Forwarded from Ernie Tate (SSP)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue May 13 08:53:46 MDT 2003

Hello all: For your information. Richie Venton is the SSP's national 
trade union coordinator.

In case you are not familiar with the acronyms, here's what they mean.

RMT = Rail, Maritime and Transport Union
CWU = Communication Workers' Union
PCS = Public and Commercial Services Union
STUC= Scottish Trades Union Congress

Subject: document for national council on union work
Date: Tue, 13 May 2003 12:26:32 +0100
From: "Scottish Socialist Party Glasgow Office" <ssp.glasgow at>

BUILDING ON THE BREAKTHROUGH: the unions, socialist MSPs and building 
the SSP in the workplaces.

by Richie Venton 10.5.03

Nobody should underestimate the scale and significance of our electoral 
breakthrough, including the phenomenal boost this gives to the prospects 
of building a mass SSP within Scotland’s workplaces over the next few 

With firm adherence to our class-struggle socialist principles, astute 
strategy and tactics, proper planning, and a serious emphasis on the 
party’s ‘industrial’ work, over the next few years we can begin to 
become the main political party of trade unionists.

This assessment is based on the pivotal importance of digging ever 
deeper roots in the organised working class, the unions and the 
workplaces; the outstanding, persistent work of our party amongst 
workers over the past 5 years; the belief that a large proportion of our 
vote came from such sections; the accelerated break-up of old loyalties 
to Labour in the unions, which the outcome of the Scottish elections 
both illustrate and reinforce; and the enormously enhanced authority of 
the SSP within workforces as a result of winning 128,026 votes, six MSPs 
and a truly national spread of support.

Although I am not aware of any exit polls to prove the point, several 
factors suggest that the vote for the SSP amongst trade unionists - 
especially those who have been in dispute in recent years and/or those 
in the public sector - was markedly higher that the 6.8% average across 
the electorate as a whole.

The FBU’s recent survey of members showed that 19% planned to vote SSP - 
and it’s likely it was actually higher than this because the survey did 
not explain the issue of the 2nd vote, and it was conducted before our 
election campaign had peaked.

A survey of CWU members in Scotland no.2 branch last year showed about 
23.5% support for the SSP - again before some of New Labour’s worst 
excesses against the FBU, on the war, on PFI, etc had fully revealed 
themselves - and before the past few months’ efforts on the part of the SSP.

Swathes of workers who had seen the SSP directly organising solidarity 
with them will have voted SSP in large number, with spin-offs amongst 
friends and family in other workforces.

Anecdotal evidence from trade unionists in the SSP reinforces this 
impression, as did the warmth of response amongst at least some of the 
workforces we leafleted with specialist SSP workplace bulletins during 
the election campaign.

None of this is to imply we won a majority amongst trade unionists! But 
we certainly gained a big chunk of workers’ support, including many who 
previously voted Labour, many who shifted from Labour to SNP and then to 
us, many who in the past would have registered their disgust with Labour 
by voting SNP but now discovered a vibrant pro-trade union, 
pro-independence socialist party with immediate fighting policies they 
could also relate to.

Our party has carved out a reputation for being the party of solidarity, 
the party of public ownership which consistently opposes privatisation, 
and the party whose MSPs closely identify with workers by living on the 
skilled wage.

Of course there are multiple routes to the working class; our campaigns 
on free school meals, council tax, and against imperialist war have all 
touched sections of workers and won their support. And increasingly we 
are finding an echo for our position on union political funds as the 
clamour of anger at funding New Labour grows louder.

It is no accident that as the RMT moves towards becoming the first union 
to officially introduce rule changes that permit union backing for 
parties other than New Labour, they have invited an SSP speaker to their 
national conference and to a pre-conference political school for RMT 
members. It is overwhemingly likely that the RMT conference will agree 
this step and usher in a process leading to sponsorship or affiliation 
to the SSP, which could trigger an avalanche in our direction in the 
next few years - provided we continue to earn the respect we have so far 
accumulated among trade unionists. Of course our Make the Break campaign 
has contributed to this disengagement from New Labour, and now needs to 
be even more pro-active across the unions.

Whilst we regret the loss of a good socialist MSP with the defeat of 
John McAllion, and we condemn the vindictive witch-hunt of George 
Galloway by New Labour, both issues highlight the utter isolation of the 
left in Scottish Labour. They remove the focus for the remaining (false) 
hopes of many trade unionists that somehow Labour could be dragged back 
towards the left and socialism through maintaining the political fund 
link, and make the appeal for trade unionists to help build a mass, 
united SSP all the more urgent and credible - particularly with the 
added political weight we now have after May Day 2003.

It is also worth stating what sounds like the obvious: we did not win 
128,026 votes just in the month of April 2003!

Certainly the millions of election leaflets; the tens of thousands of 
workplace bulletins we distributed; the hundreds of street meetings and 
public meetings; the election broadcasts and (limited) media coverage; 
the canvassing and general street profile of our whirlwind election 
campaign had a powerful impact, both in consolidating wavering voters 
and winning over others, making all the difference beween one or two 
MSPs and the eventual score of six.

And the readiness of PCS and RMT general secretaries Mark Serwotka and 
Bob Crow to speak out in favour of the SSP at our rallies boosted our 
appeal amongst trade unionists.

But the strenuous, sometimes unglamorous work of our trade unionists, 
our branches, our members - representing union members day and daily; 
leafleting workplaces with SSP Bulletins; standing on picket lines; 
organising solidarity collections; raising workers’ cases in the 
parliament when Tommy Sheridan was our lone MSP; organising SSP trade 
union groups that help give direction and advice to SSP members; our 
non-sectarian collaboration with others on the left in the unions, 
including during union elections and fights for greater union democracy 
- all these and many more aspects of the SSP’s relentless efforts over 
the past five years are the primary reasons, alongside our fighting 
socialist policies, for gaining a substantial minority of the workers’ 
vote on May Day 2003.

All these points are worth remembering as we judge what to do next.

We first of all need to recognise that just as the preceding work made 
it possible to get one MSP elected four years ago, which in turn was a 
massive boost to our weight in the Scottish working class, so too the 
election of six MSPs as a result of all our policies, campaigns and 
sheer hard graft over five years, now ushers in the chance of an 
exponential growth in our trade union and workplace base.

In fighting to consolidate and vastly expand our presence in the 
unions/workplaces, we need to apply a few basic guiding principles.

* the tremendous advantages of bigger parliamentary representation does 
not in any way remove the need for building an SSP base on the 
‘shopfloor’; rather, the parliamentary position is a brilliant chance to 
help the efforts of socialists in the class struggle. There is no purely 
parliamentary road to socialism, but socialist MSPs are a massive asset 
in finding roads to the working class, particularly in a capitalist 
democracy. We are building a class-struggle, socialist combat party, not 
an election committee that waits for legislation to usher in socialism 
from above.

* demonstrations of practical solidarity with workers who go into 
struggle on jobs, wages, conditions, workplace rights, are one of the 
best routes to convincing workers that the SSP means business, and that 
we have the principles and policies that would make a material 
difference to workers’ lives.

* the case for socialism is made all the more potent when the broader 
vision of public ownership and an independent socialist Scotland is 
linked indissolubly to immediate fighting reforms, such as our campaigns 
for a £7.32 minimum wage, 35 hour maximum working week, progressive 
taxation, workplace rights, etc. Workers will judge us by our actions in 
pursuit of immediate material gains in workers’ lives, and by 
campaigning alongside and through the SSP they will become all the more 
open to helping conduct the broader struggle for socialism.

The strategy for building the SSP in the workplaces and unions agreed at 
recent national conferences remain entirely valid and relevant. But they 
take on renewed force because of the scale of our electoral breakthrough.

To take full advantage of our new position, we need to strive for a 
number of plans to be implemented - not in competition with other 
aspects of the SSP’s work, but as an integral part of the party’s life 
at branch, regional and national level.

* continue to organise SSP trade union groups in specific 
unions/industries, and add to the number of these, so as to involve 
worker-members of the SSP to the maximum, pooling experience and 
focusing our common efforts to influence the policies and actions of the 
unions, politicise workers, and boost SSP workplace membership and 

* continue and add to the production of SSP Workers’ Voice Bulletins to 
raise the policies and profile of the party. These could also sometimes 
highlight the actions of our MSPs on relevant issues.

* use our MSPs’ positions to give solidarity in action to any group of 
workers in struggle, both at workplace level, on picket lines and by 
raising supportive questions and motions in the parliament.

* as a concrete immediate priority case, raise ferocious opposition to 
an imposed settlement on the FBU within the parliament - which if tried 
by McConnell could be the first major parliamentary flashpoint.

* consciously seek meetings between our MSPs, other SSP representatives 
and union branches/stewards committees in each of the regions, to 
discuss issues of concern that we can take up in the parliament, as well 
as to promote specific Bills we are moving in the parliament that we 
want the support of trade unionists for.

* investigate the possiblity of future ‘industrial surgeries’ every 
couple of months where workers and their reps can attend and raise 
issues they want taken up by our MSPs.

* in particular target public sector workers and their unions/stewards 
to promote a Public Sector Workers Bill on the £7.32 mimimum wage, 35 
hour week and enhanced workplace rights from day one of employment. 
Include in this project a one-day workers’ conference (either late June 
or September) which could combine sessions on these issues plus one on 
the political fund. The purpose being to convince and arm trade 
unionists with arguments, have a dialogue with SSP members and 
non-members, and weld our MSPs to workers who are prepared to campaign 
alongside us for immediate reforms through parliamentary Bills.

* promote a Bill on public transport which is a central party policy and 
would also tie us in with the RMT and help consolidate the progress 
towards possible affiliation of the first national union to the SSP.

* investigate raising the issue of pensions - a huge, crisis issue for 
trade unionists which also throws up wider questions of public ownership 
- either as a Bill or at least as parliamentary motions - approaching 
appropriate unions for collaboration.

* investigate the timing of demos/lobbies of the Scottish parliament in 
support of SSP Bills. These to include the Public Sector Workers Bill 
(see above), Public Transport, Free School Meals and Scottish Service 
Tax Bills.

* approach Scottish and local union bodies for discussions about the 
political fund, short-term forms of sponsorship of the SSP and rule-book 
changes to allow for affiliation. Include stewards committees in these 
approaches. Produce written material popularising our case on the 
political fund, the SSP and political representation for trade 
unionists. In the event of the RMT (or any other union) affiliating to 
the SSP, we should involve their leadership alongside us in fighting to 
convince other unions to follow suit.

* consciously campaign in every union to get a guest speaker from the 
SSP at next year’s STUC conference - and at its Youth, Women’s and Black 
members’ conferences.

None of these proposals imply that the rest of the SSP just sits back 
while six MSPs build our influence in the unions and workplaces!

On the contrary, expectations in the SSP have been massively increased 
throughout the working class with the election results, and every SSP 
trade unionist, every SSP trade union group, every SSP branch and region 
now needs to slot into overall national plans which exploit the 
opportunities to build links and influence amongst workers and their 
unions, with the great advantages that flow from a team of prominent 
socialist MSPs.

As a united, class-struggle socialist party we have never been a 
one-man-band; we are not now a six-person-band; we are a party whose 
elected MSPs are an invaluable weapon in the battle to build a mass SSP 
membership, overwhelmingly based in the working class.


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