Scotland: to get trade union unity, break up the unions?

Submitted by Matthew on 13 June, 2012 - 9:30

An article in the current issue of Scottish Socialist Voice, newspaper of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), proposes that the existing British trade union movement should be broken up into its national components.

The article begins with a lament for the opposition to Scottish independence expressed by unions at the recent congress of the Scottish TUC.

This hostility to Scottish independence is attributed to the fact that the STUC’s biggest affiliates are all “signed-up supporters of the Labour Party ... British-based organisations ... run by London-based bureaucracies.”

But, continues the article, there is a deeper problem: “The social, economic and political circumstances that brought both the trade unions and the Labour Party into history more than a hundred years ago no longer apply.”

What opponents of independence fail to understand, claims the article, is: “The capitalist no longer has a country. Capital roams the globe in search of profit and recognises no national authority over it.”

Consequently, the British state is simply too weak to stand up to international capitalism: “Far from the British state being able to control British capital, it is international capital that dictates the terms on which the British state is allowed to accommodate capitalism’s global players.”

The labour movement can therefore challenge global capital only by “becoming genuinely international and capable of working across national boundaries.”

Hence: “The division of British into Scottish, English, Welsh and Irish trade union movements may well provide an example of post-independence co-operation across national boundaries that might yet prove to be an international template for such co-operation on a much wider base.”

This is truly breathtaking stuff.

If the global nature of modern capitalism means that British trade union movement is wasting its time trying to ”put British socialist shackles on the City of London”, then how much more futile would it be to try to put “Scottish socialist shackles” on the Edinburgh financial markets in an independent Scotland?

What would be the benefit of regressing from a single unified multi-national trade union movement (i.e. one that brings together Scottish, English, Welsh and Irish workers) to four separate units (which would necessarily be weaker)?

Isn’t it just a bit absurd to advocate (quite correctly) greater international trade union solidarity while simultaneously advocating the break-up of an existing inter-national trade union movement along national lines?

And isn’t the article the nail in the coffin of the SSP’s claim that its advocacy of the break-up of the British state should not be equated with a call to break up the British trade union movement?

The article’s author is John McAllion, an SSP member, regular contributor to the Morning Star, and signatory to the ISG’s “Radical Independence Conference”. It can be found here.