cared for in their new home.

The civil war in Syria has been going on now for almost 9 years and since December last year, 800,000 civilians have been forced to flee their homes to the province of Idlib. The people of this region have suffered greatly with regular Russian bombardment and the rule of extremists who have claimed the province since the start of the war. Regime forces are pushing in to the region and with the Turkish government not wanting to take in any more refugees, the people are stuck between the two forces.

Some of the most tragic news to come from the region in recent weeks has been from the Atmeh refugee camp. The temperatures in the area have been dipping as low as -7 degrees and without fuel or fire children have started to freeze to death. After living in a damp and cold tent for weeks after fleeing their home due to shelling by regime forces, mother of 4 Samia Mahmoud al-Sattouf woke up on Tuesday morning to find that her 7 month old son Abdul Wahab had frozen to death during the night as the family slept.

This is only one of many similar stories to come from the region. It is a terrible humanitarian crisis and these people deserve all the help that can be provided to them. To read of the horrors that these innocent people face while knowing that many of them face prejudice when they make it to other countries in search for safety and stability is deeply saddening.

Everyone here at ACU wishes nothing but the best to the all the families that find themselves resident in our wee community, and long may they feel welcome here, as all refugees are.

If you want to find out how you can help and support resettlement efforts in Scotland visit https://www.scottishactionforrefugees.org

The Ayrshire Boy that Won the Royal Rumble

If you are in any way familiar with the world of ‘sports entertainment’, you’ll probably have heard of the Royal Rumble. One of the ‘Big 4’ pay-per-views held by WWE, along with Summer Slam, Survivor Series and of course, Wrestlemania. Originally proposed by wrestling legend Pat Patterson, the first Royal Rumble took place in 1988 (and was won by Hacksaw Jim Duggan). The rules of the match are simple; it usually involves 30 superstars who all draw a number for the match. Number 1 and number 2 start the match in the ring with the rest of the entrants coming to the ring at 2 minute intervals (sometimes less) in order of the numbers they have drawn. A superstar is eliminated from the match when they are thrown over the top rope and both feet touch the floor on the outside.


In it’s modern iteration, the last wrestler standing at the end of the match secures themselves an opportunity at winning a title in the main event at Wrestlemania. To this day no wrestler from the United Kingdom has ever become the WWE champion, but many think the wrestler that won the mens royal rumble this past weekend might just be the first.

Andrew McLean Galloway, who currently wrestles in WWE as Drew McIntyre was born right here in Ayr. He has been wrestling since 2003 and started off on the British Independent scene. He began training at the age of 15 at the Frontier Wrestling Alliance Academy and made his debut in the inaugural show of the British Championship Wrestling promotion in Glasgow. He soon developed his first character and went by the name ‘Thee’ Drew Galloway, a cocky, self absorbed heel (bad guy). He would find continued success wrestling for different promotions and even became the first Heavyweight Champion of the now insanely popular Scottish promotion Insane Championship Wrestling, a promotion that Galloway would become synonymous with both before joining WWE and after he initially left. (On a side note if you’re looking for a good night out you could do worse than one of the many shows run by ICW. Support your local indies!)

Drew McIntyre as he’s known in WWE


Galloway first signed to WWE at the end of 2007 where he would change his in-ring name to ‘Drew McIntyre’ and when he eventually moved on to the main roster properly in 2009 he would be heralded by Vince McMahon himself as the ‘Chosen One’, hand picked by Vince himself the be a future world champion. He would go on to have various feuds with the likes of Matt Hardy, R-Truth and Kane and won the company’s intercontinental title early on in his main roster career. He performed through various storylines and eventually became part of a group called 3MB (Three Man Band). At this point it was becoming increasingly obvious that he was never going to be put in the main event spot at that point in his career and after some middling feuds he would be released from his contract in 2014.


This alone would have been enough to make anyone give up hope but Galloway had different plans. The month after he was released from WWE he appeared again for the Glasgow based Insane Championship Wrestling promotion for the first time in 7 years. Back to wrestling as Drew Galloway; by November of the same year he had once again become the Heavyweight Champion. This marked the beginning of a very successful run in the European, Australian and American independent wrestling scenes where he would defend the ICW championship against all comers. Some of the biggest promotions he would wrestle for included Evolve, PWG, TNA, AAA and ICW.


After all of this he would eventually re-sign with WWE in 2017, returning to his WWE name ‘Drew McIntyre’ he wrestled first in the NXT development brand. All of the new experience he had from his run on the independent circuit made him more exciting to watch in the ring and with his new skills and menacing demeanor he quickly ascended to the top of the NXT brand and won the top title there before moving back to the main roster where he currently works.

Mens Royal Rumble 2020 winner


So after all Galloway has been through in his wrestling career, he seems to have come full circle. Vince McMahon only has wrestlers win the Royal Rumble match if he has complete faith in them to go on to carry the company forward. The ‘Scottish Psychopath’ as he’s been billed recently has certainly proven himself worthy of this trust and looks set to possibly be the first ever Scottish WWE champion in the company’s long history.
In saying this Vince McMahon seems to change his mind every 10 minutes and WWE has had a bit of a history of disappointing its fans when it comes to anything to do with Brock Lesnar.

We’ll have to wait and see but here’s to hoping that the big man from Ayr can vanquish the beast and finally fulfill his ‘Chosen One’ prophecy.

Chris and Colin Weir, Ayrshire’s Lotto Winners

What would you do if you won the lotto? Me? I would like to say I would be responsible but I’d more than likely buy my mum a nice wee house and then spend the next years of my life having Buckfast and steak for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That’s right, I do dream big. When Chris and Colin Weir from Largs won £161 million- at the time the largest payout for anyone in the UK-instead of living a life of hedonism and tonic wine, they decided to put their money to good use by providing funding for the Yes campaign during the run up to the independence vote. They ended up contributing around 4/5ths of the yes campaigns funding and played a significant role as some of the campaigns biggest financial backers.

The couple ended up in total donating nearly £3 million to the yes campaign, making them the top donors, followed up by Dan Macdonald, a developer involved with the Yes Scotland campaign and Mark Shaw, the director of the campaign, who each donated around £50 thousand. 

When this hit the press it wasn’t taken well by the better together campaign, with claims that the couple had been harassed for money and others who said that the small number of donors donating vast amounts showed that the campaign itself wasn’t that popular with the average person in Scotland. The Weirs themselves said that they had been lifelong supporters of Scottish Independence, there had been no bullying or pressure and that while the campaign did get its funding from a few large donations they believed that Scotland wanted to have a debate about independence- funding would give Scotland the opportunity to be well informed.  

The Better Together campaigns finances were a bit murkier, with Tory party financiers, bankers and even, according to the Guardian, individuals linked to the intelligence services being top donors. 

Sadly, for the Weirs and the rest of us, the No vote won and we have yet to see an independent Scotland. While they spent millions funding the campaign which ultimately lost the battle, they did contribute greatly towards making the debate more substantive than a one-sided shouting match. When up against long-standing institutions like the government, the Tory party and the media- including the BBC- there is no doubt that the funding given by the Weirs helped level the playing field and made the referendum far fairer than it otherwise might have been.

Outside of the referendum, the couple’s charitable ventures didn’t stop. They had been known to support their local football teams in Largs, as well as setting up a charitable commission called the Weir Charitable Trust in 2013. The trust is still active today and has put funding into Scottish sports and culture, as well as supporting things like the Gareloch Riding for the Disabled Association, which aims at making carriage driving more inclusive,  and the Kelso Heritage Society, a project that aims to promote local heritage in Kelso. 

Sadly In April 2019, the couple announced they were splitting up, however stating they were remaining amicable, and on December 27th Colin Weir, after a short illness, passed away. His funeral cortege passed by the Partick Thistle grounds one last time, a team he had become the largest stakeholder of earlier this year through his group Three Black Cats. Respects were paid at Partick Burgh Hall, which was open to all. At the service it was said that Colin would be remembered as “A Scottish patriot, philanthropist and Jags man to the end”. 

What would you do if you won the lottery? After reading through everything the Weirs have done, and Chris continues to do, I do hope I would be a little like them. Promoting culture and sports across Scotland, working to make political debate fairer and more equal, even if I couldn’t find myself supporting Partick Thistle.

The Election and Ayrshire.

The results from the general election are in, and I’d be lying if I said I was anything other than disappointed. England has turned almost completely blue, and while Scotland itself has turned away from its flirt with Toryism, its not turned to the left. We’re going to take a look at the results in Ayrshire, the UK as a whole and what this could mean for the future.

Unlike last time I won’t go through each of the four constituencies in Ayrshire as they all tell a similar story. The whole of Ayrshire is now represented in Westminster by the SNP, with the Tories coming in second and losing their seat in Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock. In every seat Labour lost a voting share of around 10 to 14 percent, and are no longer the second party in Kilmarnock and Loudoun. While this loss has largely been the SNP’s gain- their voting share went up by around 8 to 10 percent in each seat- we can’t know if this has been a shifting of party preference or tactical voting from Labour supporters hoping to keep the Tories out. It does at least look like Labour weren’t losing voters to the Tory party here. With former mining towns in Yorkshire and elsewhere in England turning blue, this might not be as absurd a fear as once thought. Indeed, Kensington- the constituency where the Grenfell tower fire happened- also voted Tory. At least we can take some solace in the fact that there’s no longer a Tory MP in Ayrshire.

 

Across Scotland the SNP made massive gains, even managing to unseat the standing Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson. A Lib Dem leader losing their seat is becoming something of a tradition now. The SNP are already pushing for these results as a mandate for a second referendum, and with protests in Glasgow the day after the election against Boris as PM there is clearly some visible groundswell behind this idea. My concern however, is two fold: firstly, that while the SNP have gained a sizeable share of the vote, some or even most of this could have been tactical voting by supporters of other, unionist parties that were worried about Brexit and Boris. Scotland voted overwhelmingly against Brexit, and now the SNP will have to position independence as a question of remaining in the UK or the EU. Will this be enough to convince the unionist remainers to still support the SNP? How many will go back to supporting the union when asked to put an X next to a Yes or No ballot?  My second concern for the SNP is that despite positioning themselves further to the right than in 2017, they didn’t manage to gain many Conservative voters, instead taking a big share of Labours voter base. The SNP may therefore see fit to move further to the left, as they could be able to secure these gains from the Labour electorate long term. However, my concern is that they might see this as a battle already won- the Labour party in Scotland is in the worst state it has been in living memory-and instead double down on trying to secure the sizable part of the Scottish vote that is to the right.

A protest in Glasgow against the election results.

As a whole the UK has been washed over with a tide of blue. As mentioned before, even mining towns in Yorkshire and Wales, once hit the hardest by Thatcher, are now Tory seats, and the language of the party’s supporters is already transforming into something resembling an English nationalist party, with figures like Tommy Robinson openly supporting the party and even joining its membership. The Tory party is taking on a more nationalistic, jingoist, Britain First rhetoric rather than the traditional and bland pro business and small c conserative slogans they tended to advocate for. With new found working class support the Tories find themselves in the unique position of competing with the Brexit Party for votes that were once securely Labour. What changes this might force the party through is uncertain, but with as big a personality as Boris in the PM chair the role of Prime Minister is increasingly taking on a more presidential shape and image.

While the mainland has had significant upsets Northern Ireland is not any less interesting, with the nation set to join Scotland as another country of the union in which separatist parties are gaining ground. For the first time in history Sinn Fein has won the seat of North Belfast, and in another first shock Unionist MPs are now outnumbered by Republicans. With the SNP in Scotland and the DUP losing in Northern Ireland, it seems the Tory victory in England and Wales might have come with the cost of a disunited United Kingdom.

 

Labours results have been nothing short of devastating. There are a myriad of factors contributing to this- I do not believe the blame lies solely at Corbyn’s feet, or with his socialist policies. He had been leader in 2017 with similar positions and saw an increase in voter share larger than Brown or Milliband, who were firmly to the right of Corbyn’s labour. Two factors were different this election, the first being Brexit. Labour conceded ground to the centrist, middle class part of their voter base to argue for a second referendum, and here we see their downfall. Corbyn himself had embraced the leave vote the day after the referendum but quickly took a party position of trying to reconcile the working class leaver and middle class remainers within the voter base and Labour found itself pulled apart by two opposing forces, resulting in hamstrung fence sitting about the biggest question of this election. Unable to reconcile these two diametrically opposed views Labour lost a big part of its voting share to the Tories. It’s clear that playing a middle ground, centrist position doesn’t work, evidenced doubly in how badly the Lib Dem’s fared, and that the centrist Labour defectors lost all of their seats.

Boris was mocked for constantly repeating “Get Brexit Done”, but this is what a large part of the electorate wanted to hear. Labour’s inability to provide a clear position was something the Tories could hammer into again and again.

The second major issue for Labour this elections was the media. Losing a lot of its subtlety the Murdock papers slammed Corbyn and McDonnel as if they were a red menace with Bolshivik loyalties and the BBC found itself ill equipped and unmotivated to counter these claims or give Labour a fair trial. We saw accusations of racism levelled at Corbyn, a man who had spent his life as an anti racist campaigner, at a time when the Tory government is supporting antisemetic governments like Hungary and Suadi Arabia, openly threatening traveler communities in its manifesto and has been caught deporting black citizens in the Windrush Scandal. This isn’t to say that The Labour Party doesn’t have a problem with antisemitism, or that Jeremy Corbyn has done enough to address the issue. But clearly the media have decided to hold Labour to a higher level of scrutiny, while the Conservative government have embraced racism and antisemitism as party policy.

Instead of holding to task the powers that be, various senior media figures were having daily meetings with the PM and trying to both sides issues on which the evidence clearly showed the Tories were in the wrong. It’s not a coincidence that Corbyn was the only leader this election whose approval rating went up the more people engaged with him or that Liverpool, a city that has banned Murdock propaganda, is the only city that remained firmly red. Boris meanwhile, found himself avoiding Andrew Neil and literally hiding from reporters in a fridge. You have to question the integrity of a media landscape where one man is acknowledged as the sole journalist that will hold leaders to task, and simply avoiding an interview with him means avoiding all significant scrutiny.

The years ahead for Labour will be difficult, and many within Scotland are already arguing that Scottish Labour should embrace independence, another issue which might split the party.

What does this mean for Ayrshire? The next few years are going to be difficult, Brexit looms over us all and Ayrshire stands to lose more than most. The SNP might have a mandate to pursue independence, or at least a second referendum, but there is no legal apparatus to push for this if the Prime Minister does not give his blessing – which Boris has repeatedly said he will not do. The rise of republicanism in Northern Ireland might not lead to separatism and a united Ireland, but could still lead to trouble in Ayrshire, as we have always been more involved in the politics of our Celtic brothers across the sea and have our own troubled history with sectarianism. Vital services might also be under threat soon, as the day after the election Damian Green, a Tory MP, openly said that the nation will need to move to an insurance based healthcare system. All the while climate change is creeping up on us, and the time we have left to do anything about it is slipping through our fingers. What stands before us is an era of uncertainty, unrest and austerity, one in which Ayrshire, while not at the centre of many of these issues stands to be one of the hardest hit regions in the UK, as it has been in the past by political and social turmoil.

In times like these communities need to come together and support one another. Join your union at work; if you don’t have one this is the time to make one. Talk to your neighbours, friends and family and be sure to support the vulnerable. If you are so inclined, go out and protest, make sure people know how you feel about what’s happening. Go to your local food bank to see what you can do to help out. With the Tories in power all we can expect for the most disenfranchised in our society is more of the same neglect and disdain. A better world is possible, but it’s up to us to make it happen, together.

The General Election.

The 12th December General Election is less than a week away, and with it comes the possibility of seeing the Tories ousted before they can cause any more irreparable damage to our society. In England and Wales, the choice is clear. In Scotland, the choice between the SNP and Labour is, for many people, more difficult- the decision will centre around two major points of political conflict. The handling of Brexit and the future of Scottish independence, issues which have divided the country for years now.

While the SNP will no doubt redouble their efforts towards a second referendum should they retain their seats, they will never be able to secure that second referendum if the Conservatives remain in power. If that were possible, there would have been a second referendum by now. Additionally, they stand no chance of being able to meaningfully handle the Brexit negotiations, even if the whole of Scotland was to vote for them. This increases the risk of the conservatives returning to power to enact their harmful Brexit deal that will have a negative effect on the working class all across these Isles.

It also bears remembering that the SNP have proved themselves to be, time and again, a centrist party, pandering to trendy progressive ideals while doing very little in support of the Scottish working class, possessing no real vision for a genuinely progressive society beyond Scottish independence. With the drop in Labour turnout in 2017, the SNP have continued to turn away from more progressive policies. Their 2017 manifesto included proposed reforms to Thatcherite union laws and support of the Gender Recognition Act, both of which have been dropped this time around.
The SNPs continued refusal to enact real change is evidenced in their 2019 manifesto, where they make nebulous proclamations that they

“will consider proposals to ensure fairer pay by ensuring that the balance of salaries of all employees within a company or organisation are considered when senior pay packs are decided.”

Improving pay and working conditions for workers is not a primary concern for the SNP, and the vagueness of this statement and others like it within the manifesto show that. Labour are the only party attempting to represent the voice of the British working class, who have more in common with each other across national boundaries than with the managerial and upper classes of their own respective countries. By contrast their manifesto speaks to the evident need for drastic and urgent change. There is still work to be done- in a number of areas Labour don’t go far enough- but a vote for the SNP does nothing to shift the conversation towards meaningful change, and will only weaken Labours position against the Tories.

Labour will have a difficult time winning back support after the numerous failures in previous Scottish Labour campaigns to speak to and galvanise the Scottish electorate, which ultimately resulted in mass losses in trust and position to the then rising SNP. This does mean, however, that it wasn’t Labour who failed to prevent the resurgence of the Conservatives in Scotland.

The prospect of a strong Labour government so threatens the establishment that the likes of the BBC have found it almost impossible to disguise their inherent bias; from editing out crowds laughing at the idea of Boris Johnson being trustworthy to showing 3 year old footage of him at the cenotaph to cover for yet another blunder, the blatant manipulation has been staggering. Corbyn himself has been put through the ringer more violently than any other recent Labour figure, meaning his Labour party- which has at last remembered its own history- stands a fighting chance of dismantling the hegemony which sees 6 people own as much wealth in the UK as the bottom 13 million.

While we at the ACU support independence and fully understand the organic political support behind the cause for a better say in how our wee country is run, we believe now is the time to show solidarity with workers across the UK. That means not abandoning them to suffer under a callous Tory premiership. Democracy is best served by the dismantling of large structures of governance and power, but an independent Scotland would nevertheless benefit from a neighbouring Labour government. The desire to vote SNP as a means of sending a message to Westminster is understandable but would in fact likely delay or discount the very possibility of a second referendum should the Tories maintain power. While it seems likely that Labour will be forced to seek a coalition with the SNP- the price of which, Sturgeon has been clear, is a second referendum- this isn’t actually preferable to what is being tabled by Scottish Labour. A second referendum will come- we can trust the tenacity of the SNP in that regard, and we will have another chance to show support for it come the Scottish elections. But right now, the best use of your vote is to get rid of the Conservatives while at the same time shifting the conversation on domestic policy dramatically in a better direction.

Vote Labour!

Unions, Lies And The Need For Change

About a month ago we covered the Communication Workers Union’s efforts in balloting its members about the possibility of industrial action. This came as a result of the Royal Mail group failing to live up to its commitments laid out in “The Four Pillars” agreement that would mean a number of protections for the workers and an introduction of a 35-hour, full time work week.

Since covering this it has transpired that the Royal Mail Group took the matter to the high courts, asking for an injunction on any industrial action, claiming that it was simply politically motivated and that there was evidence of “irregularities” in the balloting process. The injunction was ultimately granted, despite the 97% vote in favour of the strike and the CWU refuting the claims of tampering. Although the CWU has stated that the fight is not over, it looks very unlikely that they will have time to re-ballot the 100,000 union members in time for December, a time in which they would have the most leverage to ensure meaningful and positive assurances to their working conditions.

This comes at the same time that the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers were similarly denied the right to strike in the high courts despite over 98% support for action, with General Secretary Mick Cash stating on the RMT website:

Despite an overwhelming vote for action we have failed to meet the arbitrary thresholds set by the Government and the fact that the tube cleaners will now be denied the right to strike is wholly down to the toxic combination of the Tory anti-union laws and a bullying and hostile environment created by ABM.

The Conservative Party has a long history of anti-union sentiment. One of the most recent examples of this was the announcement of the Trade Union Bill in 2015, just 20 days after the Conservative Party took power. The contents of this bill are as follows:

  • A 50 percent voting threshold for union ballot turnouts
  • An additional 40 percent yes vote requirement in ‘core public services’ (health, education, transport and fire services)
  • New time limitations on ballot mandates
  • Proposals to prevent alleged intimidation of non-striking workers during a strike
  • Tightening regulations on picketing and the introduction of new criminal sanctions.
  • Removal of the ban on using Agency Staff to replace striking workers. (A ban that was in place since 1973)
  • Changes to the operation of the political fund element of trade union subscriptions
  • Further restrictions on check-off facilities for trade union subscription collection
  • Threats to facility time for trade union representatives

These restrictions were put in place on top of already existing restrictions which makes Britain one of the most anti-union countries in the western world. In January of 2015 a European Committee on Social Rights criticised the UK for being in excessive breach of workers rights. They concluded that the government failed in its duty to protect workers from unpaid overtime, unpaid holidays and inadequate rest periods.

David Cameron constantly disguised many damaging decisions and policies with the pretence that his Tory government was the real party for working class people. In a statement to his first cabinet he said:

I call it being the real party of working people, giving everyone in our country the chance to get on, with the dignity of a job, the pride of a pay cheque, a home of their own and the security and peace of mind that comes from being able to support a family. And just as important for those that can’t work, the support they need at every stage of their lives.

Quite the rhetoric, but with the benefit of hindsight it becomes obvious that these were just more empty platitudes from elitist, greedy, career politicians. Not convinced? Let’s compare the statement to the statistics over the past 4 years.

“I call it being the real party of working people…” – While many of the poorest people in the country had to face the brunt of austerity, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osbourne reduced the top rate of income tax from 50% to 45%, saving the richest in the country roughly £554,000 each a year. Between the tax years of 2013/14 to 2017/18 this cost the British taxpayer £8.6 Billion. Money that could easily have went to the horribly underfunded NHS, schools or local governments. Not that this mattered to those that can afford private healthcare and private education.

“giving everyone in our country the chance to get on, with the dignity of a job, the pride of a paycheque, a home of their own and the security and peace of mind that comes from being able to support a family…” – Where to start with this one. Around 1 in 40 people in employment in the UK are on zero-hour contracts. These workers have no stability and no guarantee of enough to get by on. Many workers are employed on a contractor basis so that employers can exploit them with no guarantee of holiday entitlement or sick pay. A lot of people can’t afford to own their own homes either. People born in the late 70’s had a 43% rate of home ownership by the age of 27. In contrast, people born in the late 80’s/ early 90’s have a rate of just 25% of home ownership. There are more than 4 million people living in deep poverty, with 7 million people affected with persistent poverty. 73% of children in poverty live in a family in which an adult worked for a living. Not even a secure job can assure you the basic need of taking care of your family.

“And just as important for those that can’t work, the support they need at every stage of their lives.” – This might just be one of the most blatant and malicious lies quoted. Disabled people are looking at losing £50 a week by 2020 while the wealthiest people fund Boris Johnson and receive tax breaks in return. Many people were deemed ‘fit to work’ and shunted on to jobseekers allowance and told to find a job. This was announced as an incentive by the Tories to get disabled people back to work- because it’s not their disability that’s stopping them from working, it’s just lack of motivation.

More than 17,000 sick and disabled people have died in this country while waiting for welfare benefits.

So, what chance do the trade unions have in helping their members, when faced with a government so cruel and self-serving? One that has done everything in its power to strangle the unions and steal from the poor to give to the rich. We can continue to listen to the lies of the current government that has spent years dismantling this country with money in their pockets and blood on their hands- or we can choose to be rid of them.

Voting History In Ayrshire

As there is a general election coming up, I thought I would take this time to look at how Ayrshire voted last time around; I’ll look at what those results meant for Ayrshire in 2017, and what they could mean for our vote in December.

Ayrshire is split into four different constituencies: North Ayrshire & Arran, Central Ayrshire, Kilmarnock & Loudoun and Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock. We’ll take a look at each of these in turn and then consider what this shows for Ayrshire as a whole.

In North Ayrshire and Arran the SNP managed to hold on to their seat in 2017, but suffered a massive drop in their majority, from comfortably over 50 % of the votes to just under 40%. This is still a large share, but going from most of the votes being cast in your favour to a majority of constituents actually voting against your party can’t be a welcome change.

In what was initially a surprise- although one that will become ominously more common as we discuss the other seats in Ayrshire- 2017 saw the Conservative Party grow from just shy of 15% of the vote share to more than double that amount, going on to become the second largest party, overtaking Labour.

In Central Ayrshire we have a similar story. The SNP lost the voting majority while still retaining their seat. However, in 2017 the majority was far slimmer, with only 1267 votes between the SNP and the rising Conservative Party. Labour here again lost out, completing a downward trend from holding the seat in 2010, to second place in 2015 and third place in 2017.

In Kilmarnock & Loudoun there was some variation from the trend set by the two other seats discussed so far, namely that Labour managed to retain second place rather than trailing behind the Tories. However, the Conservatives again managed an incredible increase in votes, from around 12.5% in 2015 to more than double at over 26%. Again, in this constituency the SNP held their seat, but the pro union parties totalled a larger voter share when added together. On the other hand, the SNP managed to get their highest share of the vote, at over 42%, which meant their safest majority at over 6000 votes.

Finally we get to Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock, the largest upset among the four. This was the only seat the SNP didn’t manage to keep from 2015 and the only place in Ayrshire that elected a Tory. Yet again labour performed poorly and placed third. The victory for the Tories was only slightly tainted as they didn’t manage to get an overall majority of the votes, totalling just a tad over 40%, with a majority of over 2700 votes, not insignificant but not the biggest win either.

So what does this all mean? Labour have fallen very far from 2005 and 2010, when they won unambiguously in every Ayrshire seat, and have now dropped to third place almost everywhere. Meanwhile, the Tories appear on the up and up, even winning a seat in Ayrshire and biting at the heels of the SNP in every other seat, something that would have been ridiculous to suggest in 2010. Are the SNP on the way out after their incredible high in 2015? I don’t think so, at least not for a while. The SNP are resilient, having made a comeback from losing the independence vote by winning 56 out of 59 seats in Westminster, and managing to hold a majority in Scotland in 2017 despite the loss of 21 seats. One cause for concern for the SNP is that in every seat in Ayrshire more people voted for unionist parties, Labour and Conservative, than the pro-independence SNP. It’s hard to say if this trend will repeat itself this year. With Brexit looming ever closer and most of Scotland voting against it the SNP might stand to gain votes. The Conservatives are now the second largest party in Scotland, both in Westminster and Holyrood. It’s difficult to say if they can repeat this come December, but having sold themselves as the only viable opposition to the SNP, it’s possible that the SNP downturn might continue and we could have a Tory in every Ayrshire seat come the new year. Labour stand in a poor position. Corbyn managed to win a larger voter share than any other Labour leader since Tony Blair, but didn’t perform well in Scotland, remaining about as popular north of the Border as Milliband was. Labour do have an opportunity, however, if they manage to position themselves as a pro union party that will give voters a second say on Brexit. They could then take advantage of the current political climate and undercut both the SNP and the Tory party, but this would require a massive effort to deliver.

You may be wondering why the Lib Dems have not been mentioned in relation to these seats. That’s because in every single seat the Lib Dems went from having between 15% and 10% of the votes in 2015, to political irrelevance, not even topping 2% in any seat in 2017.

I’ve tried to be as unbiased as possible while writing about past elections and I hope I managed that above, but if you are a long-time reader of the ACU you can probably guess which way we all lean. Rather than tell you what to vote out of any ideological reason I’m going to be a little cynical and encourage you to vote tactically.

Vote Labour no matter what seat you’re in.

If you’re worried that Labour won’t win, vote Labour- even if they lose, the next time the seat is contested Labour will stand a better chance of victory; If you think Labour will win, vote Labour so they will get a larger majority; If you want Brexit, vote Labour because they will get the deal done in 6 months; If you want to remain, vote Labour because you will get a second chance to beat the leave vote. If you want to remain part of the union, vote Labour in order to protect the NHS, the economy and worker rights, which are themselves the best arguments for the union; If you want independence, vote Labour because the Tories will not give Scotland a second referendum and you can vote SNP in the Scottish election.

Vote Labour.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Alex Begg & The Problem With Managers

It made the news recently that Ayr based weaving company Alex Begg & Co would be making fifteen shop floor workers redundant in an attempt to cut down costs, due to a “softening in demand and uncertainty over Brexit”. This seems like a weak excuse when comments made by the workers themselves are taken in to account. An insider who contacted the Ayrshire Post claimed that “We were really busy, but it has quietened down quite a bit in the last year and the company had to take out a bank overdraft. But all they seem to do is keep employing more and more management. Now they have decided to pay off the shop floor workers… There’s no management at all going, just the shop floor workers.” This is not uncommon in businesses facing troubling times. Those in the position to make decisions will never vote themselves out of a job, so they calculate how many of the workers below themselves they need to get rid of to keep the company in profit and salvage their own paycheck.

The insider went on to say “They’ve just spent around half a million pounds making new offices, new decking and new computers for office staff. And believe it or not they just spent thousands sending two managers on a team building jaunt to Las Vegas.” So, FIFTEEN of the people that create the products that Alex Begg & Co makes profit from will be out of work just in time for Christmas.

Top-heavy management structures are all too common within businesses, especially in manufacturing. It is believed that a hierarchy is needed, and productivity is only achieved through people telling other people what to do and how fast to do it. However this doesn’t have to be the case; more and more we’re seeing long lasting success in businesses that structure themselves differently. Self-Management (a flat system where workers set their own goals which are reviewed by their peers) and Worker Co-ops (businesses owned by the workers themselves, with decisions made democratically) are just two alternatives to hierarchical business structures which have their roots in Syndicalism (a highly misunderstood and feared term due to its associations with Anarchism), a system in which there are no managers and all workers take collective control of the running of the business. This may sound absurd to some, that workers can get on just fine managing themselves and for these businesses to remain viable, so let me explain…

Having a top-heavy company structure can be inefficient and costly. Having so many layers of approval slows down the system of work. Not only this but having so many managers can result in good ideas being twisted or killed outright by people that are looking out for their own personal interest. It’s a problem that gets worse the more layers you add. Concentrating decision-making power into the hands of individuals- who themselves are often so removed from the realities of production as to be ignorant of its requirements- increases the risk of harmful mistakes that affect the entire business, especially the higher up you go. Decisions that seem smart high up the chain of command often end up being unworkable on the ground and workers on the frontline of the business with experience and insight into the actual production of the products are ignored. Or worse, sacked right before Christmas so bosses can justify expensive new offices and “team building” excursions to Vegas. Having people in far away, incontestable places of power means that bad decisions can’t be challenged and become a huge risk to the business.

In contrast, a self-management structure means that nobody has a boss, employees have a less rigid role in the company and negotiate their responsibilities with their peers depending on what their skills are and what they can bring to the company. There are no job titles or promotions to fight over, knowledge is valued above arbitrary titles. The amount of money that workers earn is decided by peer review and there is no option to move production to other countries so that managers can pay foreign workers less money and gain more in profit. A good real-life example of this working is the Morning Star Company in California. This company processes and distributes tomatoes across a number of large factories and is highly profitable. It is believed that the Morning Star Company is the most efficient tomato processing company in the world and they have no management at all. The company’s vision as described on their website reads “We envision an organization of self-managing professionals who initiate communication and coordination of their activities with fellow colleagues, customers, suppliers and fellow industry participants, absent directives from others. For colleagues to find joy and excitement utilizing their unique talents and to weave those talents into activities which compliment and strengthen fellow colleagues’ activities. And for colleagues to take personal responsibility and hold themselves accountable for achieving our Mission.” Those that work at the Morning Star Company are trusted to do the jobs they are good at and are kept accountable through self-written milestone goals called “Personal Missions” and through review from their peers.

Businesses similar to this have been cropping up all over Scotland. The Worker cooperative sector has grown from 30 businesses in 2015 to 100 in 2018. In Glasgow alone, there has been an overall 17% increase in the co-op economy. For those businesses which have switched over from traditional management structures to worker co-ops, turnover has increased by 35%, and profits are up by 55%. In general worker owned businesses tend to be much more stable as they don’t run the risk of being undone by one bad managers decision.

There is no doubt that there are hardworking managers out there that do their best to contribute to the success of a business and steer away from abusing the power they are given. The point is that there is more than one way to structure a business and it seems that those companies that do move away from hierarchy and the politics of power tend to operate better in the long run.

So, perhaps if Alex Begg & Co wish to future-proof themselves and move forward with creative solutions to production, they should first fire the managers, and let the workers do what they do best.

Photo by Christopher Burns on Unsplash