Thursday, 28 January 2016

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


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:

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:

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


Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Defending the NHS (and the right to strike)


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 ( 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


Saturday, 19 December 2015

Reflecting on Education for Movement Activism

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:

As I have written previously in blog posts the writing of people like Aziz Choudry ( and Mario Novelli ( 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





Saturday, 21 November 2015

Working for the economy: The economic case for trade unions


Apologies for the absence of a recent post, but workload has kept me away from writing, and I have also had so many thoughts on what I'd like to write next, that it has stopped me from getting down to the business of writing itself

In any case, this is just a short post to promote the reading/dissemination of a great, new piece of research which has been commissioned by a number of unions and researched/produced jointly by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) and staff from the Political Economy Research Centre at the University of Greenwich.

Workers, wages and unions: what the economy needs
The report Working for the Economy: The Economic Case for Trade Unions probably won't make for revelatory reading for this who follow this blog, but the arguments deployed and the original research approach makes the case overwhelmingly for trade unions as part of a functioning, healthy economy.

Read the summary NEF  overview and download the summary and/or full version of the research here:

I don't want to detract from reading the report but the argument is not dissimilar form that of the International Monetary Fund (no usual friend of organised labour) in their recent report, Power from the People (I wrote a summary article wrapped around the IMF research back in April for the Future of Work Hub: which is that wage-led economies (like those in all OECD countries) reply on the power of collective bargaining to filter wage growth into the economy to aid overall economic stimulation and development. It is the diminishment of trade union power combined with decreasing levels of collective bargaining coverage internationally which is the principal cause of long-term, structural economic inequality.

It is a simple concept but I tend to think that the neo-liberal assault on trade unions has meant that a prevailing narrative of trade unions as antithetical to the economy has taken hold in orthodox economic circles. This has I believe convinced many on the right of the Labour Party, for example, to fear a championing of trade union rights lest they be seen to be attacking the economy and the free market.

Of course, many of us do indeed have profound problems with the nature of the capitalist free market, but what we ended up with I believe a binary view on the value of trade unions to economic growth, and the latest NEF/Greenwich research helps advocate in the right direction.

Last point before I dash off. In fighting the trade union bill the TUC has, in my view, done a great job in reflecting part of my argument, in that in has portrayed the trade union position as one of average workers wanting to get on in life, but needing unions to help get the balance right in the workplace. If you haven't seen the video that accompanies the TUC campaign, here it is.

Any thoughts/comments on the research mentioned here, or the TUC campaign, are welcome.

In Solidarity


Wednesday, 28 October 2015

PepsiSqueeze: PepsiCo violates the rights of warehouse workers in India

Can I please ask for your support for this important international campaign against Pepsi.
Global snack and beverage giant PepsiCo is violating the rights of a courageous group of workers in West Bengal, India who formed a trade union and were fired as a result.

In 2013, workers at 3 warehouses handling only PepsiCo products registered their new union with the authorities. They were harassed, assaulted by company goons and then 162 workers out of 170 employed in three warehouses were brutally fired. In May 2013, in response to national and international protests, they were offered their jobs back, but under conditions that strip them of their human rights. They were told they could return to work if they declared they would never again join a union, made to sign false statements which they were told were legally binding, and told to cut up their union cards and step on them as they walked into the warehouses. Twenty-eight of these workers who refused to surrender their rights were told at the time they could not return to work and would be blacklisted. The IUF is supporting their struggle.

PepsiCo arrogantly rejected an offer by the government of the United States to provide mediation of the dispute. Despite this, the IUF was eventually able to engage PepsiCo in long but ultimately fruitless talks. PepsiCo has now said the workers can apply for warehouse jobs or jobs at the company's bottling plant but offers no timetable, no remedy for earlier human rights abuses and no guarantees that their human rights will be respected in the future.
Please visit this page of the IUF website to complete an online postcard which can be sent to Pepsi to register your protest at what is happening in West Bengal, and to send an important message of solidarity to the workers and their families:
In Solidarity



Saturday, 3 October 2015

Screening of Pride: Ruskin College, 16th Oct @ 6pm


To mark the end of the series of events at Ruskin which have celebrated the 30th anniversary of the 1984-85 miner's strike, I've organised a screening of the hit film Pride for 16th October. The film unpicks the important role of the support  group Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) in supporting the strike and local mining communities. On the night we will hear from Mike Jackson (one of the original founders of LGSM and now Secretary to the group) and Bridget Bell and the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign. The event is free and all are welcome to attend the screening and contribute to the panel discussion afterwards. The event will fundraise, via donations, for the hardship fund for trade union students at Ruskin College.

In Solidarity


Sunday, 13 September 2015

Learning From The Ground Up


Just back from another tremendous weekend teaching at Ruskin, although this time it was made extra special as (a) the weekend uniquely brought together several BA ILTUS cohorts with MA ILTUS part-time students and (b) as well as bringing the cohorts together for teaching, there was a particularly valuable student version of the critical labour studies (CLS) symposium - the third such event, organised by my brilliant colleague , Caroline Holmes (BA ILTUS Programme Co-ordinator), pictured to my right below.

BA and MA ILTUS students show solidarity with the march for refugees in London yesterday 
As I have written in the past, the CLS network is a an original means to align issues of organised labour, changes in work and research/academic activity. Despite the labourist/pro-trade union orientation of the CLS network/symposium (and the overwhelming support for Ruskin's ILTUS programme from CLS academics), it is wholly valuable for Ruskin's 'scholar activists to meet independently also to discuss, for example, the challenges in engaging in research activity despite the workload pressures of frontline activism.

One of my most cherished books on activist/movement learning/knowledge production, Learning from the Ground Up, edited by Aziz Choudry and Dip Kapoor ( spends considerable time exploring/analysing how and why sites and processes of learning/knowledge production outside of conventional academic practice represents a considerable achievement.

As we argue elsewhere (Choudry, 2007, 2008; Kapoor, 2009a), the voices, ideas, perspectives and theories produced by those engaged in social struggles are often ignored, rendered invisible, or overwritten with accounts by professionalized or academic experts. In the realm of academic knowledge production, original, single authorship is valued, which inadvertently contributes to a tendency to fail to acknowledge the intellectual contributions of activism, or to recognize the lineages of ideas and theories that have been forged outside of academe, often incrementally, collectively, and informally. That said, we do not intend to imply that these various epistemologies
of knowledge (academic and activist) and processes of knowledge production and learning (formal, nonformal, and informal) necessarily exist in completely separate universes. 

Although BA/MA ILTUS students often select research topics distinctly separate from their experience of labour movement activism/employment - sometimes to provide essential distance from the often damaging consequences of the fight for workers' rights - it is not untypical for students to root their research topic in an issue of specific labour movement insight/experience. Here, sometimes, students seek to 'make meaning' of often inchoate change in work/employment and/or the trade union response to it - thus there is an explicit sense here of students constructing research design to unpick and explore what they have learnt, or are still learning as a result of this experience.

In his chapter Learning in Social Action: A Contribution to Understanding Informal Education Griff Foley helps us better appreciate what is involved as movement activists/staff are “developing an  understanding of learning in popular struggle”. In commenting on the relevance of this chapter to appreciating how knowledge is created from movement practice/experience Choudry/Kapoor write:

His attention to documenting, making explicit, and valuing incidental forms of learning and knowledge production in social action is in keeping with others who understand that critical consciousness, rigorous research, and theory can and do emerge from engagement in action and organizing contexts, rather than as ideas developed elsewhere by movement elites and dropped down from “above” to “the people”

Learning from the Ground Up is thoroughly recommended for all movement educators/teachers as a means to appreciate the intersection of their own practice with that of those they are working with, and how to gain an insight on how best to model learning to appreciate what movement activists/staff bring to their educational experience.

It is a text from which myself and colleagues at Ruskin have much to continue learn, in alliance with what we are constantly reaping from our experience of teaching and working alongside ILTUS students, such a rewarding experience.

MA ILTUS Scholars: Annie, Chilayi and Bryan
In Solidarity