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


Friday, 4 September 2015

Thinking of your DIssertation as a Story


This post is aimed at MA ILTUS students (an amazing bunch of trade unionists!) coming to Ruskin College 12-13 September for the additional weekend prior to the start of the 2015-16 academic year.

The image below is taken from Hart (2005), it is in chapter 4 (Imagining your dissertation) where a key theme that Hart is developing is the idea of the dissertation/research as a story.

As Hart states "Seeing the dissertation as a story has a number of useful advantages. In particular it can help you think about your topic as a story, what you intend to do, how you will do it and that you will need to have an ending, the conclusion"

As with any good story you also need to think about the interconnections between differing chapters. I will ask Matt and Paul to discuss this in detail when they attend the Oct and Jan workshops (you'll have a copy of their dissertation by then) as they will be able to relate the concept (again important to a good story) of 'narrative flow' i.e. how central focus, drive and direction is maintained throughout.

This sense of narrative flow is generated, in part at least, by the way in which you will shape and structure the assignment to achieve a form of interconnectedness. So, for example and as you can see below, a key influence on the way the introduction is written, is drawn from argument/theory in the literature review.

Similarly, your findings and analysis chapter must cohere with your core research aims/question and the literature review so that (a) you are seen to 'answer' the research questions, but also (b) you are seen to 'fill the gaps' in the literature.
From: Hart, C (2005) Doing your masters dissertation. Sage. London
Additionally, and particularly important, is that your methodology chapter is written so that it is seen as being informed by (a) your research aims/questions, (b) the literature review. The reason why the image below also connects the methodology chapter to the findings and analysis chapter is that in this chapter you are expected to discuss, for example, how/whether the research methods chosen enabled you to generate findings as anticipated or whether you gained more/less, and what you learned from this.
This latter point is particularly important as (you'll be bored of Fenella and I making this point during your second year) the dissertation is not just research, it is also evidence of being able to do research.

And, in the notion of the dissertation as a story, this focus on what you have learnt from undertaking the research. is such a valid component. It really does provide a sense of the highs/lows of getting the research done and getting the dissertation written.

So, please prepare for a discussion on Sat/Sun on (a) how you see the dissertation as a story, (b) approaches to maintaining narrative flow, (c) your thoughts on developing interconnectedness and (b) how you will manage all of this during what will be a challenging, but hopefully enjoyable second year of the MA.

See you on Saturday.

In Solidarity


Monday, 31 August 2015

Critical Dialogue and the Beginning of Infinity

I am just preparing a blog item on a long-standing area of interest around machine learning and the distribution of information/knowledge. In preparing for this I reflected on the purpose and value of this blog. I occasionally come across people who have read posts, but I must admit that I have no contact whatsoever (comments are rarely left and I'm not sure why this is the case) with the vast bulk of those who visit the blog, a large number of whom are in the US, with a healthy sprinkling of interest in Russia, the EU and Australia (so, an appeal for readers to leave comment please).
On looking at the data on who reads what the greatest interest historically (sometimes nudging 600+ page views) has been around posts which combine a discussion of educational methods/pedagogy in the context of labour movement/adult education. This short piece on the 2014 event in Bridgewater, Somerset on the future of workers' education is a prime example of blog interest notching up 544 page views:
There is also significant interest in the general coverage of how labour movements fare globally - one of the principal reasons why I write the blog - with, for example, two articles I wrote combining Ruskin's historic connections with South Africa's labour movement, latest developments there and the launch of a new scholarship both topping 600+ page views each: and
I'd like to think that this blog contributes - in some form of Freirean style - to a wider discussion/analyses of how the values, interests, concerns and needs of organised labour, particularly from an educational perspective, can be progressed. That really is for others to say though, so another appeal then for more comments in relation to posts, and in particular of how we can pursue further analysis, dialogue around the items posted here, not least in the pursuit of transformative change in the workplace and wider society.
Ultimately what I am aiming form is some (even if minor and partial) contribution to the comprehensibility of the future of organised labour in its myriad form, 'trade unionism' being one of these. In the spirit of David Deutch's The Beginning of Infinity I aim to work with others in "the quest for good explanations" in this case around how organised labour might evolve globally to respond to the major challenges it faces, and doing so rationally and optimistically.
Whilst reviewing the 300+ posts written since I started this blog in 2007 I was able to capture an image of what some of these posts look like when viewed using one of the images/pictures used in the post - below are a few hundred of these. Personally, they represent a significant number of hours of thinking/analysis/writing, but more importantly they reflect an attempt so support a critical pedagogy in trade union education, and, as the new academic year kicks off at Ruskin College, I look forward to a further year of discussion/debate in the classroom with trade unionists and the opportunity to examine this experience further here.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Protect the Right to Strike: Join the TUC Campaign


I wrote earlier in the year about the attempt by the employer's group within the ILO to challenge the fundamental right to strike in ILO Convention 87. One of the points I had commented on was that part of the group's intention was to limit appeals to the ILO when national governments started to reform/repeal domestic frameworks for industrial action.

The UK Conservative government's Trade Union Bill will pose massive challenges to trade unions undertaking lawful industrial action. See details of the Bill's assault on workers' rights here:

Please also sign up to support the TUC's campaign against the Bill here:

You will also find it really useful/valuable to follow the analyse of the implications of the Bill by Ralph Darlington at Salford University. He has already co-written a particularly valuable piece of research which has examined the implications of the proposed balloting reforms using prior industrial action in the UK - his analysis is both optimistic and pessimistic about the implications of the Bill.

For on-going coverage/analysis follow Ralph's blog 

To read the comparative industrial action research see this:

I will also be covering the implications of the Bill, and the Act if it cannot be overturned.
In Solidarity