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

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Turning rage into hope: Reflections on brief time in two radical spaces

Colleagues,

I felt the need to get some thoughts onto paper - or least an electronic variant - as I transited between two different, but overlapping labour/social movement educational fora over the weekend. These were (and are), I argue, radical spaces for critical reflection on how knowledge is produced by movements, both social and labour. As well as developing some areas for on-going discussion, I'd like to draw a reference below to one of the few pieces of literature which explores an overlap in the tensions and possibilities of how such movements generate, apply and learn from knowledge created from and in action. As ever, I welcome feedback on what is written here.

Dublin - Thursday
Last Thursday night I was very pleased to be one of two guest speakers at an event organised by Laurence Cox (who runs a sister MA at Univ. of Ireland, Maynooth to the one I run at Ruskin - search for his name in this blog and you'll see commentary on his research output) hosted by the Dublin office of UNITE, with an accompanying guest speaker  Brendan Ogle (UNITE Education Officer, Ireland).

This was to be a public talk and discussion and was promoted with the title: What education do union organisers and other activists need?

The 'blurb' for this event was as follows:

Ruskin College Oxford is well known as a strategic educational location for the labour movement in Britain and beyond, with a continuing educational mission to provide radical, socially transformative education to working class men and women. For the past ten years its MA in International Labour and Trade Union Studies (ILTUS) has been the only programme in the UK written specifically for those employed or active around issues of worker organisation, mobilisation and representation. This year it has been updated as the MA in Global Labour and Social Change. Its coordinator, Ian Manborde, will talk about the experience of the MA so far and the debate about what education union organisers and other activists need most.

Ian Manborde is coordinator of the MA in Global Labour and Social Change at Ruskin College Oxford, with its close links to the labour movement. A lifelong trade unionist, he was a convenor with the CPSA (now PCS), was projects manager for the General Federation of Trade Unions and is a founding member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (UK). Ian has worked in workers’ and trade union education for over twenty years, including the Workers’ Educational Association and Northern College, Barnsley. He has also worked extensively as consultant and / or teacher for many trade unions and federations in the UK and internationally.

The Right 2 Water campaign gathers momentum in Ireland
A key focus of the evening's discussion was the growing momentum of the campaign against water charges in Ireland, and the accompanying role of trade unions as part of this: www.right2water.ie/

Allied to this was discussion around the work of colleagues like Tish Gibbons of SIPTU, Aileen Morrissey of Mandate and Brenda Ogle's also in developing short courses of study around key themes which invariably enable trade union members and the wider public to unravel and grasp key dimensions of the relationship between the context and causes of the economic crash (of which Ireland is still experiencing the aftermath) and the continuing neo-liberal assault on public services.

Over 100,000 people attend the first Right 2 Water rally
in Dublin in 2015. The next major event is 20/02/16.
I was struck also by the recognition that, as part of this unravelling, there needed to be an honest assessment of the role organised labour has played historically in Ireland through social partnership of accommodating a prevailing economic climate which helped to precipitate the current economic state of the Ireland. Of particular interest here was the discussion around the need for mainstream classes/forums to discuss the nature of political economy both in a national and international context, and not least as a safeguard against a replication or the worst excesses of corporatism.

My contribution to the discussion was to ask the assembled group what I hoped would be four, reflective, discussion-oriented questions about such an educational programme:

1. What is trade union education for? Asked in the political context of trade union education as part of an accommodation within capitalist economies, or as a framework to realise popular agency as part of on-going critical reflection.
2. What do we want trade unionists to do with such education? Asked to suggest that traditional models and mode of trade union education need to recognise that they are often only supplement to subjective and objective knowledge gained in the workplace and wider civil society.
3. Can knowledge be gained in other ways? Here I had an eye on informal approaches to education with an eye on praxis as a means to learn through experience.
4. Can we learn with others? Here I wanted to challenge a hegemonic practice of seeing trade unions and trade union education as holistic and as necessarily distinct from other social entities/movements and practices.

A key outcome of the discussion was that trade unions could serve a wider community-oriented body of need, accommodating activists and members alike. Critically important was the need to utilise the momentum of the water charges campaign as a vehicle through which trade unions, working for and with others, can materially support the growth of the campaign by assisting an increase in political consciousness. This would come through the discussed development and delivery of focused formal and informal education around the political economy of the water charges.

CWU, Alvescot, Oxfordshire - Friday-Sunday
The discussion could easily have gone on longer, but we were finished before 8pm and after continued informal discussion afterward in Dublin, I was back in the UK and in the beautiful, rural surroundings of Alvescot Lodge, educational base of the Communication Workers Union (CWU).

Working with Trish Lavelle (Head of Education) we have devised a two-stage leadership programme for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) activists and members of the union. This weekend-based programme is designed to act as a springboard into mainstream CWU activism, but specifically also into the newly created branch role of BAME officer, and/or into membership of the union's national body for race equality matters, the race advisory committee (RAC).

The BAME leadership programme is in its second successful year and I enjoy teaching with the CWU immensely, not least to experience the workplace dynamics of race and racism in quite disparate sectors.

AJ Singh: Underlining the need for a
trade union presence at work and in
the community.
A key feature of the weekends - and of my similar teaching with unions - is that the experience of BAME workers cannot be decoupled from the wider political economy of race, and that balancing the role of activists within the workplace and outwith is a critically important dimension of any such programme.

On that basis it was wonderful to have as our guest speaker on Friday night AJ Singh, Chair of the CWU RAC and Branch Secretary of the South East Wales Amalgamated Branch. AJ has a distinguished trade union history having also served, for example, as President of the Wales TUC.

Whilst AJ welcomed those attending and encouraged them either into activism, or to maintain their CWU roles, he developed a clear agenda of trade union purpose of working in those communities from which CWU members were drawn, and drawing a clear association between wider inequalities in society with those manifest in the workplace.

This trajectory was underlined further when Trish Lavelle joined the group to outline the national purpose and history of the union's work around race equality, but in particular to discuss the relevance of mainstream social and political issues race and social justice as legitimate areas of discussion and activism for trade unionists. In particular Trish discussed her own experience of the iniquitous legal doctrine of joint enterprise to highlight the prevailing injustices faced by BAME communities from across the criminal justice system.

Those attending the course were encouraged to learn more about the campaign body JENGbA, and to invite speakers to branch meetings: http://www.jointenterprise.co/

A lasting impression from the CWU weekend was the freedom given to those attending to shape trajectories of union engagement and activism around, for example, attendant dynamics of managerial and/or trade union power which generated a sense of powerlessness. Thus it was important to acknowledge that there were barriers to overcome within the union itself, but that the best place to challenge hostility and/or complacency around issues of race was within the union.


A picture from Saturday supporting the TUC's Love Unions
week in front of one of the many CWU banners at Alvescot.
These can be very difficult discussions to handle, as there must be a sense of hope in the context of sometimes anger at what can appear to be blocks on qualitative change in trade union culture, policy and strategy.

As the period from Thus-Sun ended I was reminded of a chapter in Choudry and Kapoor's seminal 2010 edited book Learning from the Ground Up Global Perspectives on Social Movements and Knowledge Production.


David Bleakney and Michael Morrill's chapter Worker Education and Social Movement Knowledge Production: Practical Tensions and Lessons has been a critically important primer for my doctoral thesis research on the impact of the MA that I run for trade unionists at Ruskin, and was one of the first, and few pieces, I have read on what can be learnt from how social and labour movement activists come to build knowledge from their experience. The chapter also provides a framework of what preconditions should exist to enable  an  honest, reflexive analysis of movement failures and impediments as part of holistic critical examination of movement strategy, and what can occur if those conditions are not regarded.

Workers not permitted to be participants in critical reflection on their reality are not likely to be agents for change. Resistance is personal and social, and requires slipping outside the “quantitative box” into which we so easily, unconsciously, and compliantly fit. The process of using anger and action is valuable in worker-based trainings. However, when workers remain in the anger stage, worker-educators have done no favors to the transformative process. Indeed, resolutions to problems have been contracted out to union advocates, thus reinforcing the model of disempowerment and union paternalism, no matter how well intentioned. Facilitators must aim to assist participants in transforming rage into hope. With hope, action can follow. What is the purpose of worker education if not to assist people to act on their collective wisdom and experience? It gives people chances to be participants in profoundly democratic ways.

As the pictures of the CWU activists below illustrate, trade union education is at its best when it facilitates engagement with the work of other movements and enable activists to devise collective strategies for agency both in the workplace and across civil society. This isn't always achievable, as it very much depends on the will/strategy of a union and the prevailing political/economic dynamics it is situated in. The last few days demonstrated what can be achieved though and I enjoyed playing a small part in it.




In Solidarity

Ian

PS: Update re joint enterprise: http://www.theguardian.com/law/2016/feb/18/joint-enterprise-law-wrongly-interpreted-for-30-years-court-rules#_=_


Thursday, 28 January 2016

Grunwick @ 40 (Ruskin College - 24th September 2016)

Colleagues,

This year marks the 40 anniversary of the epic Grunwick dispute. Working with Sundari Anitha (Lincoln University) and Wilf Sullivan (Race Equality Officer, TUC) Ruskin College will host a major, national event on 24th September to mark this milestone in labour movement, social and political history.
 

 
Sundari has been central to recent activity linked to Grunwick and helped contribute to the Striking Women educational resource: http://www.striking-women.org/


As part of this work she and other colleagues at Lincoln have also generated a mobile display which depicts the dispute as part of a much bigger story of migration. The display will on view on the 24th.

In the shadow of the trade union bill the event will be a perfect platform to explore the nature of the dispute and its legacy for organised labour and for race/racism in the UK.

Details - other than the date and a handful of speakers - have not yet been nailed down, but when they are they will be circulate.

I am pleased to say that the event will be run in partnership with the Modern Records Centre at Warwick University (who will be holding their own Grunwick event) as it is a major repository of material on the dispute.

There is a Grunwick at 40 FB page: https://www.facebook.com/Grunwick40/

This is being used as a key social media forum to be organise and publicise events, so please do think about an event you can hold in the workplace, via a trades council etc.

When John Hendy QC visited Ruskin last week to speak to BA ILTUS students about the TU Bill he made clear that there is always a need to look afresh on the history of the trade union movement in the UK, not least to devise strategies to meet traditional struggle in a modern age.

So, more details to follow.

In Solidarity

Ian

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Defending the NHS (and the right to strike)

Colleagues,

I was very pleased to be with a group of Ruskin teachers and students this morning with one of the pickets of junior doctors at the John Radcliffe hospital. The striking medics were really pleased to be joined by the highly enthusiastic Ruskin throng, not least when an apparatchik from the Trust appeared as we were taking picture and tried to inform us that our assembly was unlawful and taking pictures illegal - industrial language was used and the employer's stooge fled! 



By coincidence I am today delivering a guest speaker presentation to students of Ruskin's highly successful Certificate of Higher Education in Law (http://www.ruskin.ac.uk/law) on the Trade Union Bill and the nature of trade union rights and human rights.

Apropos the BMA strike, one of the matters I will be bringing to the attention of the students is that, regardless of the Tories attempts to enshrine 'fairness' into the principles of balloting and strike action, they have been caught out (again) trying to interfere in the process of a lawful dispute in the issuing of a letter by the head of the NHS (Bruce Keogh) when writing to Mark Porter of the BMA.

As reported in last week's press, it was discovered that senior civil servants at the Department of Health (DoH) had helped draft the letter, underlining the threat to the public posed by today's strike, not least in the case of a terrorist attack.

In truth, the meddling in the affairs of a trade union is nothing when compared with the appalling act of conjuring up memories of the recent atrocity in Paris to pursue nefarious purposes. But then, these are Tories.

So, good luck to the junior doctors in the battle to protect their terms and conditions, and with this the overall standards in the NHS, and lets hope that the on-going passage of the Trade Union Bill through Parliament continues to see this retrograde baggage of class-oriented bile diminished even further.

In Solidarity

Ian

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Reflecting on Education for Movement Activism

Colleagues,
 
I have found it incredibly difficult since the start of the new academic year to find the time to sit, reflect and write material for this blog. On the positive side this is largely because the volume and range of trade union education undertaken by Ruskin College is increasing. I must use this post to formally welcome Fenella Porter and Maria Exall to the ILTUS team, as they are part of the College plans to boost ILTUS activity. What has also impacted however, is my re-engagement with doctoral study, with the ambitious goal of submitting my thesis in October next year.
 
So, this final post of 2015 is an attempt to explore a little of my doctoral research (an overview of the impact of the MA I run at Ruskin in the context of the College's historical legacy of developing and providing worker/trade union education) with reference to four students of the BA ILTUS (for whom I was the lead/personal tutor) who completed their six-year part-time programme this weekend with the submission of their dissertations.
 
By the end of such a long part-time programme (the BA is now only four years in length) the four stalwarts who completed are Kemo Sangyang, Mark Daniels. Steve Skelly, and Mo Malik. Although only four students they represent diverse employment sectors, political backgrounds and differing reasons to start the BA.
 
It is critically important that we at Ruskin pay attention to the lessons leaned by students as a result of their educational experience here, but particularly so, I would contend, when that experience is predicated on an express and implied set of social and political values outwith the confines of the institution and posited across movements oriented to profound political, social and economic change.
 
From l-r: Kemo Sangyang, Mark Daniels, Kate Daniels,
Steve Skelly, Karen Skelly and Mo Malik)
As Christian Smith conveys in his study of the US-Central America peace movement of the 1980s:

social movements do not consist simply of abstract structures and contexts, of impersonal forces and events. Social movements are, at bottom, real, flesh-and-blood human beings acting together to confront and disrupt. They are the collective expressions of specific people, of concrete men and women struggling together for a cause. Bringing our focus down to real, concrete human beings in this way raises a set of questions. Namely, exactly what kinds of people participated? Why did they tend to join or become recruited into the movement: What personal characteristics or circumstances may have predisposed them to become activists? (Smith 1996:168)

A link to Smith's publications is here: http://christiansmith.nd.edu/books/

As I have written previously in blog posts the writing of people like Aziz Choudry (http://tinyurl.com/osw54wk) and Mario Novelli (http://tinyurl.com/h97qlc9) are essential to my thesis research around how, for example, processes of knowledge production themselves transform movements and the actors within them.

This notion of movement transformation as a in/direct result of the experience of actors is problematic in the context of labour movements, as I will be arguing in my doctoral research. This problematic conception extends also to the broader purpose of research activity and this tension was captured clearly in a neat, sharp article, Collective narratives and politics in the contemporary study of work: the new management practices debate, which was published in the Work, Employment and Society journal in 2011.

The introduction of ‘On the front line’ in this journal is an important departure in British sociology of work and employment and a commitment to engagement with labour raises critical issues about how to achieve this. First, we require recognition and the articulation of myriad dimensions of ‘voices from the front line’ including those perspectives relatively autonomous from ‘official’ voices. Second, it is important to recognize that until recently this was indeed a feature of some research agendas both within and outside the academy, sometimes in alliance with the organic intellectuals of the labour movement, including those in the workplace who have become less audible. Third, it is argued that being out of earshot is linked to a more widespread shift away from interest in the politics and texts of labour and its concerns, reflecting at one and the same time less curiosity within the academy and the official labour movement itself. Finally, since ‘independent voices’ of labour remain inexplicable within the realm of the latter, discouraging as it does a research agenda premised on an acceptance of oppositional voices and practices, commitment to these oppositional voices has to be an imperative if we are to capture the richness of workplace and worker debates and experiences.

This sense that Ruskin can work with the 'independent voices' of organised labour, bur remain a central institution of the same movements, is always a difficult balancing act. As our colleagues who complete their BA this weekend demonstrate however (and as I hope my doctorate research reveals) they exit their undergraduate study with a heightened degree of consciousness, renewed political enthusiasm and become also part of the international tapestry of Ruskin's educational activity.

I wish them all the very best.

In Solidarity

Ian