The National RIC AGM, 17.1.21

The AGM formed the main topic of discussion at an Edinburgh RIC meeting on Wednesday 6th January.

Allan Armstrong, who is acting as one of the two facilitators for the RIC National AGM (Connor Beaton Dundee RIC is the other), introduced the discussion.

The first part of the AGM will be held on Sunday, January 17th, at 14.00.  The two main items on the agenda will be the proposed new Constitution drawn up by the RIC Constitution Working Group and a proposed amended version of the RIC 5 Principles from the RCN (of which Allan is a member`), one of RIC’s affiliated organisations.

The date of the second part of the RIC AGM to discuss and agree upon Strategy and Campaigning will be decided at this meeting on January 17th.  It is likely to be about a month later.

If the new Constitution is agreed on January 17th then existing and new members can sign up and pay the new proposed subscription, to be part of the national organisation (something not possible under the old Constitution).  Only then would the election of new office bearers take place.  This would probably be done in association with the second part of the AGM.  But this will be decided on January 17th.  All members will be able to participate in the online ballot.

We have existing groups, which meet in Angus & Mearns, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow.  They will all be able to put motions to the second half of the AGM dealing with strategy.  We also have individual members in Aberdeen, Borders, Dumfries & Galloway, Fife, Highlands and Islands, Lanarkshire, Paisley and Stirling, as well as international members.  If they can form new groups before the second half of the AGM, then they too will be able to put forward motions.  Where this is not possible, Allan’s suggestion is that they could attend the online Zoom meetings of their nearest RIC group .

The proposal to relaunch RIC as a national organisation comes about because of the greatly changed political situation since 2012-14.  The work of RIC at the time was mainly focused on getting a ‘Yes’ vote in September 2014.  Some groups like Edinburgh always saw the work of RIC as being far wider than this.  We have continued activity ever since.  Others only formed for the IndyRef1 period and have fallen way at different dates since the 2015. 

Allan argued that underlying Edinburgh’s success was a commitment to open and democratic discussion, and the involvement of all the constituent parts of RIC – Left SNP, Left Greens, Socialists, independence supporting Labour and those in no political organisations at all.  Edinburgh RIC has been involved campaigning over a wide range of issues – economic, social, and environmental, trade union and international solidarity.  One example is the Living Rent Campaign, now a completely independent organisation, which came out of Edinburgh RIC.  A look at the Edinburgh RIC blog archive (https://edinburghric.org/archive/) shows all these activities and the general election hustings we organised.

However, it is no the longer the pro-austerity, liberal unionists (the Tories, Lib-Dems, New Labour in ‘Better Together’) we face. Nor is there any immediate prospect constitutionally based referendum. Instead, we face a right populist and reactionary unionist Tory government.  It is not likely to grant a legal referendum, and indeed is planning to rollback even the current devolution settlement.  The neo-liberal and constitutional nationalist SNP leadership has no effective strategy to counter this.  Hence the growing divisions, originally highlighted by the formation of All Under One Banner, but also in internal party splits..

Allan argued that the new political situation demands a more sophisticated response, able to challenge the ineffectiveness of the SNP leadership’s strategy.  They seek their mandate and sovereignty from their control the devolved institutions of the UK state.  In effect, they are looking for a junior managerial buyout in Scotland.  To counter this, he argued that RIC needs to campaign on a republican, ‘sovereignty of the people’ basis.  This of course needs to be linked to supporting all the other campaigns, which Edinburgh RIC has been involved in.

Edinburgh RIC participated in the national RIC Constitutional Working Group, but as yet has not discussed the 5 Principles or Strategy.  I would very much hope that, after January 17th, which is primarily about forming the structures to relaunch  RIC nationally, that Edinburgh RIC, with its wealth of experience, will have contributions to make in the later Strategy and Campaigning  section of the AGM. 

Discussion

Peter C raises the issue of RIC’s relationship with ‘Yes Alba’. It seemed to have some quite right wing members in its new leadership.

Objects – “Yes Alba is a campaigning organisation with the aim of gaining independence for Scotland in order to improve the way the country is governed. ‘Yes Alba’ believes that Scotland would be better running its own affairs, as part of an international family. ‘Yes Alba’ believes in an inclusive citizenship, which embraces the fact that all who choose to make Scotland their home – regardless of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation – are full citizens of the Scotland.”

Allan said that he had attended the two meetings to launch ‘Yes Alba’, which had come out of AUOB. He read out the Objects of the proposed ‘Yes`Alba’ – 

He thought that these Objects still reflected the best features of Indy Ref1 – a civic national inclusiveness and internationalism, which had also been seen on the AUOB marches. However, there were undoubtedly Yes Alba committee members who did not adhere to these principles.  However, should they air their prejudices, it would have to be in their own name, and they could be challenged under the Objects.

The immediate problem facing ‘Yes Alba’ was the challenge to its name, and whether it was attempting to be an alternative to all the existing ‘Yes’ groups, or an umbrella organisation.  Leading ‘Yes Alba’ member, George Kerevan (who is also an Edinburgh RIC member) supports the latter, using the popular organisation in Catalunya as an example. 

Bob said he was quite enthusiastic about the possibilities of ‘Yes Alba’, and that we ought to put some effort into developing a relationship so that we could broaden the base for RIC’s politics..

Pete C argued that the argued that the proposed national RIC AGM agenda, item 5, The relationship between RIC and AUOB/‘Yes Alba’ and item 6, -The initial discussion on Strategy and Campaigning, should be reversed.

Allan agreed that this made more sense.  The only reason it was positioned there was because it was an outstanding item left over from the last National Forum on 22.2.20.  The following National Forum never took place because of Covid-19.  Allan said that he would change the order when the final agenda went out this weekend.

Peter C returned to the nature of Yes Alba asking if it was Left or Right?  What were the politics of the new committee members? Although, Craig Murray, for example, had done some excellent work, particularly in Kazakhstan, he appears to have been moving Rightwards recently.

Pete C highlighted the changed political situation we face since IndyRef1.  The SNP leadership are even more neo-liberal.  This is shown by  the role of the Sustainable Growth Commission, which argues that dependence on the market is the only way forward. 

In addition, there has been growing resistance shown in the school strikes associated with Extinction Rebellion, and by Black Lives Matter  RIC needs to develop new ways of thinking to relate to these campaigns.

Nick argued that it is likely if Covid19 is under control, there will be an opportunity to get out on the streets again in later 2021.

Sturgeon will ask for a new referendum, but she is unlikely to get it.  Johnson will say ‘No’.  The SNP leadership don’t have a strategy.  If there is a popular campaign the UK state might not react in such an open brutal way as in Catalunya, but it could still resort to repression.  Timing will be important.

Jean said that she was keen to be re-involved in RIC.  She was already active in her local ‘Yes’ group, and ‘Pensioners for Independence’.

Pete C highlighted the importance of socio-economic issues if we were to motivate people for independence.

Allan summed up by saying that he looked forward to Edinburgh RIC members attending the January 17th AGM, and to Edinburgh RIC’s further development of national Strategy and Campaigning.

Peter C said that we had a new opportunity now the Cop 26 conference was going ahead later this year.  Joe Biden would be in attendance.

The only counter to Johnson’s rejection of a Section 30 Order to permit a new referendum was mass working class mobilisation. This is why an emphasis on socio-economic issue was needed.

The political direction of ‘Yes Alba’ was important . Although there was no commitment to socio-economic issues in its Objects, the mobilisation of those who were prepared to take action over the denial of IndyRef2 was important,

Allan agreed that these were crucial and had always been central to his own lifetime of campaigning. But we also needed to go beyond being the economic wing of the independence movement and challenge the SNP for the type of Scotland we want. This also meant pushing for a Constituent Assembly to draw  up a new constitution, as Edinburgh RIC had successfully proposed at the May 2014, RIC National Forum, if a ‘Yes’ vote had been won in September.

Allan summed up by saying that he looked forward to Edinburgh RIC members attending the January 17th AGM, and to Edinburgh RIC’s further development of national Strategy and Campaigning.

Another Edinburgh is Possible

More than a decade of cuts and job losses has left local services in Edinburgh in a dire state.  The impact has been greatest on the most vulnerable who have been at the sharp end of cuts in the social security system.  The hollowing out of services has been exposed by the onset of Covid 19 with local voluntary and mutual aid groups struggling to fill gaps in basic needs.  Unemployment, child poverty and mental distress has increased.

At the same time local government has become a sham.  Successive administrations, Labour, SNP and Lib Dems in different combinations have pushed through cuts while focussing on Edinburgh as a city for tourism and big business.  Press releases describe a policy world at odds with the lived experience of most Edinburgh residents.  Couched in the language of ‘savings’, ‘inclusion’, ‘progress’, ‘just recovery’ and sustainability, they never refer to the growth in inequality that is the consequence of cuts and job losses. 

Since 2012/13, Edinburgh City Council budget cuts have amounted to £320 million. At the beginning of this year it was estimated that there would be further cuts of £87.3 million by 2023.  However, the Council Finance committee meeting at the end of October 2020 received a report that suggested that the cuts will be even greater.  Already the Edinburgh Integration Joint Board, which administers integrated health and social care, has agreed cuts of £8 million.  

The relentless round of cuts has not gone unopposed.  Every year there has been action from community organisations and trade unions in opposition to proposed cuts.  Sometimes specific cuts have been deflected but the axe has then fallen elsewhere.  It would be wrong to say that people are resigned to the cuts but opposition has become defensive and almost ritual.

In the summer, under the backdrop of Covid, the inadequate local response and with more cuts being discussed, activists from the Edinburgh East and North Edinburgh Save Our Services Campaign began to discuss what is to be done.  An initial meeting was organised which attracted a diverse range of union and community activists.  There was a consensus that simply attempting to mitigate new cuts was no longer an option.  Enough is enough.  There was agreement that opposing cuts had to be part of arguing for a new approach to local authority funding and provision of jobs and services that met peoples’ needs.  Reinstating services that had been lost, thinking about needs that had never been met and should be.  Putting democracy at the heart of a new approach to local public provision.  The group has continued to meet on a regular basis and now operates under the title of Another Edinburgh is Possible.

Another Edinburgh is Possible illuminated local and national government buildings around the city in advance of November’s Edinburgh City Council Meeting and held a protest at the City Chambers on the day of the meeting itself.  It is now conducting a survey of how people feel about council services.

To find out more about the campaign email edinburghjustrecovery@gmail.com  

Is there a role for nuclear power in a sustainable future Scotland?

Video from the Edinburgh RIC assembly held online on 25th November 2020

The following points were made in the discussion.

DR, who is a cancer survivor had received radioactive medical treatment, asked where the material needed for medical applications would come from.

A said that he lived near Hunterston. The nuclear power station there provided good quality jobs. CND Ayrshire had argued that decommissioning a nuclear power station could provide jobs for many years. Also, the skills of nuclear power workers would be valuable in other arenas.

P said we have been lulled into a false sense of security, with the SNP government saying that nuclear power doesn’t have a future. However, quite a few people have been coming up with argument that nuclear power may be needed to cut back on our carbon footprint. This includes the influential George Monbiot.

The Rolls Royce mini-reactors are based on nuclear submarine technology. There would be vast sums of money involved in building new nuclear generators. You could get a lot more with your money if it was spent on sustainable energy,

said that he had been involved in the Scottish Greens’ energy policy. The main criticism of wave, wind and solar power is the intermittent nature of the energy supply, therefore either fossil or nuclear power is needed to supplement this. When Germany closed down its nuclear power stations there was a big increase in the use of fossil fuels.

Lynn replied that nuclear power cannot be easily turned on and off. It is usually wind turbines that are turned off to cut down on energy supply.

Torness has had to have unscheduled shutdowns due to seaweed and shellfish.

Germany was more dependent on nuclear power than Scotland.

Caroline Lucas has addressed the issue of the fickleness of wave, wind and solar energy.

On the jobs issue, R noted that Scotland is ahead of many other countries in nuclear power station decommissioning.so jobs could be created in this sector. A lot has been learned over the initially very bad handling of Dounreay’s decommissioning.

Lynn noted that nuclear plant for medical applications produced lower level, non-weapons grade radioactive material, although there is still a problem with handling the waste.

R said that decommissioning typically takes two decades. Sellafield may take 100 years. There is no profit to be made from decommissioning. So, this remains a major public safety issue.

On the intermittent nature of power supply, nuclear power stations had been shut down this summer in France, because of the high summer temperatures. Radiation gets released whenever there are shutdowns,

W said that he had worked on the building of Torness as an electrician for SSB and Scottish Power. When it was being opened the workers were invited to the public information office and told since they were presumed to be supportive, they weren’t going to be given the propaganda for the wider public.

Every country that had nuclear weapons has a civilian nuclear power industry. The US government clearly sees the link, in its attempt, to prevent `Iran developing nuclear energy.

The high costs are obvious, when the French state nuclear power company has indicated it is withdrawing from the planned Hinckley Point power station.

J said that she lived across the Forth in Fife.  There had been radioactive poisoning in Dalgetty Bay since the 1970s. The source of this was apparently the luminous paint used on aircraft dials during the Second World War. The fact that even this relatively small source provided a danger was worrying, when considering larger radioactivity producing projects.

A asked what proportion of Scotland’s power was supplied by hydro-electricity. Pumped storage schemes, such as Cruachan, seem to be able to get round the problem of satisfying peak demand.

Lynn replied that hydro-electricity power is expensive to provide and there is a lot of construction work involved, with a damaging effect on the environment.

L said that the planned nuclear power station, Sizewell C, is located next to a major bird reserve. Locals are torn between the revenue the bird reserves provide for the local tourist industry, and the high quality jobs that a nuclear power station can provide.

However, there is also a great potential for the use of geothermal (gt) nergy, which is not an intermittent source of energy. Tesco has reduced its heating costs by up to 40% where it has used gt energy,

W said that the present government is not even throwing its weight behind nuclear power,

DR argued that CND and Friends of the Earth have been  arguing for the issuing of iodine tablets to greater numbers. In Scotland they are only given to people within 4km of a nuclear power station. In France it is 20km.

R said that the handing out of iodine pills to large numbers of people in Switzerland has made people more aware of the dangers involved in nuclear power stations.

S argued that we have to place far more emphasis on reducing energy consumption. This is also necessary to tackle climate change.

Lynn replied that it is now possible to build housing without any need for heating . New building regulations are required. However, this is linked to the issue of affordable housing.

P said that the latest thinking on building design no longer concentrated just on insulation to keep the heat in, but also on the need for ventilation. Good for Climate and Covid.

The Scottish government is considering changing building regulations in 5 years time. Local authorities could be doing that now.

DS said that the issue was political will, directed by whichever pressure group is the strongest. At the moment the energy companies are the strongest pressure group. They demand houses with 4 bedrooms, and 2 cars-in-the-garage, built on agricultural land.

The existing building stock is important. 80% will still be here in 2015. Reducing winter cold would cut the annual excess winter deaths.

Much of the work providing better insulated and ventilated houses is labour intensive. Income taxes would flow back into the Scottish economy. 

We need communal planning.

pointed out that any new mini-nuclear reactors would also need decommissioned. They still haven’t successfully decommissioned the two old nuclear submarines in Fife, upon which the mini-nuclear power station technology is based. There would be hundreds of these reactors across Scotland.

DS said that there isn’t the necessary scientific or inspection skills in Scotland to go ahead with a whole generation of mini-reactors. Noted that civilian use of nuclear energy subsidies the weapons programme.  

It would be far better to spend the money on reducing energy use. At present 30% of people in Scotland are enduring fuel poverty.

Lynn  thanked everybody for contribution to a good discussion.

Conspiracy Theories and the Far Right

Our October assembly was introduced by historian, author and activist Dave Renton who talked about conspiracy theories and the far right. You can watch the video of Dave’s introduction here:

Dave is the author of a number of books and articles on fascism and the far right. We have a small number of reduced price copies of his two most recent books ‘The New Authoritarians’ and ‘Fascism: History and Theory’ – we can send them for £13 including postage – email edinburghric@gmail.com for details. Once they are gone we strongly suggest that you order from Lighthouse Books.

Dave’s talk was followed by an open discussion.

N.G. said there has been a longer history of conspiracy theories. These had emerged round 9/11, but they were now more central to politics. They had become part of the normalisation of the hard Right. 

In some ways the US was harder to move to the Right, because of its history of democratic institutions. However, the hard Right weren’t confining their activities to the presidential elections, but were taking over judiciaries, not just the Supreme Court, but at state level too.

There were three ways to react to  Trump in the forthcoming election

  1. Support Biden as the progressive candidate.
  2. Vote for Biden without any illusions that he is progressive, but as an anti-Trump move.
  3. A plague on both camps.

G.B. said he thought that fascists relied on idealising a mythological past.

L. H. argued that the distinctive feature of fascism was its desire to smash all opposition. Trump has shown a willingness to use the Patriot Boys, an armed street fighting force, but this is for his own ends not necessarily that of the fascists.

M.P. said he thought that Trump was prepared to lose this election, the better to organise the Right for the next presidential election after the inevitable failures and disappointments of a Biden presidency. These would be greater than those following Obama’s presidencies.

Dave Renton (D.R.) in reply. said that he thought that so far the Patriot Boys’ use of guns is primarily for show not use.

He argued that a distinction should be made between Hard Right figures like Farage, who did look to an idealised past of British imperial greatness and to Fascists like Mussolini and Hitlers’ followers, who idealised a future based on the latest technologies, but with the violent and brutal suppression of opposition, particularly workers in their workplaces.

He also argued that the creation of chaos was important for fascists. This allowed for the cumulative radicalisation.

Although antisemitism has been a significant feature of Far Right politics, fascists can draw on a whole hodgepodge of ideas in their attempts to radicalise. Conspiracy theories are part of this process.

S.W. asked, how do we counter conspiracy theories? Not only Republicans but many Democrats subscribe to conspiracy theories.

D.R. said it was important to circulate good material which challenges conspiracy theories. George Monbiot had done this at the time of 9/11. Momentum had also produced some good material on David Icke. He has emerged as a central figure in the anti-vaxxer and Covid-19 conspiracy theories.

R.M. said there had always been a strong relationship between Fascism and conspiracy theories. Hitler used the Bolshevik/Jewish conspiracy theory. Today the US militias are in alliance with Qanon conspiracy theorists. However, they had been unable to mount a successful counter to BLM.

We need to create our own narrative over Covid-19.

L.C. had recently been on a Kurdish solidarity demo. She said that the Kurds there see Turkey as a fascist state.

W.B. said that a lot of the people who had attended the Trafalgar Square anti-lock down demos were not yet footsoldiers of the Far Right. Many were people squeezed in the middle, not having the collective organisation of labour or the power of large capital. However, the continuing retreat of organised labour in the workplace and the growth of individualised zero hours contracts could allow fascists to make more gains.

D.R. said that he had a lot of respect for the work of Merseyside Anti-Fascists. They had gone along to anti-Covid-19 lockdown demos to monitor the situation and to see who was participating. They were attracting younger people who were showed hostility to the over 30s who they saw as responsible for imposing lock-downs. This is different from the Brexit/Trump support which is older.

He argued that, under Erdogan, Turkey was a fairly typical Right authoritarian state, but he understood how Kurds felt, and would encourage solidarity.

He also argued that the Far Right were too dependent on conspiracy theories.

He thought that Trump’s resort to the Far Right was not to facilitate a fascist takeover, but to create enough mayhem around the election results to hand over the final decision to the Right dominated Supreme Court.

It is still possible to derail the extreme Right.

S.?. asked what other terms than Fascism could be used to describe today’s hard Right. Would ‘neo-fascism’ or ‘creeping fascim’, be more appropriate

A.A. argued that the classical Fascism, Dave was addressing, under Mussolini and Hitler, was only necessary for the Italian and German ruling class, because of the immediate and real threat from the Left. Today the Left is weak, so the ruling class does not need to resort to full-blown fascism. But workers and the oppressed are still under major attack with the removal of more and more rights. Historically there has been another model – the ‘apartheid’ type state, whether the Confederate South, the Orange ‘Ulster’, South Africa or Israel. In these parliamentary forms continued for those from the dominant section – Whites, Protestants, Afrikaaner/‘English’, Jewish, whereas Blacks (in the US South and South Africa), Catholics and Palestinians  experience/d levels of oppression and violence found in Fascist states (which have varied in intensity from Portugal and  Spain to Italy and Germany). Furthermore, these ‘apartheid’ type states have lasted longer than full-blown fascist states.

Turkey is an increasingly ethnic Turkish supremacist state, resorting to vicious repression against Kurds, so it is not surprising that Kurds feel they are living under Fascism. We can’t take comfort from the unlikelihood of an immediate full-blown Fascist takeover, when Right populist authoritarian regimes have already promoted both state repression (police attacks and imprisonment) and encouraged the Far Right in their brutal and sometimes murderous attacks on the oppressed. The increased resort to ethnic supremacist constitutions (Israel) and ethnic exclusive electoral franchises (UK) show there is an increased move to Right populist authoritarian states. We need to be arguing how these can be confronted.

L.T. argued that there has been an increased radicalisation amongst Scottish Loyalists. They had turned up in Glasgow’s George Square. singing Rule Britannia to ‘protect’ statues with imperialist symbolism after the BLM protests and to counter demonstrations in support of evicted asylum seekers. This demo was bigger than any organised by the SDL and the Loyalists took over George Square.

L.C. took up A.A.’s point and said that if you are LBGT in Poland (under another Right populist authoritarian regime) you already experienced fascist-type oppression and physical attacks. Furthermore, the Polish state wanted to extend the suppression of women’s rights particularly over abortion.

D.R. said that despite the differences in government, neither Ireland nor Scotland were immune to racism or to the Far Right. What is happening is political polarisation, with a radical Left and radical Right. emerging

He also said that the Hard and Far Right over-exaggerate the threat from the Left, whether it be the small Antifa, or the ‘cultural Marxists’ penetration of media and education.

He also took up, S.?’s point and argued against using terms like ‘neo-fascist’ or ‘creeping fascist’. This just creates the same problems as ‘fascist’. For full-blown fascism you need a rupture in the state. The Polish government is not trying to mobilise fascists.

He argued that historically there has been a relationship between Fascist regimes and their state’s history of colonialism. In some senses, fascism is the application at home of the techniques the state had practised in their colonies,

S.W, said that Sarah Hightower had done some research into Qanon, comparing it to cults like Aum Shinrikyro in Japan (https://onbelief.fireside.fm/guests/sarah-hightower,) 

D.R. summarised by saying that there was a difference between Trump’s first presidential campaign, which resorted mainly to Hard Right online media, and his current one, which is making open appeals to Far Right militias. What we are seeing is the Weimarisation of politics in the US.

He also said it was important to challenge conspiracy theories especially in their earlier stages. 9/10 of those who watch David Icke videos see them as a joke. The Far Right promote different level of online propaganda and conspiracy theories, which are designed to attract viewers to Harder Right material. This material can be challenged, as so much of it is patent nonsense.

However, the best way for the Left to challenge the Right is to promote its own alternative view of the world and the collective organisation necessary for this to happen.

From Blairgowrie to the Black Sea – Strawberries and Nutella

This article by Sarah Glynn first appeared on bella caledonia

From Blairgowrie to the Black Sea – Strawberries and Nutella, and the capitalist mode of agricultural production

Last week, a brief news story told of a violent racist attack on a family of hazelnut pickers in north west Turkey. 70% of the world’s hazelnuts are grown in the hills near Turkey’s Black Sea coast, and Turkey’s hazelnut production is estimated to employ some four million people. Picking the nuts is hard work and poorly paid. Like most of the pickers, this family was Kurdish, and had travelled hundreds of miles from the other end of the country for the harvest. The hazelnut trees grow on steep slopes, making the work dangerous and uncomfortable. For a month, pickers work up to eleven hours a day, every day of the week, for subsistence wages. The middlemen who recruit the labour take a cut of the money, which is generally not paid out until the end of the season. The meagre wages mean that all members of the family must work, and, regardless of the law, children are not exempt from the long hours or from carrying heavy loads. Only people who had no other choice would take this work – such as the Kurds, and also some Syrian refugees.

While it’s clearly bad business to attack your workers and drive them away, as in this case, racism against both groups is on the increase, and has made them more vulnerable to exploitation, by cutting off other options. And racism in Turkey is reinforced by an increasingly fascistic government.

Discrimination against the Kurds was built into the very definition of the Turkish state, which is founded on ethnic nationalism. Kurdish resistance to forced assimilation has been met with brutal crackdowns. The Kurdish south-east is poor and underdeveloped, thousands of villages have been deliberately destroyed, and millions of people have been forced to escape to the towns and cities. Many of the families who have to rely on nut picking and other seasonal agricultural work, were once able to support themselves on their own land in their own villages. Displaced and impoverished Kurds provide a pool of cheap labour, and a scapegoat for the country’s ills.

Turkey is currently home to over three million Syrian refugees – with the EU paying the Turkish government to keep them out of the rest of Europe. Only a very small proportion have been allowed work permits, so they have to rely on jobs in the informal economy, competing with, and often undercutting, existing low-paid workers. This has fed into anti-Syrian racism. A World Bank report on ‘The Impact of Syrian Refugees on the Turkish Labor Market’, written in 2015, found declining job opportunities for women, for those who were less educated, and for those in the informal sector. And a BBC radio programme on the hazelnut pickers, made last year, spoke with a Kurdish picker who had lost his former job with a construction business, and blamed Syrians who would work for half his wage, as well as the troubled Turkish economy.

While conditions in Scotland are less stark, similar forces are at play. Agricultural work has always been low-paid and relied on a boost from seasonal, often migrant, labour at harvest time. In the UK, that migrant labour has increasingly come from the poorer East European countries that have recently joined the EU. Brexit, and now the pandemic, have exposed how British agriculture has developed round the exploitation of this labour source, and this has been particularly stark in the berry fields of eastern Scotland.

© Copyright Colin Smith and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

In this economic model, groups of berry pickers are brought over from countries where wages are low and opportunities limited. They are paid piece rates to encourage fast working, and those who fail to keep up with the pace set by the nabblers, and who don’t pick enough fruit to justify the minimum wage they must be paid by law, will lose their job – and with it their accommodation. The work gangs stay in caravan sites on the farms, where they are under the eyes of their gangmaster, and easily available for the often-early shifts. Most workers are young, and provided they can make the pace and don’t get ill, they can take back earnings that will have a greater spending power in their home country than they would here.

This is not a working pattern that most people could keep up indefinitely, nor one designed to be accessible for people who don’t live on site. It was set up to exploit an economic conjuncture that can make it worthwhile for foreign workers to commit to a summer of backbreaking work and caravan accommodation, while the harvest in their home countries is brought in by people from even poorer places. It was never an arrangement designed for local people with families, or for anyone with other commitments. The idea that British people are too lazy for the work was simply a convenient myth shared by employers and armchair pundits, and farms rarely advertised for workers locally. Even so, a few local people did get picking jobs, and reported that conditions were hard – ‘like the Charlie Chaplin assembly line’.

It shouldn’t have been surprising that when Eastern European agricultural workers stopped coming here – some through fears of the racism inspired by a toxic Brexit campaign, and more after the travel restrictions resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic – not enough local people could be found to replace them. Even where furloughed workers were initially keen to help with the harvest and respond to the UK government’s recruitment campaign, they generally found no concessions made to enable them to live at home. And they were shocked by the pace of work that was expected, the long hours, and the poor conditions – as summed up by this headline, written by someone who had gone to work on an English strawberry farm: ‘5am starts, poverty wages and no running water—the grim reality of “picking for Britain”’.

With the failure to recruit and keep enough British workers, concessions were made to enable Romanians to be brought in on special charter flights; and as travel restrictions have eased, more have come over. Like many other ‘essential workers’ these pickers are at high risk of catching Covid-19, as they live and travel close together.

While some farms will have better conditions than others, farm owners are expected to produce plentiful and perfect berries for the supermarkets for very low prices. Many farmers can still lead a comfortable life themselves, but the supermarkets give them limited room to manoeuvre when it comes to management. Agriculture as a whole is a very different business in nature and scale from what it was a generation ago, when the berry picking was done by local working-class families who could come and go on a casual basis. That old system included child labour, too, though conditions were nowhere near as hard as those endured by the hazelnut pickers, and no school was missed. Children also worked at the potato harvest, which was tougher and colder, but school terms were arranged to accommodate the ‘tattie holidays’.

There has been international outcry over the use of child labour in Turkey’s hazelnut harvest; however, action has been limited in both scope and scale. The ILO, together with Turkish partners, ran a five-year project that provided schooling for a total of 1064 children of migrant pickers.  But, although they claimed this was well received, it doesn’t appear to have had a wider impact, and it did not address the underlying problem of poverty wages. There have also been attempts to pressure the international chocolate makers, such as Fererro, who buy 1/3 of Turkey’s hazelnuts, not to buy from orchards using child labour. But their buyers deal with middlemen, not with the 400,000 owners of small orchards, and child labour doesn’t feature in these brokers’ negotiations. For the orchard owners, profits are minimal even with these low wages, and picker families would not thank them for refusing to employ their children without a compensating increase in pay.

International concern will be no more than virtue signalling so long as it fails to address the logic of the system that makes all this exploitation not just possible, but inevitable. What I have described here, is simply the product of capitalism, which depends on the exploitation of those who must live by selling their labour, and which enables the Walton family, owners of Walmart and Asda, to amass over 200 billion dollars, and Giovanni Ferrero to claim 24.5 billion (Forbes). Racial discrimination, and differences in living standards between European states serve to make this exploitation even easier.

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The Case for a Scottish Climate Service

The Edinburgh RIC Meeting on 26th August 2020 was introduced by Willie Black and Graham Campbell

The introductions were followed by a discussion.

– Covid-19 appears to have led to some decentralisation of the economy. There is evidence from England that small town centres have done better than large city centres. Could this be the same in Scotland?

There is a problem with converting offices into homes. Building specifications for offices are lower than for homes. Converted offices could quickly become slums.

– This is true of large specifically designed offices. However, in Glasgow many offices are themselves converted homes above shops or other offices. There needs to be overall planning.

W – when working as an electrician in York Place in Edinburgh found that 200 call centre workers were employed in a building that used to be a home.

There is also some evidence of fightback. In Falkirk residents have just forced Scottish Power to a meeting to lower electricity costs for 700 council houses.

– Despite the renewed calls for nationalisation, the bosses are fighting back. This was shown revealed in today’s headlines directed at the Scottish government’s nationalisation of the Ferguson shipyard. Yet only Ferguson has the capacity to produce the hydrogen powered ferries needed for a more sustainable future.

The Scottish government used the EU guidelines to stop any nationalisation of the BiFab yard at Methil. Yet it has the capacity to produce wind turbines (now being given to an overseas contractor) also needed for a more sustainable future.

We need a transformative agenda.

P – There have been two recent surveys. The first found that 

80% of North Sea oil workers would like jobs in the renewables industry.

However, the second, conducted by Platform, found that very few of the oil workers they interviewed knew of Just Transition.

We need to be able to put forward solutions that make sense. There is also a need to break from the centralised bureaucratic model based in Edinburgh or Glasgow. The logic of sustainable Green development is for research, production and distribution to be decentralised.

SM – is there a case for a Renewable Energy Fund?

SB – Waterpower must be part of the solution.

There has been a reluctance amongst trade union leaders to address the issue of a Just Transition.

G – the debate is still in its early stages. During the last general election, Corbyn, the Greens and to some extent the SNP put forward a Green New Deal. However, it still lacks much specificity, although Commonweal have done a lot of good work. It needs to be linked to an overall industrial strategy.

Other issues that need to be addressed are a reduced working week, mire local ownership, and time limits on fossil fuel extraction.

W – the provision of district heating requires 20,000 skilled jobs, but there is no Scottish government commitment to training or retraining.

Scot.E3 (Employment, Energy and Environment) organised a fringe meeting at the STUC conference. Scot.E3 is a rank and file group mainly working in the oil industry. 

When it comes to the provision of universal housing insulation there is the precedent of the conversion of nearly every Scottish home to North Sea gas in the 1970s.

Further Reading

Two recent articles in Source Direct pick up on some of these issues – you can read them here and here.

Two solidarity protests

Edinburgh RIC members were present at two solidarity events in the last week.

On Thursday 13th August at the foot of Castle Street – solidarity with campaigners against repression of LGBTQ+ people in Poland. There is a follow up protest at the City Chambers on the High Street at 5pm on Wednesday 19th August – https://www.facebook.com/events/359622388362033/

And here are some photos from the 19th August event. Note that Edinburgh Unison had persuaded the council to fly the Polish flag and the Rainbow flag from the City Chambers

On Sunday 16th August at George V Park in Bonnyrigg in support of Debroa Kayembe’s freedom walk and campaign against racist harassment

And here’s a clip from the STV report on the Bonnyrigg event

https://photos.google.com/share/AF1QipMEkomvOOLfPzEBJNhfjQLXovaxTFuUY09A0fsLCGbUqSYvdUM8MzYmgIQHSoF-YA/photo/AF1QipMUwDJmFiiH6_qxi4FSk2pjNOUXwzIhtb9MT_55?key=aTJsMkFOcXV5S2dmMHplUlFwYjI2X3NzSGhTWGdR

Black Lives Matter – public meeting

Anti-racism in the push for indyref2

Benitha Iradukunda from Black Lives Matter introduced the discussion at the July 2020 Edinburgh RIC Assembly.

Benitha is one of the young BLM activists profiled by the Guardian Newspaper today (30th July)

Click here to access a summary of the discussion that followed Benitha’s introduction. During the discussion we agreed unanimously to send a message of support and solidarity to Debora Kayembe. You can find more details of her campaign against racist harassment on Facebook.

Remembering Neil Davidson

Here’s a full video of the memorial event for Neil Davidson that was organised by rs21 Scotland on 11th July. Cat Boyd spoke about working with Neil on the first RIC conferences.

There are also two online sites where it’s possible to view and add to memories of Neil. From colleagues at Glasgow University  www.tolbc.com/NeilDavidson  and on the rs21 website at https://www.rs21.org.uk/2020/05/07/obituary-neil-davidson-1957-2020/