Building back better: Fairer and greener for people not profit

Roz Foyer outlines the STUC agenda for the coming period and how it is working to gain these goals.

Across Scotland there are thousands of workers’ families, retired workers’ friends and communities who are carrying the pain of loss of their loved ones. The shocking statistic of over 100,000 COVID-19 related deaths is an indictment on the failure of the UK Government to carry out its foremost duty – to safeguard the lives of its citizens. Running alongside the shocking death toll is the devastating economic impact as sectors flounder with the stop and start lockdowns, incomes fall and unemployment increases. Coupled with the disastrous Brexit process, it was clear that 2021 wasn’t going to be an easy ride for Scotland’s workers. As politicians and policy makers tip toe around the core problems of inequality, the STUC is clear that we need a ‘People’s Recovery’ (see also Scottish Left Review Nov/Dec 2021 for a summary). Our recovery is for working class people to recover the income, wealth and sense of collective purpose stolen from them by decades of political bias towards the rich and powerful.

We need to centre the voices of workers and unions at the heart of the debate about Scotland’s recovery. We need to identify the key areas where change can happen and will make a material difference to the lives of workers and their families. We need action on pay, action on care and action for jobs.

The coronavirus pandemic has shown that our society depends on key workers and, while the economy depends on manufacturing and transport, it also needs young and ethnically diverse workers in retail and hospitality. We need government intervention to increase pay for keyworkers, support for sectoral bargaining in sectors dominated by women and BAME workers, and enforce equal pay in the public sector.

We are demanding the creation of a National Care Service, valued as much as the NHS. Thousands of people in care homes have died, and nearly 70% of private care homes have had suspected COVID-19 cases, significantly higher than not-for-profit homes. The profit motive must be removed from the care sector and workers terms and conditions must be standardised and raised across the board.

Lastly, we want the creation of good quality jobs that will tackle the climate crisis. A just, green future can only be built on public investment, democratic ownership, and a strong domestic supply chain. The private sector has shown itself woefully inadequate to meet the challenge of the crisis and there is no prospect of a green recovery without massive public sector intervention.

Our union affiliates have never worked harder, longer or smarter to defend their members’ health and safety and pay and conditions than this last year. While it might have been thought that lockdown restrictions and home working, for some, should have stalled union recruitment, paused ongoing grievances and halted disputes, it has been, in fact, quite the opposite. Every sector has been dealt a blow from aviation, construction and manufacturing to retail and hospitality. As workers in energy, public health, social care and local authorities have faced job losses, wage stagnation and the imposition of new contracts, their unions have been by their side.

Concepts and models of digital campaigning and organising that were once seen as fringe are now mainstream as union reps across our movement have stepped up to learn new platforms and applications. The potential is enormous. We have seen workers and reps in rural communities, disabled activists, shift workers and those with caring responsibilities enabled to take part. If we are serious about building a diverse movement, we must invest in training and skill sharing to ensure people are not pushed back outside as we move to a ‘new normal’. The importance of this cannot be overstated as we have witnessed the growing polarisation in our communities as minority groups come under attack and growing instances of misogyny. Unions have a role as educators as well as agitators and we will campaign against structural inequality and discrimination experienced by women, black and minority ethnic workers, LGBT+ and disabled workers.

The Scottish Parliament elections in May provide us with a platform to inspire workers to take action with visible, powerful campaigns that could see workers determine the outcome in key seats. We will aim to maximise the number of prospective parliamentary candidates to commit to STUC ‘asks’ on pay, care and jobs. We know that winning in Parliament and changing laws and policies are only part of the process as we need to develop collective actions, online when necessary, to bring about change.

Scotland will host the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November this year where heads of state, climate experts and negotiators will look to agree action to tackle climate change. Workers voices, union demands and the need for a Just Transition must be on the agenda. We will have the opportunity to showcase the best of union tradition showing solidarity, international cooperation and progressive policies that tackle inequalities in wealth and power.

The challenges, grief and loss of the global pandemic will remain with us for years to come. But the experience has refocused our movement and in places re-energised it as the cracks in economy and public services were laid bare. We are committed to making unions visible and relevant so we can build towards and win a ‘People’s Recovery’.

Roz Foyer is the general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC). The ‘People’s Recovery’ report can be read here