- Created: Wednesday, 18 May 2016 12:45
- Written by Michael MacGregor
On Saturday 7 May history came alive at the protest in Lochee. Dundee against Workfare. Dundee Against Austerity (DAA), the Revolutionary Communist Group, Class War, Scottish Unemployed Workers Network, Dundee Trades Union Council, Dundee Trades Union and Socialist Coalition and the Socialist Workers Party stood united to condemn workfare exploitation at the Range store.
We were standing on the site of what was once the largest jute mill in the world where Scottish and Irish immigrant workers toiled to make the Baxter, Caird and Cox mill owning families fabulously wealthy. At one point in the 19th Century the densest proportion of millionaires in Europe could be found in the richest suburb of Dundee, Broughty Ferry, many miles from the filth and heat of their factories.
A recent report has highlighted the present 10 years gap in life expectancy between Lochee and the Ferry in the seven miles between them. DAA campaigners have openly condemned the Scottish National Party council's action in setting a wreath around the bust of Sir James Caird on the 100th anniversary of his birth. Fitting then that our protest rallied on Lochee High Street at a modern memorial to Mary Brooksbank, a communist who led unions and unemployed workers in Dundee in the 1920's. In 1968 Mary had sung at the unveiling of the original plaque on the site of James Connolly's birthplace in Little Ireland in the Cowgate, Edinburgh. Her father had worked with James Connolly in organising unions in Dundee and Aberdeen in the 1890's. DAA campaigners were told by locals that a famous photograph of hundreds of predominantly women workers at the mill gates had in fact come about when news of a visit of James Connolly, Irish republican socialist and trade union organiser, reached the factory gates.
DAA has campaigned on the streets of Lochee only metres from the new SNP Election office. We have not hesitated to condemn the SNP council's budget which directly attacks the wages and conditions of the 95% women low paid care workers. Dundee Against Austerity does not accept any argument about 'engaging' with the SNP to strengthen progressive, 'left' trends. Where is the evidence of ‘these left trends’ in an SNP council which is attacking low paid workers? What is 'progressive' about a mass text out to those workers urging them to consider selling their labour privately or collectively setting up private care companies. Only this week news came through that a quarter of private care homes may close due to bankruptcy over the next year.
The protest was brought up to date by the speaker from Class War who had worked in Cox's mill in the 1980's and described his and his comrades' battle for union rights then. Now in 2016 we were standing outside a converted mill building which housed the Range store where horror stories of exploitation and abuse were being revealed almost daily. Highlighting the point that workers in and out of work have a direct and common interest in uniting to oppose exploitation, we had learned that the Range was sacking its own employees in order to take on Workfare staff and make more money from their compulsory labour, paid at the lower rate of welfare benefits instead of the minimum wage.
This is the modern day reality of capitalist austerity: driving down wages and conditions in private business and local council services – unemployment and compulsory labour and hunger if you refuse to be exploited. The protest ended with a spontaneous march down Lochee High Street where passing the SNP shop brought forth angry chants of 'SNP! Hear Us Say – Budget Cuts – No Way!' The RCG called for another protest the following Saturday in Dundee town centre where the greed of billionaire Sir Philip Green was going to be challenged at Top Shop and British Home Stores. Drawing attention to the 100th anniversary of the execution of James Connolly on12 May 1916, we proudly marked the tireless life of a brave fighter for the working class in Ireland and Scotland, his revolutionary politics are alive in the current struggle against capitalist austerity.
No to Exploitation! No to Workfare!
Long Live Our James Connolly!