TRADE union representatives gathered at an international conference on Thursday to put “the interests of the working class” at the forefront of pro-independence politics in Europe.

The event, held in the Basque city of Bilbao, heard from trade unionists representing 15 different nations including Catalonia, Ireland, Corsica, Sardinia and Galicia.

Delegates unanimously supported a “Declaration of Sovereignty Trade Unionism” which included support for “popular sovereignty and the right to self-determination of our own nations”, opposition to “the European arms race”, in defence of “feminism” and resistance to the rise of the “ultra-right”.

Bill Ramsay, a member of the SNP Trade Union Group and former president of the EIS teachers’ union, was one of those to address the event, which was organised by the Basque trade union Nationalist Workers’ Committees (LAB). He told delegates that a second independence referendum in Scotland will come soon and “the interests of the working class needs to be at the heart of the independence campaign”.

Call for ‘interests of working-class’ in indy debate

“That campaign can’t just be about constitutional change in and of itself, it has to have at its heart improving the lives of ordinary people,” he said.

Ramsay went on to chastise the UK Government for its for not going far enough to protect living standards in the Chancellor’s Spring Statement, which faced backlash from opposition parties as typical working-age household incomes are set to fall by 4% in real terms in 2022-23, a loss of £1100.

Ramsay said that “the fight against poverty and price hikes” must be put “at the centre” of the vision for Scottish independence.

Speaking to The National after the event, Ramsay said it was “vital” that Yes campaigners see themselves as “part of a wider movement of stateless nations” and “show solidarity” with other campaigns for independence and greater autonomy across the continent.

He said: “People in Scotland should realise that the rest of the world are interested in what’s happening here, and see Scotland as a potential beacon internationally.”

He added that support for Scottish independence was “growing all the time” within the trade union movement and that there was “real lessons” for Scotland to learn from “how different parts of European trade unionism organise on the ground”.

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Unlike the Basque Country, where a majority of trade unionists are in pro-independence unions, Scotland does not have a tradition of trade unions closely allied to the independence movement. Just two unions, the Prison Officers’ Association and the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, supported a Yes vote in the 2014 referendum.

Ramsay said it was right that Scottish unions are “a place where both Yes and No voters can join”, but emphasised that the support of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) for the right of Scotland to self-determination put it in “conflict with Boris Johnson’s government”.

“The majority of the members of the Scottish trade union movement are members of the working class, and we know through polls and academic studies that support for Scottish independence is strongest in the working class.”

Sean McElhinney from “trade unionists for a new and United Ireland” also addressed the event, and said that “the opinion of the general public appears to support Irish reunification”. Northern Ireland is set to go to the polls for elections in May, with pro-Irish unity Sinn Fein on course to become the largest party in Stormont for the first time.

“We expect in the next few years, Irish republicans will be in government in both the north and the south,” McElhinney explained.

“This is a momentous time in Irish history. With the ending of partition, Ireland can begin to tackle the injustice suffered by our working class, and with sovereignty all nations can protect their own working classes. Pro-sovereignty trade unionism can be a vehicle for transformational change.”

David Cano from the pro-independence IAC Catalonia told delegates that following the 2017 “wildcat” referendum in his country, which was repressed by the Spanish Government in violent scenes beamed around the world, they were “re-building the movement”.

“Eighty per cent of Catalans support self-determination, this is a good starting point,” he said. “Pro-sovereignty trade unionism must lead the fight for a real alternative.”

Cano told The National after the event that the unions represented in Bilbao were “diverse”, with some unions being “in the minority of trade unionism in their country, while others are in the majority”, but that they all “believe that regaining sovereignty enables real transformation”.

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“We are here to share our analysis of our situations and to try to arrive at a common approach,” he explained. “We want to work together on initiatives because we know that the working class in all countries have very similar problems.

“I think we have the capacity to create something important.”

Lab General Secretary Garbine Aramburu told The National that her union organised the event because they place “great importance on generating alliances of trade unions and trade unionists with a pro-sovereignty perspective”.

“We are in a systemic crisis of capitalism and what we need to do is to transform the root of the current economic and social model, which is not sustainable socially or ecologically,” she added.

“We defend the right of self-determination and we promote sovereignty in all of the nations. We understand the alternative is at the global level but that we must act at the local level to have strength in our work.”

The conference also supported an emergency motion in defence of the right of Western Sahara to self-determination, after Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez controversially changed the country’s position in relation to its former colony last week.

In a surprise announcement, Sanchez backed Morocco’s control of the north-west African nation, stating that their plan was “the most serious, realistic and credible basis for the resolution of the dispute”.

The shift has been furiously opposed by almost every other party in the Spanish Congress, including Sanchez’s coalition partners in government. Spain had previously supported a resolution to the conflict within the framework of the United Nations. The UN officially supports the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination.