Wednesday, 22 June 2016

The Socialist Case for Remain

Colleagues,

A very brief piece in advance of tomorrow's historic vote. Although I am toiling on the thesis, and promised more 'stuff' related to it, I needed just to fling into a post two of the best pieces I have read recently which make the case for a left/socialist remain vote.

The first piece is by Paul Mason and was in The Guardian earlier in the week:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/20/brexit-fake-revolt-eu-working-class-culture-hijacked-help-elite

The second is by Dave Renton and appears in the latest edition of the Black Jacobin magazine:
https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/06/referendum-eu-remain-renton-migrants-ukip-farage-corbyn-labour/

I should also give a plug for an article by my Ruskin College colleague Ed Rooksby who writes from the same perspective and also features in the same edition as Renton:
https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/06/brexit-referendum-leave-remain-immigration/

I wanted to post briefly about this given the enormity of the EU referendum and as the tragic murder of Jo Cox illustrates, the referendum 'debate' has unleashed a set of reactionary forces that will be very difficult to curtail regardless of the referendum outcome.

It is these reactionary forces that illustrate the toxic case for Brexit and, as the articles make plain, will deliver very little, or nothing for workers, their families or communities, If any worker believes that their best interests are served/represented by Gove, Farage and Johnson then they need seriously to ask themselves whose interests these people serve.

Taking Gove, for example, who expounds on the pro-corporate nature of the EU, yet the self-same zealot has turned the UK education system, via academies and free-schools into a feeding frenzy for the private sector: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/oct/24/academy-chain-fees-griffin-accountability-trustees

And now as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice he oversees a simultaneous expansion of the private sector's engagement in the criminal justice system matched only by the degree to which the private sector's practice has exposed systematic abuse, corruption etc. across the system: http://www.oye.news/news/child-abuse/g4s-serco-profiting-misery-children/

Without doubt the EU is a pro-capitalist, anti-democratic, monolithic body. Tony Benn's original position on the formation of the EU is one I still cling as to my own set of beliefs on what is wrong with a free trade area that, for example, propels free movement of labour to serve capital's interests.

But, what is on offer tomorrow on the Brexit ticket will not respond to this deficit when we turn our gaze to the pro-capitalist, anti-democratic current state of the UK. Further, the Brexit case rests on hatred, racism, xenophobia etc.

Please take a minute to read the three linked articles and make sure you spare time to get to the polling stations tomorrow. And, let's see what Friday brings.

In Solidarity

Ian

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Making sense of trade union knowledge production: Embodied activism

Dear Colleagues,

I am at a stage where I can share a simple/basic description of how I am framing a key aspect of my thesis findings: the theory of embodied activism. I am going to distribute the link for this post to MA students and alumni (maintaining the spirit of co-production in my methodological approach) and ask them for feedback on how I explain their experience of the MA in international labour and trade union studies (ILTUS) at Ruskin College, Oxford.

The idea for this approach popped into my head yesterday when I attended the first in a series of events, organised by my marvellous colleague Fenella Porter, which have been funded by the Lipman-Miliband Trust: http://www.lipman-miliband.org.uk/

The Lipman-Miliband series of events at Ruskin fall under the broad theme of the future of organised labour around change
in the political economy of work. The first event kicked off the series in great style with a stellar line up of speakers and great attendance. The event was followed by a focus group discussion with representatives of alternative models of organised labour (mainly IWW comrades attended) as part of a project that Ruskin is a partner to which is examining the potential impact of the Trade Union Bill.

All in all, yesterday was one of those days that epitomised Ruskin at it's very best: at the forefront of discussion and analysis of the future of organised labour.

The flyer lists the speakers and you'll see that Holly Smith (who completed the MA in 2014) joined the panel to discuss her dissertation which compared the outcomes of industrial action at Brighton City council involving refuse workers and the pop-up union at Sussex University.

As can be expected, the discussion during the day concentrated on those issues that debilitate the representative nature of traditional trade union structure, alienating women employed in the informal economy for example. Ultimately though the focus remained positive not least when listening to the experience of IWW comrades who spoke of local mobilisations which resist employer strategies of workplace power and control.

Joining Holly were two MA alumni (pictured) Katia Widlak (of the strategy unit at UNISON) and Jon Bigger (currently completing his PhD (and teaching) at Loughborough Univ). I had a good discussion with Holly, Jon and Katia last night and really enjoyed listening to their response of my findings and the theory of embodied activism.


The Renewal Actor
So, in explaining the findings let me first say that what I uncovered was not what I expected. My thesis is an attempt to locate (a) the experience of the MA and it's impact on an international body of trade unionists who completed the MA between 2006 and 2016 and (b) it's relationship to strategies and practice of trade union renewal. The idea is to examine Mezirow's theory of transformative learning (http://tinyurl.com/jr8ctl9) and Colin Hay's approach to structure and agency in examining the contribution of activists to movement practice and development (http://tinyurl.com/zbyaohz) to determine whether you can generalise on the MA experience and argue that alumni are renewal actors.

That is, the MA experience heightens the sense of agential potential to achieve renewal, and processes of critical reflective practice (bringing together Freire and Gramsci) combined with research opportunities realise praxis.

The findings do, in some way, reveal evidence of increased agency and a sense that praxis (turning theory into practice) is realisable. However, what MA alumni really wanted to talk about was the outcomes of the MA educational experience upon them as trade union activists.

In the spirit of Raymond Williams the key words that arose as themes from the process of coding the interview transcripts and online survey are: confidence, legitimacy, authority and validation.

Renewing Activist Identity
As I haven't yet fully worked through a my theoretical explanation of the findings, let me try and encapsulate my theory of what these key words/themes tell us in simple/clear language. And let me provide a basic argument for the emergent theoretical explanation that I am calling embodied activism.

First, the findings reflect and acknowledge theories of embodied and situated learning i.e. that we learn through physical experience as much as cognitive, and that learning often takes place in certain situations/settings. (read this for an introduction to the theory: http://tinyurl.com/zyn57sh)

The MA as a community of practice: Current MA students listen
to IWW activist and full-time MA student Matt Hannam
discuss the findings from his dissertation
In this context, whilst trade unionists learn through processes of workplace-based conflict (and sometimes in more street/community-oriented settings) a crisis of confidence emerges in two ways. First, the exposure to intimidation and isolation e.g. caught between the hostility of the employer and on occasion trade union members. Second, a sense of dislocation from agency/power within trade union structures.





It is critically important here to focus specifically on trade union officials also who comprise approximately 50% of alumni. The variant to the explanation above is that the crisis of confidence arises also because of the way in which their own identity as a trade unionist is diminished (for overt or subtle cultural/political reasons) as a result of their employed role.

It is also important to argue that, when looking at the literature on employment relations/trade union renewal, rarely are full-time officers (FTOs) treated as trade unionists in their own right. Instead they are collapsed into a general set of assumptions around trade union bureaucracy.

Taking these findings together, the themes of legitimacy, authority and validation appear when students discuss what the processes of critical reflective practice and research/writing mean to them in renewing/solidifying their primary identity as trade unionists.

Thus the MA outcomes renew a sense of power and identity within organised labour. Additionally, it is important to say that alumni see the MA experience as a community of practice. They argue that the MA provides a space/site for critical analysis/interpretation of one another's experience of activism/employment within the labour movement and of the labour movement.

Embodied Activism
Inspired by the work of Tracey Ollis in particular (e.g. http://tinyurl.com/j6o5x85) the theory of embodied activism how I am shaping the findings and arguing as an original contribution to knowledge in the field of activist education and knowledge production.

In a nutshell: The sense of activism is living and embodied, but diminished over time. The MA experience renews trade union identity and agential purpose.

In this context I am also framing this theory in the context of some long-standing concerns I have always had about the nature and practice of mainstream trade union education.

This concern is best expressed when comparing models and modes of trade union education with that for allied social movements (read this by my colleague Laurence Cox and Christina Flesher Fominaya for a sense of my argument here: http://tinyurl.com/gph2xv8). Social movement (whether those directly allied to organised labour, ecological, feminist etc.) practice acknowledges and respects that activists generate and produce knowledge as a direct result of their activism.

This knowledge production process is seen as the most critical component of movement critique and development. It doesn't always work fluidly and smoothly, but my point is that those at the coalface of the movement are acknowledged for their insight and expertise. Communities of practice structure and relay that experience in organic ways to aid and foster movement growth and renewal.

This edited book by Aziz Choudry and Dip Kapoor illustrates this process working across a variety of movements internationally: http://tinyurl.com/osw54wk

Trade Union Knowledge Production
A key concern of mine is that significant elements of mainstream trade union education either consciously or unwittingly loses the potential for insight gained from knowledge gained and produced by trade unionists on a daily basis. Additionally, the lack of a critique of political economy in trade union education can weaken the ways in which trade unionists make vertical links to the commonality of issues to workers and trade unionists globally, and horizontal links to other trade unions as well as other movements.

There is good practice that I come across both in the UK and internationally, but it is true to say that large segments of trade union education distil information which revolves around the role of the representative, rather than the activist. This, in my view, is where some of the dilemma starts.

We needn't be pessimistic however as there are those who seek to critically explore the political purpose and values of trade union education.

For example, on September 7 at the Marx Memorial Library (MML) there is an event titled Labour Movement Education Unshackled: Problems, Ideas and Opportunities. Speakers include those who I know from personal experience are committed to the work of the ILTUS team at Ruskin as well as an on-going analysis of the purpose of educational strategy in the context of trade union renewal particularly, Roger McKenzie (UNISON), Trish Lavelle, (CWU) and Wilf Sullivan (TUC).

The event is not yet advertised on the  MML website, but keep an eye on the events page: http://www.marx-memorial-library.org/upcoming-events

I should also give a plug for the MML series of courses for trade unionists, themed Trade Unions and Power, which better reflect, I feel, the kind of political education needed to inspire trade unionists: http://www.marx-memorial-library.org/education/trade-union

Ruskin College of course will continue, I hope, to play a considerable role here nationally and internationally, in working with trade unions to develop programmes of education that strengthen trade union organisation.

In that vein I must give a plug for the summer school organised by my colleague Colm Bryce, tutor at Ruskin and current student of the MA ILTUS, who like Fenella has brought together a wholly impressive roster of speakers for an event which reflects the radical education spirit of Ruskin - see flyer pictured.

Please come along - it will be worth it.

End Note
I am very much looking forward to writing up my thesis, not least to pay respect to the MA students, but also colleagues at Ruskin who encouraged and motivated me during the early stages of my doctorate and are now covering for me during my sabbatical period. But let me say a massive thanks now to Tracy Walsh, Fenella Porter, Caroline Holmes, Peter Dwyer and many others.

I also look forward (somehow, not worked through yet how to do it) to recognising my prime political and cultural influences and who have shaped my approach to teaching also, Primo Levi and Miles Davies. This may seem like an odd combination, but they aren't really when you examine what political and social forces each were responding to, and lessons we can draw from their music and writing when teaching trade unionists and other social justice activists.

I welcome also the opportunity to frame my positionality as wholly positive about the future of organised labour in the UK, and the role that trade union education can play, particularly in sharing experience and practice with other movements.

Please do comment/feedback on my findings from the thesis, and the theory of embodied activism.

I shall write more about the findings/outcomes and next steps as part of the process of writing up.

In Solidarity

Ian

Friday, 20 May 2016

Trade Union Learning: What I've Learnt

Colleagues,

Just a brief(ish) post from Warwick University library as I work on my doctoral thesis. I thought I'd write up some personal notes/reflections on what I consider a trade union education pedagogy to look and feel like.

This is partly because I am wrestling with emerging findings from interviews with alumni and current students of the MA in international labour and trade union studies (ILTUS at Ruskin College. As a reminder of my thesis focus, a key goal is to explore personal impact, but also the contribution (if any) the MA makes to activity, strategy and policy of trade union renewal.

MA ILTUS Students at Ruskin College: Sharing learning and understanding -
a community of practice.

In thinking through my findings and discussing them with my supervisor (Cilla Ross: Vice-Principal, Co-operative College) she reminded of the way that what is emerging from my research with trade union learners, has some coherence with research that she (and others) completed for Unionlearn on the experience of members engaged in learning (formal and informal) initiated by their unions:

https://www.unionlearn.org.uk/publications/research-paper-14-learning-journeys-trade-union-learners-their-own-words

I'll write a further piece on the nature of my findings. What I felt it useful to do as an aspect of my reflections though was write something simpler on what I consider is my pedagogic approach to working with trade union learners (and add photos from my teaching) . I also wanted to draw no distinction here between my MA or BA ILTUS experience at Ruskin, and teaching with the many groups of trade union learners I encounter every year - the kind I write of regularly.

At this year's TUC Black Workers' Conference I ran the session on black workers
and precarious employment.
So, what am I trying to achieve with trade union leaners?

Primarily to build confidence in themselves and their capacity to engage with the myriad challenges they face in the workplace and wider society.

Confidence, I feel, comes through a combination of self-esteem and the idea that agency/action reflects the power/influence of the activist and members.

This means that I focus on validating the experience of activists. Stressing that their knowledge and experience has value to others.

I try and illustrate also that our learning - from one another - can generate understanding of (a) linkages vertically and horizontally with the political economy of work (e.g. why is this happening to us, and to others in the union?) and (b) how shared knowledge and understanding is possibly the most powerful tool we have. Too much trade union education focuses on legal remedy rather than workers' power.

So a focus on experience (even the worst kind) is critical, as the deconstruction of this allows us to identify commonalities (thus networks and movements are borne) and strategies.

CWU reps attend the BAME Leadership weekend in February this year.
In linking the issues above together, I try and do some simple things:

Remember names, workplaces, case studies of experience. Using colleague's names from the outset means that we create a dynamic, engaged learning environment: a community of practice. Remembering workplaces and experience not also evidences respect but allows us to build a sense of common experience and capacity to critique this and develop common solutions.

Underline that politics and history is everything and everywhere. Too few trade union learners (in my experience) feel confident in their political and historical knowledge. It is fundamentally important that their experience of the workplace can be seen to have vertical (national, European, international) links to that other workers also, and horizontal (other unionised and non-unionised workers in their sector/city) otherwise we cannot build consciousness.

Concentrate on the ways in which most employer strategy attempts to exert power and control in micro and macro ways. Much of what I see in the public sector represents a need, for example in local government, to maintain service delivery despite massive job losses. The resultant ill-health workers are exposed to is managed (in my experience) through arbitrary and punitive management of the disciplinary and capability procedures.

Recognise that some of the basic theories of accruing trade union/workers' power has not changed. In his seminal book, The Frontier of Control, Carter Goodrich focuses on those staples of disruption and solidarity. In his attempt to 'modernise' Goodrich, Gregor Gall draws on Eric Bastone to argue, correctly in my view, that an acknowledgement of the influences of market and society (what I've suggested are the vertical and horizontal linkages to the workplace) and the relationship between capital and labour is critical to understanding how to effect change at work, and in society more broadly.

Read Gall's article on sources of union power here: http://www.l-r-c.org.uk/files/gall_union.pdf

MA ILTUS students attend Levellers' Day 2015
So much of trade union work feels isolated and disparate. Thus, I see the approach to pedagogy in trade union education as providing a means of (a) connecting the local to the global so that (b) the politics of globalisation and neo-liberalism can be made real and understood in order that (c) workers' experience (locally and globally) can be seen as part and parcel of developing strategy to challenge exploitation at work and in society more broadly.

This 'nutshell' perspective on my approach to teaching and learning with trade union learners is predicated also on the simple view that I am (always) a learner too.

As ever comments/thoughts are very welcome.

In Solidarity

Ian

Friday, 6 May 2016

Thank you David Beresford

Dear Colleagues,

This is just a brief/short piece as I am now on sabbatical leave attempting to complete key parts/stage of my doctoral thesis. But I need to comment on my deep appreciation for the journalism of the Guardian journalist, David Beresford, who died on 22nd April in Johannesburg.

Here is the link to Beresford's obituary: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/apr/27/david-beresford-obituary

Although I was going to skip this post because of workload, it was reading Gary Young's beautiful, reflective piece on his relationship with Beresford that moved to writing a few words. Here is a link to that article:  http://www.theguardian.com/membership/2016/apr/29/gary-younge-on-david-beresford-the-most-generous-and-gentle-mentor

David Beresford: "An eloquence that defined his humanity".
As a young, black trade unionist in Manchester in the mid 1980's it was the journalism of David Beresford and John Carlin of The Independent that helped me develop a critically important grasp of the politics of South Africa, and of how the apartheid regime reflected a political ideology manifest in a variety of ways in the political economy of the UK under Thatcher, the US under Reagan and elsewhere



This body of journalism supplemented a radically important, formative period of my life as a trade union representative for what was then the CPSA (now PCS) and as a member of what was then Labour Party Young Socialists. The experience of, for example, campaigning against Thatcher's ban on trade unions at GCHQ (tiny URL), of working with LGBT organisations against Section 28 of the Local Government Act and experiencing the gradual industrial decline on Manchester, all needed to be understood within a wider, political framework. Beresford's consistent, sharp analysis was a constant source of help and understanding.

The political and social backdrop to my life then though wasn't just events in South Africa, it was those closer to home in Northern Ireland. Although I didn't read it immediately on publication (instead waiting until it arrived in Manchester Central Library many months later) Beresford's seminal book Ten Men Dead is considered to be one of the best exposes of those factors behind the 1981 hunger strikes which led to the deaths of Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O'Hara, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Keiran Doherty, Thomas McElwee and Michael Devine.

The period known as The Troubles in Northern Ireland, and the era of Apartheid were slowly, subtly and irrevocably unmasked, and ultimately diminished by a combination of political protest and the unstinting determination of people like David Beresford to speak truth to power.

You can still track down examples of Beresford's journalism online and in various archives and libraries. If the politics of South Africa interest you, and you'd like an insight into his writing at its very best, critical and sharpest, I wholeheartedly recommend his 2010 book Truth is a Strange Fruit, which can still be purchased from the original publishers:

http://www.jacana.co.za/book-categories/current-affairs-a-history/truth-is-a-strange-fruit-detail
Despite the best intentions of apartheid to separate groups by racial category this book reveals that, above all else, South African history was never as easy to understand as the difference between black and white. Here, for example Beresford unmasks the perverse collaboration between the apartheid regime and the Israeli state, as well as the more sinister activity of the ANC in exile as it sought to maintain power whilst in waiting.

The book, alongside Beresford's journalism is a profound legacy, that I hope finds its way into the curriculum of students of politics, history, journalism etc. It is purposed, political writing at its very best. I'd like to think of myself as a student of David Beresford and that somehow my own teaching encourages student to engage, critique and write in the same way and for the same purpose that he did.

In Solidarity

Ian

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Your Literature Review: Basic Steps

Dear Colleagues,

I'm working hard on the draft literature review chapter of my doctoral thesis, and pleased to say that I am finding it particularly difficult to shape my writing into a coherent body of knowledge.

A community of practice: Students of the MA ILTUS at Ruskin
College at their residential workshop in January .
Pictured here listening to Matt Hannam,
who completed the MA in June 2015, talk about his experience
of researching and writing his dissertation.
I say pleased because I don't think that someone who teaches others how to approach their own literature review, should be automatically assumed an expert. I am not.

I am as much a student of labour and trade union studies as the students of the MA ILTUS at Ruskin College. Indeed, I feel that I have learnt as much academically from academic engagement with trade union students as I have in-turn taught them.

I hope and trust that what we have managed to create at Ruskin is a community of practice which enables the joint sharing of experience and practice both academically in our experience as trade union and political/social activists.

Similarly, I should stress how valuable I am finding some of the core texts we provide to MA students as essential reading for this task including Chris Hart's Doing a Literature Review, Diane Ridley's The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students and the relevant chapters from Alan Bryman's Social Research Methods.

There is a mountainous volume of online material out there too (perhaps too much) but if I can give a plug for any source it would be that from the University of Leicester - partly because my colleague Carol Edwards has helped write some of the learning development resources for students. Here's the link on the literature review:

http://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/ld/resources/writing/writing-resources/literature-review
I am not going to re-state here the professional guidance of colleagues like Carol, Hart and Ridley etc., although I would state at its simplest that a good literature review will demonstrate your understanding and awareness of the key knowledge in your field of research, and where your research proposal is located within it.

I am writing this post, as usual, to get some thoughts out of my head, and into some basic, coherent form, that may prove useful to colleagues, and my so my novice notes on approaching your literature review are:

Be clear about what your literature review is for. Whether BA or MA, or other, you will no doubt be writing to meet a set of criteria - know these well. Is it, for example, a summary of the latest published material, or do you have to justify the selection of your research topic?

Have a very clear sense of where the literature review sits within the body of the document you are writing, whether dissertation, thesis or other. As Hart so brilliantly depicts in Writing Your MA Dissertation, does the review need to relate clearly with the methodology and findings chapters?

Start early in collating the material for your review. Use the resources identified above to identify techniques to search for relevant (and to identify the irrelevant) material. Be careful though, if you don't know yet, what the review is for, you won't know when to stop, or perhaps even start, your literature search.

Similarly, don't read without clear sense of purpose. Whilst you need to know what your review is , for, think hard and early on the best way to map your review and plan how you will start, review/edit and complete it.

I can't emphasise this last point enough. Even a simple literature review will present you with an opportunity to waste a considerable amount of time reading irrelevant material and that which looks relevant but isn't. Similarly, a good plan will help encourage you to stop (or at least slow down) how much you are reading, and encourage you to start writing. It really isn't until you see your own description/analysis of other's writing/research that you'll feel (all being well) that you are moving forward.

I shall leave my novice notes there but, if you want to see a good practice model, can I give a plug for a great piece of work by Jane Holgate of Leeds University Business School:

https://www.ilr.cornell.edu/sites/ilr.cornell.edu/files/Mobilizing-against-Inequality-Literature-Review-UK.pdf
Completed in 2009, and then published in 2014 in Mobilizing against Inequality: Unions, Immigrant Workers, and the Crisis of Capitalism, this is not just an outstanding, valuable piece of research, it's helped me see my own for, and how best to map etc. So, if you want to start your literature reading, and your study is somehow linked to labour, trade unionism, migration etc., why not start here?

In Solidarity

Ian

Monday, 21 March 2016

Can business ever really benefit the people?

Colleagues,

Fenella Porter
I am very pleased to reproduce below an article by my colleague Dr. Fenella Porter, article which appears in today's Morning Star, and which reflects her work on positing the College's strategy around business for social change.

This work arises from the College's Foundation Degree in Business & Social Enterprise (FDBSE) and a need to determine where and how the College positions this work in its relationship with the labour movement, and the many other allies movements and organisations we work.


"Educational institutions for working-class students now face a future full of tension. A growing privatisation agenda is increasing the power and influence of big business in our daily lives and work.


Not only is the government undermining workers’ rights through the Trade Union Bill, but there is an increasingly hostile world of work awaiting those entering the job market. The jobseeking young, migrants and older workers laid off through redundancy all find themselves in a precarious position. The “flexible” (read “insecure”) new jobs market creates increasingly exploitative conditions.
All areas of life are subject to the whims and wishes of big business; from healthcare to education and prisons, from the food we buy to environmental protections.

Trade agreements such as TTIP form part of this agenda, and the role of educational institutions must be to question and challenge this relentless power of big business.
Working-class education needs to support the labour movement to meet the challenges of privatisation, fight for public services and public-sector jobs, mitigate the effects of privatisation and the privatisation agenda itself.

We have to face this situation, and respond in a way that understands the role of education that is rooted in working-class heritage, and radical traditions of education.

In the Business and Social Enterprise foundation degree at Ruskin College, we have been exploring how to do this, emphasising social enterprise — when business strategies are used to advance the good of all — and the role of charity and volunteering in reimagining “the market.” We’ve also looked at how business can respond to a social change agenda.

Businesses aren’t just profit-driven machines. They are also social and political spaces, and increasingly workers and employers are aware of how their company fits within the broader landscape of capitalism.

In teaching business to students who are concerned about these questions, it’s crucial that we embed a critique of capitalism into their understanding. We should equip students with the critical skills necessary to separate business from the capitalistic models. This requires re-imagining “value,” learning how to calculate social and political impact as well as financial gain, and how to reflect that in balance sheets.

There is a rich history in Britain of challenging traditional capitalism through business. The co-operative movement is an example of alternative engagement with the capitalist economy, and examples such as worker-run and community-based co-operatives show that these can be successful and productive enterprises that maintain equality and social justice.

At Ruskin College, our students are shown how co-operative working can provide an alternative to big business and the relentless pursuit of profit.

Trade unions must also play a central role. In charity and not-for-profit organisations, the relationship between unions and employers can be different and more productive. If we are not talking about the owners of capital making profit from the labour of workers, then there is perhaps less inherent exploitation in the relationship. In this case, unions must fight to ensure that the values of social justice and equality are embedded in the employment relationship. At Ruskin College the trade union is a central part of the management of the college, ensuring that there is always participation from staff in all policy processes and decision-making.

With increasing privatisation of services and regional devolution, charities, social enterprises and community groups must try to ensure that essential services (such as community transport) are maintained for those who need them. However it’s also crucial to remain true to our principles of challenging and opposing all cuts to local public services. It is a difficult (perhaps impossible) balance.

Is it better that services are maintained by organisations that promote the principles of equality and social justice, rather than profit-seeking businesses that have no interest in the social impact of their work? Local social enterprises such as co-operatives can be and have been real alternatives to the profit-seeking behaviour of big businesses and corporations.

Business must be fundamentally re-imagined to put equality before profit, change notions of “ownership” and put trade unions and the interests of workers at the centre of all working practices.

Ruskin College is hosting Business for Social Change on Wednesday March 23 2016. Free and all welcome. Contact fporter@ruskin.ac.uk.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

This is education as the practice of freedom

Colleagues,

I have used the title of this post before, but am drawing on it again to write up some reflections following a particularly lively, thought-provoking weekend with the 2015 cohort of students of the BA in international labour and trade union studies (ILTUS) at Ruskin.

In order to align the title of the post, and the key outcomes of my teaching session with students last weekend, here is a quote from Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks:

The academy is not paradise. But learning is a place where paradise can be created. The classroom with all its limitations remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility we have the opportunity to labour for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom. (hooks 1994: 207)

The session I taught on Sunday 31st Feb looked pretty straight-forward in that it focused on how students tackle the writing of conclusions for assignments. They were approaching this from a task where students needed to pre-read an article by John Hendy and Keith Ewing assessing European-level judgements on industrial action and their impacts on the right to freedom of association in Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR).


For interest the article abstract is here: http://tinyurl.com/j5rsu5r

What became fascinating about the teaching session as it progressed - and in reference to the principle of education as having the capacity to discuss and practice freedoms was that:

1. The students, although new to the BA at Ruskin, were already making a correlation between their learning experience on an ability to either develop clearer, constructive argument with employers, co-workers and fellow/sister trade unionists and/or saw the BA as a means to develop this skill further.

2. Allied to the Hendy/Ewing article was a thoughtful, insightful debate on how Ruskin provided an opportunity and space to rival Oxbridge and other elite educational institutes in creating the alternative arguments/dialogue which responded to a neo-liberal trajectory on workers' and human rights. In particular, the orientation of this discussion focused on Ruskin as a distinct working class educational organising which specifically enabled this.

Where the session and discussion ended was that the art of writing a clear, crisp conclusion corresponded with a capacity to think more clearly about political argument and how this can be articulated orally also.

Teaching to Transgress (and similar) is a book that I am constantly reminded of in how we must both shape learning at Ruskin but also develop a community of practice with students in order that their learning meets the needs of movements they are part of. As trade union activists and officials working at the frontline of economic, social and political change in work and employment, I am acutely aware that the needs of students who comprise this community is demanding, changing, and challenging but always something that our educational offer at Ruskin must respond to.

If we get it right, which I like to think we sometimes do (but am never complacent) then our students can not only interpret for themselves the value of the Ruskin experience, but are consistently keen to promote Ruskin to fellow and sister trade unionists.

Below, for example is a pic/quote from a current MA student, Kath Holder (UNISON Shop Steward) who has been very happy to promote the BA and MA at Ruskin. Here is the link the TUC advert that Kath features in: http://tinyurl.com/jcl55g7


This kind of student support is vital of course to supporting our recruitment strategy. It is also, arguably, a validation of the student's experience in recognising the value of Ruskin as providing a critically important space and place for trade union, political and social movement activists to reflect on their movement experience and needs, and work with colleagues here to shape an educational experience which enables them to meet those needs.

Hopefully there is some coherence to my notes/thoughts here - feedback is always sought- but I felt the need to get something written-up following another amazing teaching experience with sisters and brothers of the UK's trade union movement.

In Solidarity

Ian