Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Best of Humanity: Ruskin College Graduates

Colleagues,

Today, poet, author and scriptwriter AL Kennedy graced Ruskin with her wonderful literary presence and spoke with passion and beauty of how Ruskin students/graduates are, in her opinion, "the best of humanity".

Kennedy was not being misty-eyed, but actually quite matter-of-fact in recognising that Ruskin's women and men are people of conscience who come to Ruskin with a distinct social purpose and go on to make a profound change in their personal lives, that of their families, their communities and those who they go on to work amongst.

And, even though John Ruskin himself was on record as being against the establishment of Ruskin, I was transfixed when Kennedy relayed her perspective that Ruskin's students could bathe in John Ruskin's dictum of a correlation between truth and beauty. It reminded me of William Morris's similar notion that social progression was for all, and that culture excelled when practiced and engaged with by all classes.

Today was Ruskin's annual graduation event and I was so proud to see students of the BA and MA in international labour and trade union studies graduating today.

The pics below are:

Piotr Plonka (graduating today before the scheduled MA ILTUS graduation next year as he has plans which means he needs his certificate) with my dear colleague Fenella, without whom the ILTUS MA couldn't run.

 
BA ILTUS  '08 cohort graduate Dermott Finn with Peter Dwyer. Dermott wrote an outstanding dissertation on the impact on family's lives of trade union blacklisting
 
 
 
Dermott, Sue Orwin and Carol Kinell of the BA ILTUS '08 cohort. These students have worked SO hard to get to where they are.
 
 
Lisa Birch (left) graduates with her close SPE friend Maureen. Lisa has started in Oct as an MA ILTUS student - she is already a great student!
 
 
 
 
For more pictures please see my Facebook page.
 
In Solidarity
 
Ian

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Negotiating Improvements for Working Carers of Adults (NICA)

Colleagues,

Just a brief post to thank my previous employer, the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) for asking me to consult on (and then write) the teaching materials aimed at trade union reps to provide them with the skills, knowledge and confidence to conduct collective bargaining in order to improve workplace policy and practice to support the needs of working carers.

I was pleased to be able to work alongside Katherine Wilson of CarersUK and Sheila Barratt of Greenwich University (who wrote a supplementary literature review) in devising and writing the teaching materials. The teaching materials and literature review were launched at an event in Brussels 22-23 October.

The project (negotiating improvements for the working carers of adults - NICA) which facilitated the creation of the teaching resources was a European trade union project with partners from Malta, Poland and Bulgaria.

L-R: Charlotte, Katherine and Sheila
We were joined at the Brussels event by Dr. Charlotte O'Brien of the law school at York University to present her research on the care penalty. This is a highly thoughtful analysis of the particularly vulnerable position of working carers to suffer a variety of penalties given their typical social, political and economic position within economies.

The proposal to afford a positive right to reasonable adjustments (alongside other elements) akin to disabled workers is arguably justifiable given the 'crisis of care' that Europe (and other parts of the world face) as people live longer and care provision shrinks.

Here's a link to an article Charlotte has written on the care penalty: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09649069.2012.675462#.VEmB3vldWK0

This is a particularly valuable initiative and I hope that GFTU affiliates, and the NICA project partners succeed in adapting the training resources and realising positive change in the working and personal lives of working carers.

Here is a link from one of the partners of the project, SOLIDAR, to a write-up of the Brussels event: http://www.solidar.org/Together-for-Social-Europe,1597.html

In Solidarity

Ian

Friday, 17 October 2014

Culture & Organised Labour

Colleagues,

This is just a short post, based on a brief discussion I had today with two colleagues at Ruskin, John Retallack and Helen Mosby, of the Foundation Degree in Writing for Performance (http://tinyurl.com/pezzpf7) on the way in which I use social media (including this blog) to promote our politically valuable work at the College and the MA ILTUS.

The discussion with John and Helen reminded me that for some time I have wanted want to explore in much greater detail my understanding of the nature and notion of culture (not sure of my definition even - will need to speak to Helen and John) and its implications for both intellectual development across the working class, and for the realisation and interpretation of experience within organised labour.

Thus, the work of Raymond Williams (e.g The Long Revolution), Jonathan Rose (The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes) and in particular my history tutor at Ruskin, Raphael Samuel (e.g. Theatres of Memory Vols 1+2) have profoundly informed my opinion - and that's before we engage with the mass of literature  that we ought to e.g. Richard Hoggart (e.g. The The Uses of Literacy). Here is Stuart Hall's fantastic critique of the book and of Hoggart's wider influence on cultural study and analysis: http://www.sagepub.com/upm-data/34970_CHAP_1.pdf

As I need to be brief (because I am teaching this weekend, and wanted to type up basic thoughts), but want to make a point that there is an epistemology of cultural tradition within organised labour, I must use the book Hard Lessons: The Mine Mill Union in the Canadian Labour Movement as a case study analysis of how culture (writing, performance, song, spoken word etc.) enabled organise labour to realise an expression of experience - if you can get the book, read chapter seven: creative response in organisation and culture.


There is a rich tradition of literature (often sociological in orientation) that we can also draw on here, and none better, I would contend, than Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. The pitiless experience of the migrant labourer, and the brutalisation of organised labour are themes meticulously executed, and which allow us to gain a perspective on this experience from a fictionalised perspective.  I would also add Orwell's Down & Out in Paris and London as both sociological interpretation and cultural expression worthy of reading and analysis. Zola's Germinal is perhaps the major work of fiction which has the most significant, personal impacton me - one of the few books I re-read to grasp an understand of how and why I teach trade unionists.

In terms of film, Salt of the Earth (which I have written of here before) was a major leap of the way in which the experience of workers/organised labour was interpreted and thus simultaneously attacked under McCarthyism such was the fear that workers/labour had realised a medium through which to express itself: http://magazine.oah.org/issues/244/salt.html

There is masses I could say here (e.g. Sillitoe's Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, the Ashington Group: http://www.ashingtongroup.co.uk/home.html et al) but I won't, other than to say, I welcome on-going discussions with colleagues at Ruskin (and elsewhere) which enable me to better understand and appreciate how to inform my appreciation of the relationship between culture and organised labour as part of my approach to teaching and learning.

In Solidarity

Ian

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Solidarity with Striking NHS Workers on 13th October 2014





If you want the full story behind the significant shopfloor backing for the industrial action on 13th Oct, read this: http://www.theguardian.com/healthcare-network/2014/oct/08/everything-need-know-nhs-strike-pay


In Solidarity with NHS workers on 13th!

Ian

Sunday, 5 October 2014

South Africa: A Battle for Ideas

Colleagues,

Apologies for the delay in posting anything recently, but workload has kept me away from blogging, and I had a fantastic opportunity to journey to South Africa for a week 1-7 September with my colleague Sue Ledwith (who created the MAs in international labour and trade union studies (ILTUS) and women's studies at Ruskin College).

There were many reasons for Sue and I to be in South Africa, and I can't believe that we managed to fit in so many meetings with so many organisations, all of whom with long-standing links to Ruskin College long pre-dating the collapse of apartheid.

Ruskin College has a long. proud history of association with the liberation movement which fought the apartheid regime. I have written of this history and relationship previously (search the blog posts on David Kitson and this year's Mandela Day event for example) and if you want a snapshot of this search the online archives of the Non-Stop Against Apartheid blog (an amazing achievement and run by Gavin Brown at Leicester Univ: https://nonstopagainstapartheid.wordpress.com/) and the digital archives of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement (which became available online in March this year: http://www.aamarchives.org/).

In the picture here (downloaded from the AAM archive) Ruskin students are pictured in March 1970 on the inaugural annual march from Oxford to London as part of the campaign calling for the release of David Kitson imprisoned at the time by the South African regime for 20 years.

I am very proud to record that I was a student at Ruskin College when, on 11 Feb 1990, Nelson Mandela was released and as was the case for decades before there were a number of South African students present and discussions with these comrades were incredibly about issues I was unfamiliar with , for example on the rise of the black consciousness movement.

Not only was the liberation struggle a backdrop to my formative years as a young trade unionist, but I had taken a special interest in South Africa and kept abreast of developments principally by reading the South Africa Labour Bulletin: www.southafricanlabourbulletin.org.za/

Wind forward two and a half decades and the situation in South Africa under a black majority government is not as straightforward as promised or predicted, not least in the form of endemic corruption within the ruling ANC government and parlous state of relations between the triple alliance of ANC, COSATU (main TU confederation) and the South African Communist Party (SACP).

There is a fascinating critique of the current parlous state of affairs by Leonard Gentle - and in particular the crisis in the labour movement caused by the decision of NUMSA to challenge the ANC: http://sacsis.org.za/site/article/2035

Tony Burke's website provides links to videos at the last NUMSA conference in 2013 which spelt out the union's strategy to create a new workers' party: http://tinyurl.com/oxth839

Whilst in South Africa I was able to meet with Crystal Dicks and Ntokozo Durban of the education unit of NUMSA. It was fascinating to spend time with them in order to understand the position of NUMSA and to hear them describe the union's decision to oppose the ANC - rooted critically in the Marikana massacre of miners - as a 'battle for ideas'. I will no doubt return to this issue in this blog.

The last matter to comment on as a key reason for the visit to South Africa was to launch - with the support of our close education partners Ditsela (http://www.ditsela.org.za/) - was to formally launch the Nomvuyo Ngwaxaxa scholarship in the memory of Numvuyo (known as Vuyo) who was education officer for NEHAWU and then COSATU and who was an alumni of Ruskin College.

The scholarship funds two women from the global south to undertake the MA ILTUS that I run at Ruskin and one of these has to be from South Africa.

The first successful recipient of the scholarship, Nokwazi Magwaza, attended the launch event on Friday 5th September and it was attended by many trade unionists who knew and worked with Vuyo and members of her family.

It was an amazing event and one made more profound by the way in which it underlined the particular role of women in the labour movement during the liberation struggle and the impact on children.

The pictures below were taken at the event: myself and Nokwazi, Sue speaks of Vuyo's time at Ruskin, a group picture of friends of Vuyo.





In Solidarity

Ian

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

You are history, you are legend:75th Anniversary of the Spanish Civil War

Colleagues,

As a young Mancunian socialist and trade unionist I was fascinated by the involvement of women and men from the British labour movement in the Spanish civil war.

Soon before I left Manchester to go to Ruskin College Ruth and Eddie Frow opened the Working Class Movement Library in Salford (in 1987) and this aided the development of my fledgling knowledge both of the background to the war itself, but in particular the contribution played by the International Brigades.

The Library still carries on its vital work of championing the cultural history of the working class, but needs your support: http://www.wcml.org.uk/. Please also pay a visit to the Marx Memorial library if you too have a fascination with the war in Spain, as this library is a leading international repository: http://www.marx-memorial-library.org/




This is just a brief post to thank the International Brigades Memorial Trust (IBMT) for choosing Ruskin as the host of its 2014 annual general meeting (AGM) on 6th Sept - 2014 marks the 75th anniversary of the war. The AGM is part of a weekend series of events designed in part to raise funds for a permanent memorial (to be unveiled during the weekend) to the women and men of Oxfordshire who fought in the Brigades.

If you can join us in Oxford for these events please do come along: http://www.international-brigades.org.uk/content/notice-ibmt-annual-general-meeting-2014

I had hoped to work closely with Ruskin colleagues Keiron Winters and Paul di Felice on delivering a presentation during the AGM on Ruskin's link to the Brigades, but other workload stopped me from making a full effort in tracking historical material down. And so it has been left to Keiron to unearth some fascinating archival material.

For example, here is a recorded interview with Ruskin student Jim Brewer, a miner from South Wales, who fought in the war: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80009746?nomobi=true

The title for this post is taken from the famous speech of Dolores Ibárruri, leader of the Communist Party of Spain, given to the Brigades as they assembled to leave Spain in November 1938.

Maxine Peake, herself a patron of the IBMT, delivers the speech in full - one of my most enjoyable YouTube clips. I encourage you to listen to this short video, not least to get some sense of the occasion, and how it must have felt to feel the war concluding, and to reflect on the role of the Brigades: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Xfm3o45iIE

If you can make the weekend of the IBMT AGM that would be great, but if not perhaps you can make a donation to the work of the IBMT and/or the WCML and MML - all of whom play a phenomenally important part in chronicling and championing the historical political, economic and social lives of working class men and women.

In Solidarity

Ian

Thursday, 21 August 2014

We Make Our Own History

Colleagues,

Just back from a relaxing, exhausting, exhilarating two weeks in Morroco, with my family.

As a north African country Morocco reflects positive global currents of militant worker/social resistance in the national context of an entrenched colonial-era constitutional monarchy.

As is shown by the ITUC's Global Rights Index for 2014 (http://tinyurl.com/mena9k8) the over weaning powers of the current monarchy, despite putative governmental reform, allows national and multinational companies and corporations to act with impunity in their violation of workers' rights.

Even Danone, a company supposedly operating in part under an international framework agreement, and often reported upon positively by the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF) feels free to operate in a wholly arbitrary, vindictive manner as evidenced by both the Index for 2014 and also the ITUC's sister survey on violations of trade union rights: http://survey.ituc-csi.org/Morocco.html?lang=en.

How best can we perceive of and analyse arguably contradictory currents of resistance on the one hand and autocratic state/corporate power on the other?

The latest book from Laurence Cox (an impressive writer on Marxism and social movements and who directs the MA in community activism, equality and social activism: http://ceesa-ma.blogspot.co.uk/) and Alf Gunvald Nilsen (also an influential writer on global social movements)) helps to do this, although I do have a concern regarding some assumptions they make.

We Make our own History: Marxism and Social Movements in the Twilight on Neo-Liberalism was released by Pluto Books on 20th August, and follows hot on the heels of their 2013 publication Marxism and Social Movements co-edited with Colin Barker and John Krinsky.


The introduction to the 2013 publication is here (http://tinyurl.com/m6ohm96) and is worth a browse as the latest book covers similar themes and pick ups where the prior ends as in essence both books focus on how best to generate a Marxist theory of social movements.

The essential reference point for each book is how best to understand, analyse and translate diverse movements within a coherent framework in order to gauge, for example, whether and how such movements are replicable in diverse contexts.

Both books are, I argue, essential reading for labour and trade union studies students who wish to gain some sense of the historical and contemporary relevance and interrelationship of workplace inspired/based protest/action and wider protest/action/movements for social justice and of oppositional politics.

I am yet to read reviews of the 2014 publication (I don't take much stock of book reviews but read them all the same) but I am generally cautious about the notion of that we are in or approaching a twilight of neo-liberalism.

I cannot fault in anyway the canvas of myriad, collective, global protest and action that Cox and Nilsen paint, however, the forecast of a decline in the factors which coalesce to inform and construct neo-liberal dogma and policy are, if anything, in the ascendancy as a result of austerity-era economic policy.

In this article published soon before the release of the new book there is a convincing argument made for the need to better understand and comprehend an increasingly sustained, integrated body of global protest emanating from the outcome of neo-liberal policy: http://tinyurl.com/q7mtmfh. 

Even the article itself however appears to suggest that the rise in militant action is symptomatic of an increasingly aggressive form of state/corporate power pursued at local, regional and international level. I argue that one is largely reflective of the other, not in any significant sense combating or overcoming the other.

This is not to diminish in anyway the profound importance of such struggle (nor 2013 and 2014 publications - both well worth buying), particularly in the global south, more to caution against an assumption that the fight is nearing an end. I don't see enough evidence of  this.

In Solidarity

Ian