SEWN: Defend Higher Ed Pensions


The pensions of the staff at Scottish universities covered by the USS pension scheme are under attack. Staff with many years of service and who are preparing to retire are now being told that their pensions will be worth far less than they expected. This is unfair, and all education workers and students need to organize to stop this from happening.

University management insists that the cuts are necessary because of the turmoil in the stock market and the current low interest rates. Management wants to shift from a system where those retiring are guaranteed a certain pension based on their salaries and length of service, to a system where staff pay a certain percentage of their income into the pension fund and then confront the uncertainty of receiving an indeterminate pension upon retirement. All of the risk is borne by the individual and none by the employer. Furthermore, rather than building solidarity, the system proposed by management forces each individual to try to figure out how to cope with a volatile and declining economy.

Management says this switch will only impact staff receiving the highest incomes. Yet we know from bitter experience that cutbacks conceded in one part of an industrial sector quickly spread as employers pit each group of workers against the others.

We join with UCU Left, an alternative voice within the union, in condemning the proposed contract negotiated by the UCU leadership. Instead of agreeing to cutbacks, UCU should be demanding that the government properly fund higher education, and that more full-time staff be hired. This would mean more younger staff paying into the pension system while also ensuring that class sizes are decreased and the quality of education is protected and enhanced.

The UCU leadership has been unwilling to confront management. The marking boycott leaves many UCU members, who aren’t involved in marking, passive spectators. The union has a mandate for strike action but has consistently wavered, even calling off the marking boycott last year, leaving members demobilised and confused. What is needed is a militant union that will back up such actions with community outreach, rallies and marches, and a series of rolling strikes.

It is important to realise that the attack on the USS pension scheme covering UCU members is a warning of future assaults on the pensions covering many of the other workers on Scottish campuses. If management coerces the UCU into accepting an end to defined benefit pensions, it will not be long before similar cuts are imposed on UNISON and Unite workers. UCU members need the support of other workers in campus unions.

This dispute is not just between management and academics and support staff. Cutbacks hurt students as well. Students need to unite with all campus workers as they struggle to defend their pay, pensions and working conditions. These struggles are just another aspect of the fight against cutbacks.

The government is eager to impose the costs of the economic crisis on to workers and students. We call instead for a program that taxes the rich to fully fund the public sector as one step in the creation of a global society based on solidarity and equality and not on competition and inequality.


Join the Scottish Education Workers Network

Posted in Scottish Education Workers' Network | Leave a comment

National call out in solidarity with Tony Cox.

Feb 25th 2015. A day of Solidarity with arrested Scottish Unemployed Workers Network activist, Tony Cox.

Scottish Unemployed Workers Network activist Tony Cox was arrested on 29th January after Arbroath Jobcentre management called police to stop him representing a vulnerable jobseeker. We urge you to join a Day of Action on 25th February at Jobcentres round Britain to show your solidarity.

We must fight back against this clear attempt to intimidate claimants and deny us the right to be accompanied and represented. Tony will be in court in Forfar on 25th February facing charges of “threatening behaviour, refusing to give his name and address and resisting arrest”. That same day we call on people to descend on jobcentres round Britain to show solidarity with Tony and distribute info to claimants urging all to exercise the right to be accompanied and represented at all benefits interviews.

We invite all activists in support with our campaign to join us on the 25th of Feb.


Info here-



Posted in Edinburgh, Events | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

IWW/ECAP Boycott Workfare.

The Edinburgh Branch of IWW joins in solidarity with Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty(ECAP) ‘s ongoing campaign against workfare.

Workfare is an attack on not only the unemployed and disabled but also on workers too.

Since our principle is “An Injury to One is an injury to all” we believe it is important we work with ECAP in the struggle for a more just society.

As this demonstration involves the Salvation Army(Or as we like to call them, The Starvation Army) an organisation which the IWW has historic bad blood with, we are more than keen to help.

This our event for the jointly called demo as advertised on our facebook page.

Here is the call out which ECAP published,

11am onwards Sat 31st January at Salvation Army charity shop, 36 Earl Grey Street, by Tollcross, Edinburgh EH3 9BN   

(Earl Grey St is an extension of Lothian Rd, its the last block before Tollcross – 10 minutes walk from west end of Princes St.)

The Salvation Army are a notorious user of the government slave labour schemes which force unemployed claimants and some sick and disabled claimants to work for nothing – or face benefit sanctions. This particular Salvation Army shop is currently exploiting claimants forced to labour for no wages on the Mandatory Work Activity scheme, run locally by Learndirect.

Workfare undermines all workers wages and conditions and is an attack on waged and unwaged alike.  Our actions locally have already prompted charities like Cancer Research UK to withdraw from the workfare schemes run by Learndirect.  Let’s make workfare unworkable!  Our message to rip-off employers is simple – if you exploit us we will shut you down!

All welcome – join the fightback to make austerity policies unworkable.

Organised jointly by ECAP and Edinburgh Branch Industrial Workers of the World


EDINBURGH COALITION AGAINST POVERTY is based at the Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh (ACE), an open campaign space, infoshop and wholefoods co-op, providing resources and solidarity. Resources available include computer/internet access, cheap copying, free leaflets, books, pamphlets and mags for sale, a small wholefoods shop, and a library.
Every tuesday from 12 noon till 3pm support and solidarity is available for benefits and debt hassles, housing and other problems.  Please contact us at Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty c/o ACE, 17 West Montgomery Place, Edinburgh EH7 5HA   0131 557 6242   We invite you to join our solidarity phone tree, and get involved.
ACE is also open every Saturday 11am-6pm and Thursday 6-8pm, and other times for particular events (but the support and solidarity sessions are only on Tuesdays).

Posted in Edinburgh, Events | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

IWW Safer Spaces Policy.

This isn’t as widely publicised as it should be.

Now part of IWW constitution as of the end of 2014 due to an IWW referendum, thanks to IWW Gender Equity Committee.

Industrial Workers of the World ‘Safer Space Policy’ Resolution

WHEREAS, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) actively opposes bigotry, discrimination, and harassment on and off the job; and

WHEREAS, the IWW does not exclude from membership any worker based on gender, sex, race, ethnicity, geographic location, sexual expression/identity, size, age, (dis)ability, education level, etc. or any combination thereof; and

WHEREAS, all formal bodies of the IWW must aim to uphold these principles by providing the tools to protect and enforce them, ensuring that all workers can fully participate in their union’s activities; therefore

BE IT RESOLVED, that the IWW adopt the following official ‘Safer Space Policy; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the ‘Safer Space Policy’ shall apply to all offices, meetings, events, or communication platforms that are IWW sponsored; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this policy be added to the ‘Preamble, Constitution, & General Bylaws of the Industrial Workers of the World’ under ‘Selected Resolutions’ as the first item.

Industrial Workers of the World Safer Space Policy

The Industrial Workers of the World is a union committed to the emancipation of the working class. The working class is diverse and as a union we recognize that oppression is many layered. As such, we strive to keep our common places free from oppressive action, behavior, and language.

These oppressive actions and words include but are not limited to: racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and any expression of disrespect and/or intolerance of size, gender identity, sexual identity/expression, (dis)ability, age, educational level, and cultural background. Because we want to learn from and educate each other, we will each be responsible for addressing these issues in ourselves and others. This policy is not about censorship, but rather opening a dialog in a respectful way that can result in all members feeling safe and free to fully participate in their union’s activities.

If a member feels this policy is being / has been violated, the following steps should be taken:

1. Reference the policy to the whole group: for example, “In the IWW, we have a ‘Safer Space Policy’ that all members are mutually responsible to uphold. I feel this policy has been violated by talk of ‘[comments made].’ Please keep the Safer Space Policy in mind.”

2. If the policy is still being violated, the issue should be brought up to the person in violation directly and/or the chair, an officer, a delegate, or a member whom you would like to act as an advocate on your behalf so that an effective plan of action can be instituted.

3. If you have no allies locally and invoking the ‘Safer Space Policy’ fails, reach out to the Gender Equity Committee for assistance at

If a member feels like this policy is being violated and is uncomfortable bringing this up personally, they are encouraged to seek an ally of their choosing to advocate for them. In a meeting, a person can ask for a point of personal privilege to take a break and discuss this with the necessary parties. Meeting chairs, officers, delegates, and members should be conscious of this policy and address issues as they arise.

Further, space shall be defined as any office, meeting, event (including trainings, celebrations, social gatherings, etc.), internet platform (including listservs, facebook, we.riseup, twitter, etc.) that is IWW sponsored, which includes any body formally recognized by the IWW, such as General Membership Branches, Regional Organizing Committees and Regional Administrations, Industrial Union Branches, other committees, and any accountable sub-formation of the aforementioned bodies.

The Resolution which passed may be found here 

Posted in Bulletins | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Staughton Lynd reviews ‘The Wobblies in their Heyday’ (2014)


FW Eric Chester (Clydeside) has recently published an in-depth history of the IWW in the World War I era.  We are pleased to publish this review of the book by Staughton Lynd, author of  Doing History from the Bottom Up, Solidarity Unionism, and Wobblies and Zapatistas. Originally published on Znet.

Eric Chester, The Wobblies in their Heyday: The Rise and Destruction of the Industrial Workers of the World during the World War I Era. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2014.

Reviewed by Staughton Lynd

The Wobblies are back. Many young radicals find the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) the most congenial available platform on which to stand in trying to change the world.

This effort has been handicapped by the lack of a hard-headed history of the IWW in its initial incarnation, from 1905 to just after World War I. The existing literature, for example Franklin Rosemont’s splendid book on Joe Hill, is strong on movement culture and atmosphere.  It is weak on why the organization went to pieces in the early 1920s.

Eric Chester’s new book fills this gap. It is indispensable reading for Wobblies and labor historians.

One way to summarize what is between these covers is to say that Chester spells out three tragic mistakes made by the old IWW that the reinvented organization must do its best to avoid.

Macho Posturing

Labor organizing flourished during World War I because of the government’s need for a variety of raw materials.  Among these were food, timber, and copper. Wobbly organizers made dramatic headway in all three industries. At its peak in August 1917 the IWW had a membership of more than 150,000.

Nine months later, Chester writes, “the union was in total disarray, forced to devote most of its time and resources to raising funds for attorneys and bail bonds.”

This sad state of affairs was, of course, partly the result of a calculated decision by the federal government to destroy the IWW. But only partly.

According to Chester another cause of the government’s successful suppression of the Wobblies was that during and after the Wheatlands strike in California hop fields in 1913 some Wobblies threatened to “burn California’s agricultural fields if two leaders of the strike were not released from jail.”

For years, Wobbly leaders had insisted that sabotage could force employers to make concessions, Chester writes.  But what Chester terms “nebulous calls for arson” and “macho bravado” only stiffened the determination of California authorities not to modify jail sentences for Wobbly leaders Ford and Suhr.

Chester finds that there is no credible evidence that any fields were, in fact, burned. But after the United States entered World War I in April 1917, this extravagant rhetoric calling for the destruction of crops apparently helped to convince President Wilson to initiate a systematic and coordinated campaign to suppress the Wobblies.

Efforts to Avoid Repression by Discontinuing Discussion of the War and the Draft

International solidarity and militant opposition to war and the draft were central tenets of the IWW.  Wobblies who had enrolled in the British Army were expelled from the union.  At the union’s tenth general convention in November 2015, the delegates adopted a resolution calling for a “General Strike in all industries” should the United States enter the war.

What actually happened was that general secretary-treasurer Bill Haywood and a majority of IWW leaders

agreed that the union should desist from any discussion of the war or the draft, in the vain hope that this policy would persuade the federal government to refrain from targeting the union for repression. At the same time, the great majority of rank-and-file members, with support of a few leaders such as Frank Little, insisted that the IWW should be at the forefront of the opposition to the war.

Self-evidently, what Chester terms the IWW’s “diffidence” was the very opposite of Eugene Debs’ defiant opposition to the war. When Wobbly activists “flooded IWW offices with requests for help and pleas for a collective response to the draft,” the usual response was that what to do was up to each individual member. Haywood, Chester writes, “consistently sought to steer the union away from any involvement in the draft resistance movement.”

Debs notwithstanding, however, the national leadership of the Socialist Party like the national leadership of the IWW “scrambled to avoid any confrontation with federal authorities.” Radical activists from both organizations formed ad hoc alliances cutting across organizational boundaries.

The IWW General Executive Board, meeting from June 29 to July 6, 1917, was unable to arrive at a decision about the war and conscription, and a committee including both Haywood and Little, tasked to draft a statement, likewise failed to do so.  In the end, Chester says, “the IWW sought to position itself as a purely economic organization concerned solely with short-run gains in wages and working conditions.”

Disunity Among IWW Prisoners Fostered by the Government

The reluctance of the Wobbly leadership to advocate resistance to the war and conscription carried over to a legalistic response when the government indicted IWW leaders. Haywood urged all those named in the indictment to surrender voluntarily and to waive any objection to being extradited to Chicago. In the mass trial that followed, the defendants were represented by a very good trial lawyer who was also an enthusiastic supporter of the war and passed up the opportunity to make a closing statement to the jury. Judge Landis’ superficial fairness deluded Wobs into hoping for a good outcome.

The jury took less than an hour to find all one hundred defendants guilty of all counts in the indictment. Ninety-three received lengthy prison terms. Judge Landis ordered that they be imprisoned in Leavenworth, described by Chester as ‘”a maximum-security penitentiary designed for hardened, violent criminals.” Forty-six more defendants were found guilty after another mass conspiracy trial in Sacramento.

Thereafter, Chester writes, the “process of granting a commutation of sentence was manipulated during the administration of Warren Harding to divide and demoralize IWW prisoners.” The ultimate result was “the disastrous split of 1924, leaving the union a shell of what it had been only seven years earlier.”

Executive clemency, like that granted to Debs, was the only hope of the Wobblies in prison for release before the end of their long sentences. President Harding rejected any thought of a general amnesty, obliging each prisoner to fill out the form requesting amnesty as an individual.  The application form for amnesty contained an implicit admission of guilt.The newly-created ACLU supported this process.

Twenty-four IWW prisoners opted to submit a form requesting amnesty. A substantial majority refused to plead for individual release. More than seventy issued a statement in which they insisted that “all are innocent and all must receive the same consideration.” The government insisted on a case-by-case approach. Fifty-two prisoners responded that they refused to accept the president’s division of the Sacramento prisoners, still alleged to have burned fields, from the Chicago prisoners. Moreover they considered it a “base act” to “sign individual applications and leave the Attorney General’s office to select which of our number should remain in prison and which should go free.”

Initially, the IWW supported those prisoners who refused to seek their freedom individually. Those who had submitted personal requests for presidential clemency were expelled from the union.

In June 1923, the government once again dangled before desperate men the prospect of release, now available for those individual prisoners promising to remain “law-abiding and loyal to the Government.” This time a substantial majority of the remaining prisoners accepted Harding’s offer, and IWW headquarters, in what Chester calls “a sweeping reversal,” gave its approval.

Eleven men at Leavenworth declined this latest government inducement. In addition, those who were tried in California did not receive the same offer.

In December 1923 the remaining IWW prisoners at Leavenworth including twenty-two who had been convicted in Sacramento were released unconditionally. The damage had been done. Those who had held out the longest launched a campaign within the IWW to expel those who had supported a form of conditional release.There were accusations against anyone who had allegedly proved himself “a scab and a rat.” When a convention convened in 1924 both sides claimed the headquarters office and went to court. An organization consisting of the few hundred members who had supported the consistent rejection of all government offers “faded into oblivion by 1931.”


It is not the intent of brother Chester’s book, or of this review, to trash the IWW. This review has dealt with only about half of the material in the book, for example passing by the story of Wobbly organizing in copper, both at Butte, Montana and Bisbee, Arizona. Moreover, any one who lived through the disintegration of SDS, SNCC and the Black Panthers is familiar with tragedies like those described here. The heroism of members of all three groups who were martyrs, such as Frank Little, Fred Hampton, and the Mississippi Three (Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner), remains. The vision of a qualitatively different society, as the Zapatistas say “un otro mundo,” remains also.

What it seems to me we must soberly consider is what practices we can adopt to forestall disintegration when different members of a group make different choices. Hardened secular radicals though we may be, we can learn something from from King Lear’s words to his daughter Cordelia: “When you ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down and ask of you forgiveness.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

New forms of worker organisation | Manny Ness talk in Glasgow

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Strike Back! – Issue 3 (Winter 2014/15)

The latest Strike Back! includes articles on anti-militarism, perspectives on the recent Scottish Independence referendum, business unions, information on the Spirit of Revolt archive project and Wobbly songs.

Download Strike Back! Issue 3 here.

You can write for Strike Back! and distribute it locally. Contact:


Posted in Strike Back! | Leave a comment