STUC Congress 2015 - SACC's view on the Motions

The STUC Annual Congress for 2015 will be held on 20-22 April at Ayr Racecouse. Many of the motions to be debated at the Congress touch on issues that SACC has campaigned over. At a recent meeting we discussed some that we feel are particularly important.

We welcome the motion on the UK Government's Counterterrorism and Security Bill (tabled by the University & College Union Scotland), the amended motion on Islamophobia (tabled by the Annual STUC Black Workers’ Conference and amended by the Annual STUC Youth Conference), the motion on supporting BMEs in the workplace (tabled by the Annual STUC Black Workers’ Conference).

However, we do not support the motion on freedom of expression tabled by the National Union of Journalists. While it provides a timely affirmation of the importance of freedom of expression, we think that it is unclear and could be interpreted as giving support for legislative changes that would weaken protection against the publication of racist material.

MOTION 37. UK GOVERNMENT’S COUNTERTERRORISM AND SECURITY BILL

"That this Congress notes that part five of the UK Government’s Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill seeks to place a new duty on specified bodies, including universities, colleges, schools and prisons, to have ‘due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’.

"Congress notes that, as well as adding a significant administrative burden to staff at universities, these proposals will also have a detrimental effect on the hard fought for academic freedom and openness of debate that higher education institutions need to have in order to function effectively.

"Congress calls on the STUC General Council to join with educators, politicians and campaigners, who have spoken out against the proposals, and to campaign against the introduction of any measures which threaten academic freedom."

Mover: University & College Union Scotland

SACC's View

We urge Congress delegates to support this motion. The Bill has now become the Counter Terrorism and Security Act and has received royal assent. Campaigning against the introduction of measures which threaten academic freedom remains crucially important. The Prevent Duty Guidance for Scotland, which will give effect to provisons in the Act that affect Scottish universities has not yet come into force and can easily be ammended by secondary legislation (see our Open Letter to the Scottish Government). There are also many other opportunities to campaign against damaging measures that may be introduced under the new legislation (See our statement on Resisting Prevent).

MOTION 93. ISLAMOPHOBIA

"That this Congress is concerned by the increase in Islamophobia and the demonisation and stigmatisation of Muslim communities in Scotland. Organisations, such as Britain First, have carried out mosque invasions, the BNP have protested the use of Halal meat in fast food chains, and UKIP candidates have made a range of negative comments, including Nigel Farage’s undignified response to the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks, where he calls for us to ‘stand up for our Judeo-Christian culture’. Congress is clear that anti-Islamic, intolerant and hate centred views are unacceptable.

"However, with the rise of ‘Islamic State’ (IS) in Syria and Iraq and daily reports surrounding radicalisation, Congress is concerned that young people from our Muslim communities are choosing to join terrorist organisations. So far, we know of around 60 young women, who have been persuaded to join the ranks of IS through radicalisation, and who are now at particular risk of exploitation and abuse.

"Congress believes that the determined effort of  a number of political forces - not exclusively the extreme right - is spreading Islamophobia by equalising ‘IS’ and Islam. This climate of Islamophobia, coupled with a lack of positive images of Muslim people in the media, is contributing to a feeling of isolation amongst the Muslim community and ultimately makes the job easier of recruiters and radicalisers, who seek to exploit our young people.

"Congress instructs the STUC General Council to:

  • work with NUJ, the STUC Black Workers’ Committee and the STUC Youth Committee to develop a programme to promote positive images of Scottish Muslim communities;
  • oppose all those who seek to promote Islamophobia by demonising Muslims and conflating acts of terrorism and terrorist organisations with Islam; and
  • express our clear view that any approach to counterterrorism that strips British citizens of their human rights is unacceptable."

Mover: Annual STUC Black Workers’ Conference

Amendment - ACCEPTED

Delete 2nd para

3rd para, delete final sentence and replace with:

"This climate of Islamophobia is contributing to a feeling of isolation amongst the Muslim community".

Final para, 1st bullet point, line 3, delete all after "to develop a programme" and insert:

"to ensure we develop voices who are able to challenge Islamophobia within the mainstream media;"

Mover: Annual STUC Youth Conference

SACC's View

We urge Congress delegates to support this motion as amended.

MOTION 94. SUPPORTING BMES IN THE WORKPLACE

"That this Congress notes with concern that a range of economic, legal and social factors jointly conspire to inhibit the contribution and potential of BME workers in Scotland and result in work no longer being the fulfilling and positive experience for many BME workers that we would all aspire it to be. Issues include:

  • the ongoing impact of austerity measures and limited resources meaning that tackling equality generally, and race equality specifically, is very much lowest in priority;
  • the lack of effective implementation of equality legislation, where employers regularly breach their responsibilities with impunity, as enforcement bodies fail to act, or are prevented by resource constraints from acting effectively;
  • Islamophobia, the activities of the EDL/SDL, along with the ‘normalising’ of the hitherto unacceptably racist views of UKIP, creates an escalating atmosphere of hatred towards BME people. All of which is propagated by the populist media and increases racism experienced by visible BME people; and
  • the disproportionately adverse impact of discriminatory performance management systems, which lead to an environment of ‘sticky floors’ for BME workers and ‘snowy peaks’ across the private and public sectors in Scotland.

"These issues lead to a situation where BME workers now more than ever need the support of the trade union movement. Congress recognises and commends the work already undertaken in all of these areas, but calls on the STUC General Council and the STUC Black Workers’ Committee to build on this by

  • continuing the fight against austerity at every opportunity;
  • campaigning for improvements to, and better enforcement of, equality legislation;
  • challenging politicians and the media, so that racism and racist behaviours do not continue to become the acceptable norm in our society; and
  • seeking to eliminate discriminatory performance management systems."

Mover: Annual STUC Black Workers’ Conference

SACC's View

We urge Congress delegates to support this motion as amended.

Motion 95. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

"That this Congress notes that following events in Paris surrounding the massacre at Charlie Hebdo magazine, and the subsequent debate on the limits of freedom of expression, reaffirms its support for freedom of expression as an indispensable human right, and a key element of democracy, along with free and independent trade unions.

"Congress further urges all members to remain vigilant in monitoring any threats to freedom of expression, which may result from the provisions of current Scottish or UK law, with a view to seeking the repeal of any legislation which, without exceptional cause, limits the right of citizens freely to debate public issues, to express their views, and to campaign without fear of prosecution."

Mover: National Union of Journalists

SACC's View

We whole-heartedly support the first paragraph of this motion, and the call in the second paragraph for members to be vigilant in monitoring any threat to freedom of expression. However, we do not support the call made in paragraph 2 for the repeal of current legislation found to limit freedom of expression without exceptional cause. It requires further qualification, or a specific reference to the legislation whose repeal may be sought.

SACC calls for the repeal of the UK's anti-terrorism laws, which restrict freedom of expressions in various ways, especially under the sections dealing with "encouragement of terrorism" in the Terrorism Act 2006.

We would  like to see stronger protection against threats to the freedom of expression of whisteblowers, and for journalists and media outlets that publish information from whistleblowers.

We do not favour the repeal of legislation dealing with incitement to racial hatred. In particular, we would oppose any move to repeal Section 3 of the Public Order Act 1986, which prohibits publication of material that is intended to, or likely to, stir up racial hatred. On the contrary, we believe that prosecutors and courts ought to be more pro-active in their application of this legislation, especially in relation to material circulated by far-right groups. Statutory prohibition of race-hate material is needed, not because of any exceptional cause in the ordinary sense of the term, but because the widespread and systematic nature of racial hatred makes the issue one of exceptional importance.

We do not advocate any change in the law to make it easier to bring prosecutions over the kind of islamophobic material published by Charlie Hebdo magazine. But we urge everyone to desist from creating, supporting, encouraging or circulating that kind of material.

Under the European Convention on Human Rights, freedom of expression is a right held by everyone, but it is a qualified right, not an absolute one. The grounds on which it may be limited include "prevention of disorder or crime" and "protection of the reputation or rights of others."

We do not think Motion 95 provides an adequate framework for weighing these issues. We therefore urge Congress delegates to vote against this motion.