A Way Forward for Workers

Roz Foyer argues that the People’s Charter offers a way forward for the labour movement in Scotland and offers a policy agenda that can unite people from across political parties

When Len McCluskey the new General Secretary of Unite addressed the assembled crowds at Glasgow’s May Day Rally just days before the Scottish Parliament elections he delivered a stark message to the Scottish Labour party.

Reminding us that Keir Hardy had said his key aim in life was to stir up divine discontent among the people, he strongly urged Scottish Labour to return to those radical roots – to reclaim its radical edge and reject the cuts agenda.  He said it was no use embracing the concept of cuts but saying we’ll cut slower or thinner.  He said it was time for the Party to face up to the fact that the New Labour philosophy – that slavish ideology of neo–liberalism – has failed and he urged us all to stand up and be confident in our beliefs.  For us to have faith in our values of decency, dignity, justice and equality.
Len McCluskey also underlined Unite’s absolute backing for the People’s Charter, saying there is an alternative out there.  An alternative called the People’s Charter, which is all about investing in our communities and not destroying them.

I believe that in the period ahead the People’s Charter should become the manifesto for our movement. It has the power to unite the left across party boundaries behind a positive agenda that is set out in terms all can understand and it neatly encapsulates “The Better Way”

Only a few days later, having witnessed the SNP sweep to an unprecedented majority in the Scottish Parliament elections, I am left wishing that Labour in Scotland had heeded my General Secretary’s advice, ripped up their manifesto and adopted the People’s Charter instead.  The SNP promoted a strong, radical vision around renewables which they articulated with passion. In doing this they portrayed a message of confidence and hope to the Scottish people, inspiring them to support the party in great numbers.

What a pity Labour didn’t show the same courage of conviction in its message.  With a manifesto that made cautious noises about the living wage, jobs and growth but failed to articulate how we could say no to the cuts killing our communities, protect our services or increase Scotland’s fiscal powers and use them to create greater tax justice, Labour came across as a party that had lost its way, and had no confidence in Scotland’s ability to do things better. No wonder Labour’s leadership didn’t seem able to get passionate about their message.

For me, it seems that because Labour has lost belief in its own values that people just don’t understand what Labour’s message is anymore.  Work will most certainly need to be done to rebuild the party in Scotland now and a full review has been promised by the outgoing leader.  Indeed perhaps the very scale of this massive defeat for Labour in Scotland will ironically give it the opportunity it so desperately needs to reclaim its radical roots.  Unite in Scotland will certainly be working hard to ensure Labour rebuilds in a more progressive and confident direction.

But as we look ahead to dealing with a strong SNP administration, the labour movement needs more than ever to spread and articulate our own message, both to the new government and to the people of Scotland.  We can’t just sit back and wait for the Labour Party to sort itself out.  We should be leading the policy agenda.

I believe that in the period ahead the People’s Charter should become the manifesto for our movement.  There has never been a better or more important time for the unions in Scotland to get behind it and promote it.  It has the power to unite the left across party boundaries behind a positive agenda that is set out in terms all can understand and it neatly encapsulates “The Better Way”.  It is an agenda for radical change that few would disagree with.  Indeed it reaches out to people across our communities.

What the People’s Charter calls for:

A fair economy for a fairer Britain

  • Progressive taxes without loopholes or tax havens
  • Nationalised ownership of the main banks
  • Government guarantee for all pensions, mortgages and savings
  • Tie pensions and benefits to wages
  • Give pensioners free transport and heating
  • Increase the minimum wage

More and better jobs

  • Protect existing jobs
  • Make a massive investment in new jobs
  • Develop green technology for our children’s sake

Decent homes for all

  • Create three million new publicly owned homes in UK
  • Control rents and stop the repossessions

Save and improve our services

  • All key public services to be publicly owned
  • Keep the post in public ownership
  • Remove profit making from NHS and Education
  • Stop the attacks on our public sector staff
  • No cuts to services for our most vulnerable

For Fairness & Justice

  • Equality for all
  • Standing together against racism and discrimination
  • End Child Poverty & give our young people a future
  • Free childcare, youth facilities, education and training for all
  • Repeal the anti-union laws to fight injustice for all workers

A better future now

  • No more blood and money for wars
  • Bring our troops home
  • No more billions for  nuclear weapons
  • Cancel third world debt
  • Get rid of Britain’s own debt economy

My own union Unite, following on from a long, drawn-out merger process and having only recently completed both General Secretary and National Executive Council elections, at last now has a clear and stable political direction, which I’m pleased to say proudly supports the aims of the People’s Charter.  This means that Unite in Scotland is now able to be far more proactive in promoting the Charter.  Indeed my colleague Jackson Cullinane, the Political Officer for Unite in Scotland has now formally joined the Scottish Committee of the People’s Charter so that Unite can play a key role in the campaign going forward.

Unite supported the work done before the election to ask all Labour candidates to publicly sign up to the Charter and it should be noted that those who got behind the Charter in a big way were successful at the polls.  Elaine Smith Labour MSP is a good example. Not only did she promote the Charter as part of her election campaign but she had also been out before the election period kicked off promoting the Charter and collecting thousands of signatures in Coatbridge High Street for several months.  It is significant to note that Elaine is one of the few Labour MSPs in Lanarkshire that survived the SNP landslide; indeed she actually increased her share of the vote by 4.5 per cent to 52.2 per cent.

The next steps for promoting the Charter include lodging it as a formal petition to the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee, or at least those aspects of the Charter that can be delivered within the Parliament’s devolved powers.  As part of this initiative Unite plan to promote sign up to the charter by our wider membership in Scotland through our branches, and more directly through our email and text contacts.

Unite is also keen to explore how we could use the charter as a vehicle for building up campaigning links with local community groups which are fighting the cuts and we will be looking at how we can support the work of local Trades Councils across Scotland to take the charter out on the streets.  We are also exploring the role that new media can play in allowing us to get positive messages like the People’s Charter out to our members that the mainstream media is unwilling to help us deliver.

There is still a big job for the movement to do in Scotland both in developing working people’s political conscience and their confidence that things can and will change if they take action.  For me the People’s Charter gives us the manifesto we need to inspire people, and god knows there has never been a better time to stir up people’s divine discontent. So let’s get the Charter out there and start engaging our people.

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