Reaction to Sturgeon’s speech

On 24 November 2015, First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, gave the third Jimmy Reid Foundation annual lecture, entitled ‘Workers’ rights are human rights’, in the same Bute Hall at the University of Glasgow where Jimmy Reid delivered his rectorial address in 1972. We asked for comment on it. Her lecture is available at

Carolyn Jones, director, Institute of Employment Rights (

It’s always uplifting to hear a political leader state that ‘unions are a force for good in modern society’. Nicola is right – unions empower people, providing a voice for those who might otherwise go unheard. Her emphasis on – and rejection of – the Trade Union Bill as a deeply regressive step, is very welcome and the speech ends on a determined note. The Bill will be vigorously opposed and the Act, if and when it comes, will be resisted, pledging never to employ agency workers in the event of industrial action. Great stuff! My concern is her emphasis on the concept of partnership and cooperation in industrial relations. Where partnerships exist between employers and unions – great. But from the Upper Clyde Shipbuilding dispute to Ineos at Grangemouth more recently, conflict remains in the employment relationship and partnership exists as the gift of employers. Political leaders need to acknowledge the employment relationship is not one of equal partners and never will be. For real partnership and cooperation to develop unions need the proactive support of a sympathetic government determined to introduce structures that place unions at the heart of industrial and economic policy. As the chair and president of the institute argue, inequality, low pay and zero hour contracts will not be wished away. Politicians have a responsibility to provide the means by which they can be addressed. Pledging to improve recognition procedures and introduce sectoral collective bargaining would show the First Minister really meant business.

Neil Findlay, Labour MSP for the Lothians

In reading her speech, I was struck by the complete absence of one word – class! Because it is class – the divide between those who own and control business and production and those who sell their labour working under the instruction of others that is, and always has been, the big divide in our society. As a nationalist, Nicola prefers to paint and image of us as ‘all Scots together’. A society where Brian Soutar and call centre workers have the same rights and interests and will share the spoils of a society that will be fairer just because we are all Scots. The reality, of course, is quite different. Under Sturgeon, SNP policy remains unchanged serving the interests of middle class Scots at the expense of the low paid and working class. That is why it champions the discredited Council Tax freeze whilst bleeding local government and kicking 60,000 out of a job; failed to introduce the living wage through procurement; leaves our railway in private hands, selling off the sleeper and ferries; protects universities and decimate colleges; refuses to hold inquiries into blacklisting, undercover policing and justice for miners; demands powers over taxes then fail to do anything with them; and has no redistributive policies. These and much more are issues affecting the very people Jimmy Reid identified with. They are class issues, they are union issues – they most certainly don’t appear to be a priority issues for the Nicola Sturgeon’s government.

Carole Ewart, human rights consultant

Nicola was direct in her condemnation of the UK Government’s attack on worker’s rights and in so doing she set out evidence on why the Trade Union Bill undermines Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which gives everyone the equal right to ‘freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his/her interests’. The ECHR states the right can be limited only in certain specific and justifiable circumstances which are ‘prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others’. Asserting the devolved political powers of Scotland and our positive track record on industrial relations, she confirmed: ‘The number of working days lost due to strikes has declined by 84% since 2007- that’s the highest reduction anywhere in the UK. Last year, fewer days were lost in Scotland, relative to our working population, than in any other part of the UK’. So the Bill is unnecessary as it seeks to fix a problem that does not exist. In 2016, I hope the Scottish Government asserts its duties under the ECHR, under the Scotland Act 1998 (s59) to proactively comply with the ECHR, and refuses to comply with the Bill. It would be rather exciting if the Scottish Government took the UK Government to the European Court of Human Rights to argue its case.