Since we last met GMB Scotland has continued to go from strength to strength. After being in uninterrupted decline for over a decade GMB Scotland went through a period of stabilisation moving into growth in 2017. GMB Scotland grew at a rate of 3.4% in 2017. At the time of writing the union will have grown for 15 consecutive months, a feat not achieved for many years in Scotland. Our growth is testament to the hard work and commitment of our activists and employees.
In 2017 GMB Scotland launched a scholarship programme for activists. The scholarship involved classroom based training and work in the field. After many years of having no in-house training provision, development opportunities for our activists were almost non-existent. The scholarship programme is designed to improve the skills of our activists whilst better preparing them to apply for jobs in the organisation as and when there are vacancies. It was explained very clearly to the applicants for the scholarship that there was no guarantee of a job with the union at the end of the programme. However, in the end, two graduates from the scholarship did successfully apply for jobs when they became available and advertised. There were a lot of learnings from the 2017 scholarship programme. Some of those learnings are being applied in the programme now running for 2018. Our aspiration is to be constantly improving our scholarship programmes to give our activists the best opportunities possible to develop.
In GMB Scotland we have put campaigning at the core of how we seek to build the union. Over the past year we have been running training in campaign skills and techniques for our employees. The ability to identify and run effective campaigns, that make a difference for our members, whilst also building the union, are really important skills for our employees. Following on from the campaign training, officers are now running campaigns across Scotland. Our lay activists will already be very involved in the campaign activity but later this year, and if there is support, our aim is to provide specialist campaigning training for activists too.
We have run successful campaigns the length and breadth of Scotland. From the Borders through the Central Belt to the Highlands and Islands, our union has been campaigning and building on the back of workplace issues. It is impossible to do justice to all the hard work that has gone on across the country but in Dundee, for example, we stopped the implementation of split shifts for the predominantly female workforce in local homecare. We are running campaigns across the public services including in the Highlands and Islands over proposed cuts to terms and conditions as well as payments for care staff. In the Ayrshire councils we have secured three recognition agreements with the contractor Mitie. In ASDA all our campaign work has brought through a new generation of activists and seen membership go up significantly. In the Bakkovar food manufacturing plant a campaign over pay bargaining has seen membership hugely increase and again a new layer of Shop Stewards have come to the fore. In Glasgow City Council our members balloted for strike action to successfully ensure 134 agency workers who joined the union were given permanent jobs and campaigns are on-going over the terms and conditions of Glasgow homecare staff too. Campaigns are also under way amongst school support staff, in private care and over workers in local government being issued with multiple contracts. The fight to safeguard shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde and at Rosyth is on-going too, whilst in Scotch Whisky and spirits we have reasserted our right to collectively bargain and achieved a positive outcome at Diageo for our members over pensions.
One of the most significant battles we have taken on in the past year is the fight to save the three BiFab fabrication yards at Burntisland and Methil in Fife and at Arnish on the Isle of Lewis. In late October all three yards, where work was on-going on a renewables contract, faced closure because of a dispute between contractors. In response, our members occupied the yards and organised a work-in. With just 36 hours’ notice nearly 2000 workers and supporters marched down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and onto the Scottish Parliament. It was the most significant demonstration of its type in a generation and it shook the Scottish political establishment to its core. After months of negotiations it was announced in April that a new buyer had been secured for all three yards with the Scottish Government taking a significant share in the new business. There are still tough times ahead until new contracts for the renewables industry, as well as oil and gas work, can be secured. The campaign at BiFab has already become iconic showing what a well organised union, a disciplined workforce, hard work and courage can achieve. The campaign also blew open the great myth about jobs in the renewables sector in energy-rich Scotland. It served to prove that yards like BiFab are getting scraps from multi billion pound contracts and that what work they do get is precarious, linking back to our policy work in calling for a credible and balanced energy plan for Scotland which places value on the importance of energy as a source of employment.
In March GMB Scotland ran our 2nd Activists’ Weekend. The event was addressed by the General Secretary and a range of other speakers, workshops and activities. The weekend was a great success building on the attendance and learnings from our first such event last year. Our Scotland Committee is due to discuss the plans for an even bigger event in 2019. At the Activists’ Weekend we launched a pledge card, setting out simply the priorities for our union in Scotland. Over the coming months we will be rolling out our pledge card, sharing it with activists and members and new recruits.
We have been very clear that equalities is strategic a priority for our union in Scotland. Our union must look and sound like modern Scotland if it is to succeed. Whilst there is a lot of work to be done on equalities much has been achieved and as ever the Scotland Equalities Forum and equality strand activists deserve great credit for the work they are doing. In 2017 we held our second activists’ weekend for women and we also appointed our first ever female Senior Officer. It is embarrassing that it has taken us so long to promote a woman to the role of Senior Officer but it is also a sign of some progress. In a previous report we made the point that successful organisations have senior women in leadership and decision-making roles and we believe the promotion and development of women leaders at every level of the organisation is vital to the future of GMB Scotland.
The treatment of women at work and the ‘value’ placed on work that is predominantly done by women has been the common theme that has come out of many of the campaigns we have launched around Scotland. The issue of the value placed on work predominantly done by women and the treatment of women in the workplace are likely to be significant areas of continuing work for GMB Scotland in the months ahead. Part of that work is continuing to deal with Equal Pay. A huge amount of time and resource has gone into dealing with legacy issues around Equal Pay in places like Glasgow. However there is more work to be done on Equal Pay, including new campaigns and 3rd wave claims have begun.
GMB Scotland continues to be the highest profile Scottish trade union. We have enjoyed a very significant amount of media coverage since we last met. Most importantly, in terms of communication we put a big focus on communicating directly with members via text message in particular. Whilst we are doing more work on retaining leavers from the union, our belief is that retention starts in the workplace and communications about workplace issues are vital to keeping individuals in membership.
Politically, GMB Scotland were pleased to endorse Richard Leonard, a former employee well known across the union, in his successful campaign to become leader of Scottish Labour. The political realities of Scotland mean though that we need to engage on a cross party basis, working regularly with the SNP minority Scottish Government in particular. We are very clear that for us in Scotland, politics is a means to an end. Our priority is always the interests of our members.
Finally, but by no means least important and challenging, is the issue of Brexit for our manufacturing membership, in particular. GMB Scotland commissioned a major report, the first sector-by-sector analysis of the impact of Brexit, by the leading Scottish economics research body the Fraser Of Allander Institute, which tells us that tens of thousands of jobs are at risk across Scotland. In key areas like Scotch Whisky and spirits we have already seen jobs go because of Brexit, making a mockery of talk of a “jobs-first Brexit”.
GMB Scotland has enjoyed a good year since we last met. There is a busy summer of campaigning planned which should ensure we continue to go from strength to strength in the public and private sector.