Tommy Sheridan in battle with his parliamentary workers

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Sheridan betrays his own workers

In this article, Manny Neira reports and personally comments on the dispute between IWW and NUJ Scottish Parliamentary workers, and the MSPs who employed them.

As Christmas approaches, eleven workers at the Scottish Parliament face broken contracts and unemployment in the new year, courtesy of self-proclaimed champions of the Scottish working class, Tommy Sheridan and Rosemary Byrne.

They are both MSPs, Sheridan being the only candidate for the Scottish Socialist Party elected when the parliament was founded in 1999, and Byrne one of five more who joined him after the second election in 2003.

Their party has been torn by a bitter dispute, centred around Sheridan's leadership, and a legal action he took against the News of the World when the paper made allegations about his private life. The rancour ended in Sheridan and Byrne's resignation from the SSP, and their founding of a new party called Solidarity.

This is recounted by way of background: the IWW has taken no side between these groups, and their members are clearly entitled to align themselves as they choose.

What they are not entitled to do, however, is make their parliamentary staff pay the price. The SSP group of six MSP's originally employed thirteen workers, promising them work until the next election in 2007 on wages paid from their pooled parliamentary allowances. Sheridan and Byrne have now withdrawn their support from this fund, and though two of the workers have switched employment to the new group, there is not enough money left to pay the remaining eleven for the rest of their contracts.

They are therefore placed in an impossible position: forced to choose between having their employment transferred to the new group against their will, and losing their jobs over a political split they did not precipitate. Meanwhile, Sheridan and Byrne now fund their parliamentary work with money taken straight from the pockets of the workers they themselves employed.

Five of the workers are members of the Industrial Workers of the World, while others are members of the National Union of Journalists, and though both unions have written to Sheridan and Byrne on these workers' behalf, so far neither have made any offer to honour their agreements.

The four remaining SSP MSPs - including Rosie Kane and Carolyn Leckie who are also members of the IWW - have expressed their full support for the workers whose future hangs in the balance, and are also attempting to intervene with Sheridan and Byrne, and the Scottish Parliament itself, which facilitated the withdrawal of payments: but so far equally without result.

The IWW has made it clear that it takes no interest in the political differences between the MSPs: but is demanding that it should not be resolved at the expense of the workers they collectively employed. This report has focused on Tommy Sheridan and Rosemary Byrne because these are the MSPs who are withholding payment. However, the workers' claim is against them all: and it is difficult to avoid the observation that any politician claiming to represent working people would do well to first treat their own workers fairly.