No to trade union sectarianism! - 22 June 2011

Updated following 30 June


On 22 June Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! supporters in Glasgow joined an occupation of Inland revenue offices on Cochrane Street in the city centre. The peaceful direct action had been organised by the Black Triangle disability rights group and the citizens united campaign, with east end carers from the Save the Accord Centre campaign and others also in attendance.  The action had been called to highlight and oppose corporate tax evasion which is estimated to be worth £120 billion a year (The Herald, 19 June 2011).

Entering the offices the campaigners united in calling for the real scroungers in society (the rich) to pay their taxes and for a mass campaign of civil disobedience to oppose the cuts. As the press statement released says;

'We refuse to be the sacrificial lambs on the altar of their greed! Our communities and people with disabilities refuse to pay for the bankers’ crisis. We demand that these corporations and individuals be pursued immediately and forced to pay back to society what they have stolen from us!'

The occupation lasted an hour and ended after police were called to clear the campaigners who had closed down the building. Over 20 people of all ages took part and the action ended successfully.

Unfortunately the newly formed Coalition of Resistance (COR) group in Glasgow withdrew its support for the action the night before on the grounds that it would be intimidating for HMRC staff. The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), which represents many HMRC staff, also refused to support the action. Derek Thompson, PCS national executive committee member and Scottish PCS Chair, and a supporter of Solidarity in Scotland, stated 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. He opposed a call to join with the disabled on the 30 June to march to an Atos centre, claiming that the demonstration in George Square was purely about pensions and should not be 'diluted or manipulated' by other struggles! 'The focus of our dispute cannot be diluted' he said.

The demands of the PCS to preserve working conditions and pension rights are of course entirely legitimate and must be supported. But as we wrote in the latest issue of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!,

‘...the fight to preserve public sector pensions cannot begin to address the devastation of working class lives that is taking place as result of the cuts in welfare benefits and decimation of council services. It does not in any way serve as a starting point for a class-wide response to a situation where hundreds of thousands of people are being forced off Employment Support Allowance on to Jobseeker’s Allowance because Atos decides they have failed a medical test. It does not begin to tackle the human cost of the closure of day care centres for the elderly or people with learning difficulties, and the ending of any home support services.’

Thompson’s sectarian and reactionary position illustrates this point perfectly. He is openly counter-posing the defence of the interests of one section of the working class against the defence of the interests of the working class as a whole. As if to drive the point home, his union has decided that representatives from those fighting the closure of the Accord Centre in Glasgow cannot speak on its platform on 30 June. His proposal that organisations like Black Triangle should clear their actions with the trade unions beforehand is pure subterfuge: he wants them stopped as they are an implicit challenge to the PCS which organises amongst Atos workers.

Thompson is of course in favour of unity: he spoke on a platform ‘Unite the resistance’ on 23 June. But his concept of unity is one that either excludes large swathes of the working class, or denies them the right to independent action and subordinates them to organisations over which they have no influence – the trade unions. FRFI re-iterates its support for those fighting to keep the Accord Centre open or replaced like-for-like, for the right of Black Triangle supporters to put both Atos and HMRC on the spot. They are fighting for the interests of the working class as a whole.

Addendum: sectarianism continues on 30 June

30 June saw members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) out on strike across Scotland. Unlike England where the National Union of Teachers (NUT), Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), University and College Union (UCU) and PCS took joint action against government plans to force public sector workers to pay more towards their pensions, to work for longer, but to receive less when they retire, the PCS was the only union in Scotland to walk out.

Supporters of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!(FRFI) were present at the protests that took place throughout the day, starting with the main PCS strike rally in George Square, then joining a picket of Vodaphone on Buchanan Street against tax evasion, and a further picket of Atos Origin, the multinational paid to deliver the punitive and degrading assessments which have forced many claimants off Employment Support Allowance and on to Jobseekers Allowance.

Both pickets were boycotted by the opportunist left in the leadership of the PCS and in the Glasgow Coalition of Resistance (COR). Beforehand, the left-dominated PCS had denied the Black Triangle disability rights group and carers from the Save the Accord campaign speaking rights at its George Square rally. This followed a denunciation by Glasgow PCS chair Derek Thompson of the direct action strategy of Black Triangle which has targeted Atos in the city. Thompson is no ordinary trade union bureaucrat: he is a leading member of Solidarity. CoR has endorsed his stance. The opportunist left is behaving worse than the right-wing trade union leaders: while resonant with the language of resistance, it is using its positions in the trade union leadership to exclude, isolate and destroy genuine working class struggles and protect the sectarian interests of a privileged stratum. It has to be stopped.

No to the cuts – full stop!


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