Wednesday, 25 February 2015

11th Critical Labour Studies Symposium: Ruskin College, Oxford 28th Feb-1 Mar


Ruskin College once again hosts the UK's premiere opportunity to explore the intersection between frontline developments in the world of work and scholarly activity.

As with last year the line up features Ruskin staff and students of the international labour and trade union studies (ILTUS) programme past and present.

The programme is below - please come along if you can.

Critical Labour Studies 11th Symposium

Location: Ruskin College, Ruskin Hall, Oxford, OX3 9BZ

28th February - 1st of March 2015

Saturday 28th February

9.00 – 10.00 Registration on Door, Tea & Coffee

10.00 – 10.15 Introduction from CLS and Ruskin

10.15 – 11.00 Strategies of Change and Renewal in Organised Labour

Why Trade Unions Should Still be Interested in Worker's Control
Hilary Wainwright and John Stirling

Managing Misbehaviour and Exit: is this Now the Function of Irish Trade Unions?
Tish Gibbons

11.00 – 11.45 Global Capitalism and Labour

Dock Workers Resistance and Union Reform within China's Global Supply Chain
Jack Xuebing Cao

Crowdwork - Piecework in in the Global Virtual Sweatshop
Martin Risak

Struggling in and Against the State: The Cases of Domestic Workers and Logistics Workers' Unions in Turkey
Demet Şahende Dinler

11.45 – 12.00 Break

12.00 – 12.45 Migration and Labour

10 Years On: What Have we Learnt about Organising with Migrant Workers Since the 2004 A8 Accession?
Ben Sellers, Heather Connolly and UNISON representative

Neoliberalism East and West: the Impact of Migration on Health Sector Employment Relations in the UK and Romania
Dragos Adascalitei and Ben Egan

12.45 – 1.45 Lunch

1.45 – 2.15 The European Dilemma and Trade Unions

Beyond Europhilia versus Euroscepticism? UK Unions and the EU in Comparative Perspective
Graham Taylor, Sue Milner and Andy Mathers

2.15 – 3.15 Gender, Labour and Socialism

The Future of Socialist Feminism
Sian Moore and Hazel Conley

Leaning on Gramsci – Prospects for a Gender Politics of Resistance and Challenge to Masculinised Labour Movements in the Long Crisis of Neo-liberalism
Sue Ledwith

Intersectionality: an Abstract Theory or Useful Tool?
Tracy Walsh

3.15 – 3.30 Break for coffee and tea

3.30 – 4.30 Labour and National Identity: Fragmentation or Opportunity

The Quebéc Referendums, the Working Class, Capital, and the State
Jason Russell

Creatures from the Crypt: Lessons of the Scottish Referendum, the Crisis of UK Labour party and the Demise of the British State
Paul Stewart and Tommy McKearney

4.30 – 5.00 The Public Sector and ‘Change’

Firefighters and the Winter 2013-14 Floods: the FBU Perspective
Paul Hampton, Fire Brigades Union

5.00 – 6.00 CLS Tomorrow & AGM

Into the next decade
John Stirling

6.30 Evening Meal Buffet (Ruskin)

Sunday 1st March

9.00 – 9.45 Coffee/tea available

9.45 – 11.15 International Labour & Trade Union Studies at Ruskin College

Chairs: Pete Dwyer and Tracy Walsh (There may be two sessions running parallel)

In collaboration with CLS 2015 students and staff of Ruskin College's International Labour and Trade Union Studies (ILTUS) programme area have been offered this forum to generate discussion around current areas of research and trade union activity:

The Ascendency of Neoliberal Ideology in the State School System of both the UK and Chicago in the US
Matt Hannam MA ILTUS (Ruskin College)

Trade Union Responses to Sectarianism: A Case Study of Iraq and Northern IrelandPaul Williams

Unionising Young Workers in the era of Trade Union Decline
Chilayi Mayondi MA ILTUS (Ruskin College)
and others.

11.15 – 12.30 The Challenge of Internal Politics in Organised Labour

Trade Unions and their Control over Workers: The Murder of Mariano Ferreyra and the Argentine Trade Union System
Luciana Zorzoli

The Challenges of Labour-Environmental Alliances
Daniel Jakopovich

Does the Labour Market Duality Still Explain Causes and Consequences of Trade Unions' Responses to the Rise of Contingent Labour?
Danat Valizade

Two Decades of Deregulation of the Italian Labour Market: a Critical Analysis and Consequences for Unions and Politics
Tania Toffanin

12.30 – 1.15 Lunch

1.15 – 2.00 Unions and International Responses to the New World of Work

Phoebe Moore, Martin Upchurch and Pav Akhtar (UNI Global Union)

2.00 – 3.00 Discussion

Coordinator: Cilla Ross
Glorious Defeat or Fight from Within? The Choice Facing Trade Unions in the New Co-operative and Mutual Landscape

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Education is the Key: CWU Black Leadership Weekend School


A brief post as I am just back at Ruskin to do some email before dashing to Belfast for a few days with my family for a fine blend of politics/culture.

I wanted to send a note of thanks to the black CWU activists I have been with since Friday attending the leadership course at the union's education centre in Alvescot, Oxfordshire.

I must also thank Trish Lavelle (CWU Head of Education) for her tireless effort in getting this course (and its allied courses) off the ground, and for Wilf Sullivan for being this weekend's guest speaker and for delivering a masterclass in the sociology/politics of race and work/employment..

Wilf had originally been invited to speak on the consequences of austerity for BME communities, but felt, rightly, it needed contextualising in issues of the political economy of race and work - it was a wonderful to sit and listen to this.

So, thanks to Nimisha, Karen, Andy, Ceaford, Jay, Ste, Colin and Ian - I hope to seem them all on the follow-on course in April.

The picture below shows Wilf third from right.

I took the title of this post from the feedback from one of the final activities where the group were challenged to identify strategies to overcome real dilemmas in challenging workplace racism, responding to the rise of the far right, encouraging BME communities to vote, and a key response was that education is key.

I pointed out that this response was fitting, as the motto adopted for the CWU's education centre is: Justice is the goal, solidarity is the tool, education is the key.

I wish all of the CWU activists I was with this weekend the very best in their efforts in building strong trade union organisation in their respective workplaces, and for ensuring that black workers play a vital role in this.

In Solidarity


Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Someone else has to pay


Just a quick post as I'm under the cosh at the moment, yet in one of those incredulous "just when you thought you'd heard it all phases" following the roll-out of Labour's proposals on paternity leave/pay, and on hearing the sordid attempts by Mark Littlewood of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) to rubbish the idea.

Littlewood: Don't let him know
that a new baby's on the way
Littlewood appeared on yesterday's Today programme on Radio 4 - and far too many other radio/tv stations. It's all well and good says he bemoaned, but "someone else has to pay". Ignoring the facts/data (very typical of Littlewood/IEA) that the vast majority of men don't actually take paternity leave, and that Labour's paternity-lite proposals do little to bring us close to European-style averages of leave/pay.

Of course that's not Littlewood's point. His brief is to suggest that the country can't afford it, and that the co-worker, tax payer and employer are left to fork out in some way to make up for the fecklessness of the people that dared to have a baby.

Interesting then (although not in any way surprising) that the IEA website carried not a word about yesterday's news sensation regarding HSBC and alleged tax evasion scams at its Swiss arm a decade ago.

When challenged later in the day about tax evasion and the hammering of the working poor who fall foul of benefit cheat allegations under the leaner/meaner DWP regime, Littlewood claimed that it was simply easier to spot a benefit cheat than a tax dodger as "the rules are different" - of course they are, that's the scandal in all of this.

Balls: missing from Parliament yesterday,
along with Osborne
Sadly no-one in the media world put it to him that we are all left to pay when corporates and the wealthy connive with the financial services sector to evade tax liabilities.

Poor old Mr. Balls is having a rough period still (see my last post) as it was John Redwood no less (a geezer who floats in the swamp as Littlewood) in Parliament yesterday who pointed out that it was Balls, as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who was in office during the period of the HSBC scam - and that he was one of the New Labour architects of the 'light tough' (de)regulation of the financial services sector which not only gave free reign to HSBC to act with impunity, but was the critical catalyst for the UK end of the global financial crash of 2008.
The phrase "you couldn't make it up" was one I was thinking of for the title of the post, but then, when it comes to tax dodgers, Balls and Littlewood, oh yes you could.

In Solidarity


Wednesday, 4 February 2015

What a Waste: Corporate Power and One Nation Labour


During last night's Newsnight Emily Maitlis didn't have to work too hard to get Ed Balls to blather nonsense about Labour' special relationship with big business. So poor was Balls' performance that shame and humiliation has been heaped upon him today (and rightly so):

The most that the hapless Balls could muster, was that some geezer called Bill had helped the new, shiny One Nation Labour Party out at some point. So pathetic was Balls last night that a quick Google of "Balls, Bill Newsnight" will reveal plenty of crowing amongst rightwing media outlets and the general political punditry. Oh dear.

It all could have and should have been so different, but Balls' appearance was made all the worse as in appearing to want to cozy even further up to corporate interests (following some pushing and shoving between Miliband and the bloke that owns Boots) he, and the rest of the shadow treasury team just looked shambolic.

Trust me, and trust the corporates: Ummuna
defended Labour's reliance on accountancy firms
advice on taxation policy
As I reported late last year, Transparency International has spent time documenting the financial and policy implications for Labour of allowing the big accountancy firms determine taxation (and other) manifesto plans: It shouldn't be surprising, but even the timid, flaccid pro-business, pro-austerity stance of One Nation New Labour rankles corporate interests so much that all manner of plutocrat, flunky and CEO hoping for a seat in the Lords, is lining up to put the boot into Miliband.

The evidence of corporate greed, waste and general incompetence surrounds us in abundance, not least when examining the role of the private sector when delivering public sector services.

The fiasco at Hitchingbrooke is the last in a long-line of disasters which leaves the taxpayer paying for another neo-liberal experiment. And over at the National Audit Office (NAO), there is profound concern that, not only has too much been spent on Academies that cannot be accounted for, no evidence exists which shows they make a real, lasting difference to children's educational performance:,

Of course corporate interests are laying into One Nation Labour; far too much unaccountable power and money is at stake. Sadly, in the run-up to the general election, Balls et al are far too scared to admit this, and poor old Bill will remain as the business rabbit ready to be pulled out of the 'we love business' hat.
Expensive experiment not improving
children's learning outcomes

The data/literature which supports a deep suspicion of the private sector in the public sector (and of creeping corporate power undermining the government/state in general) piles up and to top it all in June a team of academics from the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC) at Manchester University publish What a Waste: Outsourcing and how it goes wrong.

The book is the first authoritative account of the scale of outsourcing in the UK, and of the disastrous impact on the political/economic fabric of the UK. As the book hasn't been published yet details are not easily available (get hold of a copy of the latest publications from Manchester Univ Press for details) but the marketing blurb states:

This is the first ever book to analyse outsourcing – contracting out public services to private business interests. It is an unacknowledged revolution in the British economy, and it has happened quietly, but it is creating powerful new corporate interests, transforming the organisation of government at all levels, and is simultaneously enriching a new business elite and creating numerous fiascos in the delivery of public services. This book, by the renowned research team at the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change in Manchester, is the first to combine ‘follow the money’ research with accessibility for the engaged citizen, and the first to balance critique with practical suggestions for policy reform.
Would Balls read this if I
sent a copy?
An allied book, "The end of the experiment?," is featured in a blog from the book's team - and its dominant themes are discussed in four, fascinating articles which revolve around the principal focus of the profound failure of successive governments since Thatcher to engender a strategic, long-term coherent sense of how to grow and stabilise the British economy, other than of course to assume that 'there is no alternative' to neo-liberalism. A snippet from the first article states:
For over thirty years now we have lived through a new experiment, symbolically inaugurated by the victory of Thatcherite Conservatism in 1979, but an era of experimentation which also encompassed the heady years of New Labour domination. That experiment had several well known features.  It created ‘flexible’ labour markets;  it dismantled the command economy represented by publicly owned industries;  it placed a bet on the creation of a ‘branch’ economy in manufacturing in a global division of labour, and on a financial services revolution in London; it prompted an outsourcing revolution which saw numerous public services franchised to private corporations; it created an audit state; and it ushered in a new era of micromanagement by the Whitehall elite.
 The blog, and the four articles are available here:
It'll be interesting to see how the Balls/Miliband baiting plays out in the run-up to the election, and whether (other than the fine job undertaken by Margaret Hodge as chair of the Public Accounts Committee) anyone in Labour's frontbench team decide to quote from the eminent research of the Manchester team - sadly unlikely.

What we've got to hope for is a growing public consciousness that private sector adventures in the public sector degrade and destroy lives and corrupt the moral fabric of the body politic.
There will, no doubt, more to report on this over the next few months, and I'll do my best to draw attention to the best evidence to refute the philosophy behind the experiment.
In Solidarity


Saturday, 24 January 2015

Government of Itself: Public sector trade unionism and the limits of democracy


I've had little time to sit and write since returning to Ruskin after the Christmas break given the pace of work, although I have been desperate to write something in order to reflect upon and interpret much thought related to recent teaching, and in particular linked to critical reflective practice and also trade union leadership.

I think I shall come back to these themes (not least as they will appear a lot within my teaching over the next few months) and instead use this post to grind an axe over a remarkably porous and ultimately ill-conceived new book published this month.

Government Against Itself: Public Union Power and Its Consequences by Daniel DiSalvo was published on 6th January by Oxford University Press (OUP), and is hailed in the marketing blurb thus:

As workers in the private sector struggle with stagnant wages, disappearing benefits, and rising retirement ages, unionized public employees retire in their fifties with over $100,000 a year in pension and healthcare benefits. The unions defend tooth and nail the generous compensation packages and extensive job security measures they've won for their members. However, the costs they impose crowd out important government services on which the poor and the middle class rely. Attempts to rein in the unions, as in Wisconsin and New Jersey, have met with massive resistance. Yet as Daniel DiSalvo argues in Government against Itself, public sector unions threaten the integrity of our very democracy.

Before I engage with the book, it is helpful to note that DiSalvo is a fellow of the Manhattan Institute (MI), a right-wing thinktank established by none other than William Casey, who was director of the CIA under Reagan. In its modern-day guise the Institute retains a ruthless, authoritarian position on the state, privatisation, immigration, welfare etc., and is core funded by a league of ne'er do wells including the Koch brothers. Here is a useful background institute and its background and contemporary status:

The MI status of DiSalvo is critically important in understanding (a) the dogmatic, irrational and deeply flawed theses of the book, and (b) why, in the frenzy of the post-Obama era, and search for the Republican presidential candidate, the books 'findings' have been leapt upon with such glee by the right, as a way to undermine any trade union support for the Democrat candidate.

Although it may set your teeth on edge, any sound critical analysis of the book (it isn't worth buying, trust me) requires listening to a first-hand account of the premise of the book by DiSalvo himself at a MI bash a couple of weeks ago:

Whilst I may sound naïve, I am surprised that the OUP have published a book whose critical weaknesses rest principally on the explicit bias and prejudice of the author, and thus can withstand no simple analysis of its many flawed arguments.

DiSalvo's principle position is that public sector workers rule government, particularly at local/state level (by supporting pro-union councillors etc.), and thus contrive corrupt rules and enjoy lavish benefits that no other workers enjoy. He claims a pretended love of private sector unions who, he argues, have nothing other then simple bargaining power to achieve vastly disproportionate levels of pay/benefits, and thus, somehow, are better/true unions, as a result.

Thatcher and DiSalvo: You can't
trust public sector trade unions
If you wasn't aware of DiSalvo's MI patronage, you'd wonder what he was up to, and how he could reach such conclusions, but then everything falls into place. Whilst DiSalvo claims, as Thatcher did in the 80's when banning unions at GCHQ, that there is a contradiction in allowing independent trade unionism in delivering sensitive public services, he is, unremarkably, silent about issues of impartiality/trust etc., when it is the private sector as service delivery agent.
Similarly, whilst he argues that public sector unions are a threat to democracy, he seems incapable of drawing a more relevant conclusion when analysing the rise of state power vis the state - but that's because he explictly ignores the issue, as he sees no conflict here in any case. That ALEC is one the organisations allied to MI is a testament to how corrupted is DiSalvo's position on the threats to liberal democracy in the US. Read Paul Krugman in the New York Times (NYT) on ALEC to understand my point:

Trade unions can indeed be reactionary, conservative self-serving bodies, and there is a vast body of literature which chronicles how this pattern of behaviour has both precipitated labour movement decline, and in some contexts is an impediment to renewal. DiSalvo's book however, has nothing to add that was not known already, nor does it  offer an authentic, original, scholarly approach within the field.

At a time when the limits of democracy in both the US and UK preclude the interests and values of the bulk of the population, trade unions can and do act as a corrective in providing an equilibrium within the imbalance of corporate influence on mainstream political parties, and thus on government. Additionally, public sector trade unions have a legitimate place as civil society actors in alliance with the public in defending services, particularly in the context of austerity measures. Stephanie Ross and Larry Savage provide a cogent insight on this in the Canadian context in Public Sector Unions in the Age of Austerity:

This book could have been a useful assessment of why and how trade unions seek to gain power and influence in the US, and perhaps even how this may act as a detriment to workers', society and government interests. Instead, it serves the beneficial purpose of realising further the manipulative reach of corporate interests within the academic/research sphere.

In Solidarity


Thursday, 8 January 2015

2015: Reasons to be Cheerful


Have returned to Ruskin from the Christmas break and, as it is as hectic as ever, I am copping out slightly of writing an original first post for 2015, by referencing a great article written In These Times just before the end of 2014, which signalled another set of reasons to remain hugely optimistic about the future of organised labour.

I had better not get into hot water with the good folks at In These Times so rather than reproducing the text, here is the link to the article on the 9 most important victories for workers in 2014:

When we come together, when we fight together, we can win.
As we have always known and understood as trade unionists, a victory for workers anywhere, is a victory for workers everywhere (nicking and adapting a profound Martin Luther King phrase). So, whilst the article focuses on gains by the labour movement in the US, we all gain strength from these, not least in the context of a neo-liberal globalisation.

When I first read the article I was already minded to think that some of the gains e.g. those by the courts and NLRB extending workers' rights to those nominally deemed to be self-employed, or recognising that franchisors (like McDonalds) can be treated as employers and held liable for infringements of employment and labour laws, and even confirming that workers can use company email for union/organising activity, were anathema in the current economic and political climate the UK and much of Europe.

Indeed, as I reflected on the article, and the job losses at City Link where I live in Coventry, it placed the US gains in even sharper relief, as these UK workers find that the company, bought for £1 by venture capitalists, would have to rely on the government scheme to possibly get the redundancy payments they are entitled to (the self-employed, so called 'partners' entitled to nothing) as the company was revealed to be run on the basis of debt and perversely a company's workforce is not a preferential creditor in such circumstances.

The casino capitalism of City Link: A sure-fire way to destroy local and national economies.
As the day's rolled by after the closure of City Link the scandal of how the company was run in order that 'investors' be shielded from its eventual implosion was revealed in successive articles by the Guardian (e.g.

It is only a strong international labour movement, backed by regulatory fairness in employment practice, that can act as a corrective to the casino capitalism that lays behind the scandal of City Link.

As the In These Times article, and many other labour movement victories in 2014 evidence, we should never abandon the struggle to realise these goals on a global scale.

Those who built labour movements around the world didn't, and nor should we.

I look forward to reporting on further victories in 2015, and discussing them with you if our paths should cross.

In Solidarity


Saturday, 20 December 2014

What Manchester says today, England says tomorow (Best wishes for 2015)


A strange title indeed for the last posted item of 2014, but I had to nip into the offices of the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) yesterday as the organisation is on the move to a new base adjacent to the hotel it bought a couple of year's ago (Quorn Grange - a great venue for TU and left events: and I had left a pile of books there when I left my part-time role to become full-time at Ruskin in Dec 2013.

One of the books, The Industrial Syndicalist, is a compilation of the newsletters of the same name which were edited by Tom Mann, and is a fascinating insight into that era when the GFTU was seen, alongside many trade unions, as the principal vehicle to facilitate and lead syndicalist debate, and ultimately the transition to a syndicalist economy and society.

The first conference on industrial syndicalism was held at the Corn Exchange in Manchester on 26th November 1910, and when the Industrial Syndicalist (Vol 1, No.6 Dec 1910) reported on the outcome of the event it's opening title was, A Manchester message to the workers of Britain, and the title of this post was used to introduce the article.

Whilst the current role of the GFTU has changed somewhat from the heady days of the early 20th century, it is still nonetheless an important institution of the national and international labour movement, and I wish my colleagues all the very best in continuing to serve the interests of small, specialist trade unions and professional associations.

Coincidentally, the famous labour movement artist Walter Crane created the original GFTU logo in 1898, and I used one of his images for the postcard given to current students of the MA in international labour and trade union studies (ILTUS) at Ruskin.

Naturally, it is important to recognise the cultural and political traditions of the labour movement, and whether through the continued use of the imagery of Crane, or the analysis of more contemporary forms of syndicalist worker organisation (see Manny Ness's latest for the best, latest coverage:, I am delighted that myself and my colleagues at Ruskin College (Tracy Walsh, Fenella Porter and Caroline Holmes) have the opportunity on the BA and MA ILTUS to ensure that we honour our collective past and investigate our collective future in our pedagogical approach with trade union learners.

It has been a fantastic year at Ruskin, and whilst we hold our breath based for the outcome of the May general election, we remain undiminished in our commitment to uphold the highest standards of worker and trade union education.

I wish you all the very best for 2015, and hope you have some time for rest over the next few weeks.

In Solidarity