Fighting the cuts in Glasgow

In Glasgow, campaigns against the cuts have been successful in getting increased support from working class people. However, in a significant development, these campaigns have encountered undisguised hostility from those whose support they might have taken for granted – the trade unions and the main organisations on the Scottish left.

On 22 June Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! supporters in Glasgow joined a successful occupation of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) offices on Cochrane Street in the city centre. The direct action had been organised by the Black Triangle disability rights group and the Citizens United campaign, with the support of carers from the Save the Accord Centre campaign. The action had been called to highlight and oppose corporate tax evasion which is estimated to be worth £120 billion a year.

In an attempt to block the action, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) and the recently-formed Scottish Coalition of Resistance (COR) not only withdrew their earlier support for the action the night before, but demanded that the action be called off on the grounds that it would be intimidating for HMRC staff. At a COR meeting following the occupation, Derek Thompson, PCS national executive committee member and Scottish PCS Chair, and a supporter of the socialist organisation Solidarity in Scotland, argued that direct actions against HMRC offices should be run past the PCS in future on the grounds that the union could organise its members to show support; in reality he meant so that the PCS could stop them.

A perfect opportunity to organise this support came on the 30 June when the PCS held a one-day national strike to preserve working conditions and pension rights with a rally in George Square. However, exposing his real intent, Thompson opposed a call to join with disabled activists on a march to a nearby Atos Origin health care centre, where sickness benefit claimants receive punitive and degrading assessments which have forced many off Employment Support Allowance onto the lower Jobseeker’s Allowance. He claimed that the PCS demonstration was purely about pensions and should not be ‘manipulated’ by other struggles! ‘The focus of our dispute cannot be diluted’ he added.

It was not only that the PCS leadership opposed supporting the Atos protest. It also denied supporters of the Black Triangle group and carers from the Save The Accord Centre campaign speaking rights at its strike rally. Finally, both the PCS and COR boycotted a picket of Vodaphone after the rally as well as the demonstration outside Atos Origin, choosing instead to drink away the rest of the day in a nearby pub.

These differences represent the real divisions that exist within the British working class between better-off workers particularly in the public sector trade unions, and poorer sections such as the low-paid, migrant workers, the unemployed and disability benefit claimants. There is no excuse or justification for the stand that the PCS, Derek Thompson or the COR took. They resent any independent movement of the poorer sections of the working class. Given that the trade unions have failed to do anything of significance in opposing the cuts, the PCS and COR have become complicit in the attack on the living standards of the poorest and most vulnerable. It is no coincidence that the deepest cuts are aimed at the groups who are seen as least able to defend themselves. However, the determination of Black Triangle supporters is showing that they will not be trampled over.

Despite this trade union sectarianism, working class people continue to build their struggle against the cuts. On the 4 July the Save the Accord Campaign held a successful rally in the east end of Glasgow with speakers from a range of campaigns including members of the Jaconelli family who were unfairly evicted from their home to make way for an athletes village for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Supporters of FRFI and COR also spoke. The courage and example of ordinary working class people standing up against the ConDem and SNP governments and Labour councils must be the guide to building a movement which fights for the interests of all sections of the working class against all cuts!

Dominic O’Hara

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 222 August/September 2011


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