Sunday, 22 March 2015

Audacity and the Power of Union Education


I've just finished an exhausting, but hugely rewarding weekend's teaching on the MA in international labour and trade union studies (ILTUS) at Ruskin.

A huge thanks to all who contributed. On Friday this was:

Sue Ledwith (creator of the MA and now Ruskin emeritus fellow) on the gender pay gap and its relationship with union leadership

Stephen Mustchin (Univ Manchester Business School) on international regulation and collective bargaining

A joint guest speaker session with

Becca Kirkpatrick (Citizens UK - Personal capacity) on a perspective of how/whether trade unions are achieve renewal through community unionism

Jane Holgate (Leeds Univ - via video interview) on the background to community unionism and whether this is a route to trade union renewal.

On Saturday this was:

Jo Cain (Head of LAOS, UNISON - Personal capacity) on culture, organisation and union leadership.

Jack Cao (Keele Univ) On workers' resistance in China.

The keynote event was Saturday night and the presentation by Ethel Buckley (Head of Campaigns at SIPTU) on the 2014 Greyhound lockout and the union's strategy to win.

Although I must thank all colleagues who contributed (and of course Fenella Porter who shares running the MA with me) over the weekend, the student feedback confirmed that it was Ethel's session which, as a form of praxis, brought the entire weekend's teaching session together.

Many thanks to Roger McKenzie (AGS UNISON) for getting off the ground the idea of an activist in residence and for Ethel to agree to spend 18-22 March in the UK spending time with UNISON branches in Oxon and at Ruskin.

Her presentation to the MA students on Saturday night about the strategy developed by SIPTU to overcome the workplace lockout at Greyhound refuse in Dublin in 2014 was an exemplar of how trades union can still beat overtly hostile employers in a legally and economically hostile climate.

A key theme of Ethel's was the need for trade unions to be as audacious as employers, and this was exemplified in how SIPTU worked closely with those communities affected by the lockout.

Before Ethel left Ruskin earlier today I read a short passage from Jonathan Rose's Intellectual Life of the British Working Class as I wanted to underline the need for the ILTUS programme at Ruskin and the activist in residence as a place/space for ideas to be shared in the context of Ruskin's tradition of trade union education.

The pictures below provide a small glimpse into the dynamism and excitement of the weekend.

Construct a winning narrative: Ethel's first lesson for the group
Jack helping students to analyse worker resistance in China 
Mary, Chilayi, Janet, Marie, Matt and Louise: Deep dissertation discussion!
Annie, Phil, Byron and Paul: Getting to grips with research questions
Nimisha and Marie: Making a start on research design
Ethel addresses the whole group
In Solidarity


Sunday, 8 March 2015

Organising the Unorganisable? Voices from the bottom up: Researchers and Activists Forum on Precarious Work 23-24 April


Maurizio Atzeni has organised a fascinating, international line-up of speakers around the theme of workers' organisation and precarious work at Loughborough University 23-24 April.

The event reflects key themes of his last book ( which is a result of the research arising from his Marie Curie Fellowship:

Maurizio taught on the MA ILTUS in October whilst there invited myself and students to attend the event to discuss how teaching trade unionists at Ruskin reflected/projected theory/practice around precarious work and organising.

The event details are below, and I welcome those who read this blog to come along. Please contact me for further details.

Organising the Unorganisable?
Voices from the Bottom Up
Researchers and Activists Forum on Precarious Work

Loughborough University 23-24 April 2015
An insight view of workers struggles in China- Ralf Gongchao Collective

The organisation of work in Chilean Ports and dockworkers organisation- Lucas Cifuentes, Advisor of the dockworkers Union/Universidad de Chile

Migrant organising in the UK-Gabriella Alberti, Univ. of Leeds  and Independent workers of Great Britain; Joyce Jiang, Roehampton Univ. and J4DW (Justice for Domestic Worker)

Workers in retail distribution centres in the UK and in Italy- Workers' Initiative Poland (Inicjatywa Pracownicza), Angry Workers of the World, Devi Sacchetto Univ. of Padua/Connessioni Precarie and Giorgio Grappi, Università di Bologna/Coordinamento migranti di Bologna e di Connessioni precarie

Forced Labour in Brazil (and beyond),  Fabiola Mieres, Durham University

Workers’organisation in textiles sweetshops in Argentina- Jeronimo Montero, Ministry of Labour and CONICET Argentina

Pedagogical insights of producing knowledge for and with activists and union organisers- Ian Manborde, Ruskin College, Oxford

Organising informal transport workers in developing countries- The Global Labour Institute and the International Transport Federation  

In Solidarity


Sunday, 1 March 2015

Securing the Right to Strike: ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association


Buy it: Read it
In his lifelong analysis of industrial conflict and strike action the eminent industrial relations academic Richard Hyman was attempting to tackle his central concern around the relationship between industrial action and class consciousness. This analysis is epitomised best in his 1972 publication Strikes.

On first reading the book as a student at Ruskin, and just previously having organised and led a strike with CPSA members at the then Equal Opportunities Commission in Manchester, I was particularly struck in the chapter on the sociology of strike action by what I considered to be the simple, matter of fact notion that structural influences condition workers' conscious understanding of the implications of strike action.

Hyman argues that there exists a 'structured dialectic of social structure and social consciousness'. Having first become a trade unionist when Thatcher was Prime Minister and experiencing her early experiments on marketisation with the civil service as the laboratory, and thereafter campaigning against the banning of trade unions at GCHQ, you couldn't but understand that any trade union resistance during this era was predicated on a response to the early phase of neo-liberalism in Britain.

Wind forward 30 years' later and the 'structured dialectic' was being realised at an international level through the assault by the employer's group at the international labour organisation (ILO) on the right to strike as it was framed in ILO Convention 87 on freedom of association.

There is an summary excellent article (written as a GLU Labour Column piece) by Jeffrey Vogt (legal adviser to the ICTU) which links to a much more detailed report he wrote on the employer's stance:

Interestingly the strategy of the employer's group is revealed in a YouTube interview with Chris Syder who is spokesperson for the employer's group at the ILO: ttp://

As Syder reveals in this 2011 video UK employers and the Coalition understand that any attempt to dismantle the right to strike in the UK (which is being threatened by the Tories) will trigger an appeal to the ILO. Thus the dismantling of the right in Convention 87 would diminish the possibility of the ILO agreeing with the UK labour movement that there had been a Convention breach.

See the Syder video interview here:

Thankfully, the employer's strategy has failed and, as announced late last week, they employer's capitulated as they were wary of the ILO dispute being referred to the International Court of Justice  (ICJ) which is a requirement of the ILO constitution in such situations.

In criticising the employer's group actions, and celebrating the victory, the ITUC General Secretary, Sharan Burrow justifiably said:  “Having created the crisis, employer groups and some governments were refusing to allow the issue to be taken to the International Court of Justice even though the ILO Constitution says it should be. We’ve now managed to negotiate a solution which protects the fundamental right of workers to take strike action, and allows the ILO to resume fully its work to supervise how governments respect their international labour standards obligations.”.

For most workers the 'structured dialectic' will be understood in local terms, although typically for public sector workers, like me as a CPSA activist in my much younger days, national political considerations are key influences also. The failed attempt by the employer's group at the ILO reveals that, as we have always known and understood, that there are critically important international influences at play undermining the political and economic status of workers' right.

How and whether workers can gain a conscious appreciation of this in the context of strike action is a critically important role for trade unions, because, on the back of any such education, is the need for workers anywhere in the world to understand that their strike action (and its outcomes) is irrevocably associated with the action of others.

Whilst it's unlikely that Hyman et al make for bedtime reading for  those that comprise the ILO's employer's group, it is clear that they understand the dangers of the dialectic, and the assault on Convention 87 was a brazen attempt to ease national deregulation of industrial action rights further.

We must be alert to the next stage in their strategy.

In Solidarity


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