Wednesday, 19 July 2017

When the race to the bottom becomes the race to the robots

Dear Colleagues,

Just read a fascinating article in today's FT which covers in detail an emerging picture of new technologies impinging upon the established 'race to the bottom' (R2B) phenomena in accounting for how the global industrial shift, under-written by finance capital, is ever on the hunt for the next cheaper, less regulated global region from which to spin a key cog in the global supply chain.

The article, Stitched up the Robots, makes clear that the R2B phenomena is being disrupted by the rise of the robots (to use the phrase of Martin Ford's popular book: https://tinyurl.com/yaddyov3, and may, over time, unsettle this profound feature of the globalisation phenomenon.

The FT article is here: https://tinyurl.com/yb4735xy

Please read the article and post thoughts/comments in reply.

In Solidarity

Ian


Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Labor

Dear Colleagues,

Another short post sent whilst in the midst of writing-up my thesis (and today hold-up at the British Library) and to plug a new book. I have been reading and re-reading a lot of the output of Andrew on labour geography (here's his profile: http://tinyurl.com/yb6kd7u8) and for those unsure of what it meant by labour geography, Herod states:

The notion of “spatial praxis” is firmly on the intellectual agenda in human geography. The making of the economic and social landscape in particular ways is now recognized as being fundamental to the articulation of political power (cf. Harvey, 1982; Soja, 1989; Lefebvre, 1991). In this paper I argue, however, that whilst they recognize landscapes are socially constructed, many economic geographers and theorizers of the geography of the capitalist space-economy — both mainstream and Marxist — have tended either to ignore the role of workers in making the economic geography of capitalism or have frequently conceived of them in a passive manner. Although during the past two decades economic geographers have generated a considerable literature which seeks to understand how capital attempts to make the geography of capitalism in particular ways to facilitate accumulation and the reproduction of capitalist social relations, there has been much less work which examines and attempts to theorize explicitly how workers actively shape economic landscapes and uneven development. Labor’s role in making the economic geography of capitalism has been rendered largely invisible by the analyses both of traditional mainstream neoclassical economic geographers and also, ironically, by many Marxists, for both approaches primarily present economic geographies devoid of workers as active geographical agents. Second, and following from above, I wish to return agency to workers in the literature on the development of economic geographies. This means conceptualizing labor not merely in terms of “factors” of location or the exchange value of “abstract labor” but to treat working class people as sentient social beings who both intentionally and unintentionally produce economic geographies through their actions — all the while recognizing that they are constrained (as is capital) in these actions.

If interested you can read the entire article here: http://sites.middlebury.edu/igst404/files/2014/01/Herod-Labors-Spatial-Fix.pdf

Herod's focus on labour geography is an important feature of characterising a new labour internationalism and alongside issues of worker and activist agency, has been critical to my thesis.

It is in the context of agency and Herod's focus on "working class people as sentient social beings" that Herod has approached his new book, which will be published in October by Wiley: http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0745663869.html

The blurb for the new book reads:

Labor is the source of all wealth. Without workers, the world's natural resources cannot be transformed into finished goods and services cannot be delivered. Labor, though, is a uniquely important resource for the very simple reason that working people have sentience. Whilst a business might seek to employ workers in much the same way as it does any other resource, unlike these other resources labor is capable of altering its own conditions of existence and so of challenging how it is used by others. In this book, Andrew Herod offers an original and wide-ranging analysis of labor as a multi-faceted and truly global resource. Opening with a rich overview of the migration streams and demographic trends that have shaped the planetary distribution of labor, he goes on to explore how globalization and the growth of precarious work are impacting working people's lives. A wide range of examples is examined to illustrate the ongoing struggles faced by workers worldwide – from forced labor and child labor in West Africa's cocoa and southeast Asia's shrimping industries to the labor practices affecting so-called 'knowledge workers'. Herod concludes by surveying some of the ways in which working people are taking action to improve their lives, including forming trade unions and other labor organizations, occupying factories in places like Argentina and Greece, and establishing anti-sweatshop campaigns. This book is a must read for anyone interested in understanding the state of labor in today's global economy.

Looks like a fascinating book and at £14.99 for the paperback, relatively cheap to purchase - and much, much cheaper than similar texts on the plight of the global working class.

If you do get your hands on a copy please post your thoughts in response to this post.

In Solidarity

Ian

Monday, 10 July 2017

Getting on with Writing a Doctoral Thesis

Dear Colleagues,

Just a brief post to fill in the space since I last posted, and to comment briefly on the challenging, urgent process on writing a thesis ready for submission at the end of September.

I am sure the above comic strip speaks to the experience of writing for most students at any stage of learning, and possibly for anyone trying to put pen to paper. I must say though that, at the outset of starting to write-up my thesis, I hadn't realised how much of a problem it would be to (a) just simply get ideas and thoughts out of my head and (b) make them appear logical, intelligent and coherent on screen/paper.

I've spent a huge amount of time writing stuff that I then deleted, but then, as I have often told students myself, it is critically important to just get on with the act of writing, in order that that physical process is pushing the cognitive.

What I have found particularly valuable to do a little of whilst writing - and given that I am focusing on activist education - is to have be engaged in this, no matter whether on a voluntary or observer basis, as this has allowed me to 'see' what I am writing in a 'coalface' setting.

My other tips for others trying to write something like a thesis is:

(a) Always be clear about your research questions/goals.
(b) Stick to these and avoid (as I really struggled to do in my early days of writing) diversions into that which you enjoy writing about and/or know something about.
(c) Agree on notional word counts to help maintain output and keep and eye on whether your writing is focused enough.
(d) Keep reading what you are writing so that you come back to 'a' above on a periodic basis. It is so easy to forget what you are supposed to be concentrating on, especially when you have a long piece of work to research/write.

OK then, with this blog posted, I can now relax for a few more weeks, til I am back again :)

In Solidarity

Ian

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Unions in Court: Organized Labour and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Dear Colleagues,

I have long admired the writing/analysis of Larry Savage in providing critical analysis of the state of organised labour in Canada. So, I was pleased to see the publication of a new book by him, and Charles Smith, providing insight on the relationship between the Canadian labour movement and Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Details are here:

http://cawls.ca/en/new-publication-unions-court-organized-labour-charter-rights-freedoms/

The book has been particularly helpful towards my doctoral thesis as it draws on Colin Hay's approach to structure and agency in the context of movement activism.

The blurb for the book reads:

Since the turn of the twenty-first century, Canadian unions have scored a number of important Supreme Court victories, securing constitutional rights to picket, bargain collectively, and to strike. Unions in Court: Organized Labour and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms documents the evolution of the Canadian labour movement’s engagement with the Charter, demonstrating how and why labour’s long-standing distrust of the legal system has given way to a controversial Charter-based legal strategy. This book’s fresh take on constitutionalized labour rights will have critical implications for the labour movement as well as activists in other fields.

Please follow the link above to get more detail of the book. You can read a sample here:
http://www.ubcpress.ca/books/pdf/chapters/2017/9780774835381_Excerpt.pdf

In Solidarity

Ian

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Vote Labour on June 8

Dear Colleagues,

The parallels between the crisis facing the country in 1945 and 2017 are clear and stark. The only party offering a credible, realistic opportunity for economic and social security for the majority of the UK population is the Labour Party.


If you have a vote - get and out and use it today!



In Solidarity

Ian

Thursday, 25 May 2017

The 'curse of knowledge' and what to do about it

Dear Colleagues,

I am in the process of writing-up my doctoral thesis and have taught myself two valuable lessons, primarily as a result of (a) nor being able to maintain a schedule of output and (b) feeling that my writing just isn't good enough. What I have learnt is, I am partly ashamed to admit, that I need to listen to the advice that I would give to a student in the same predicament:

(1) Just write - it might not be brilliant, but it's better than finding the day is ending and you've done bugger all. Linked to this;

(2) It isn't meant to be perfect first time 'round - great if it is - but it doesn't matter if it isn't. It'll give you some to read and reflect on and send to your supervisor to prove you are still alive and/or haven't run away.

Part of the problem is an assumption that, writing a doctoral thesis should mean using language that looks like the stuff I have been reading to help get my head around my research focus: activist education and knowledge production.

Well it should certainly look like I understand key messages, be able to grasp and apply elements of theory and relate this to my own research. But, what I shouldn't do is, as Steven Pinker warns, fall foul of the 'curse of knowledge' - and I think I have been.

For Pinker the curse of knowledge is:  the single best explanation I know of why good people write bad prose. It simply doesn't occur to the writer that her readers don't know what she knows — that they haven't mastered the patois of her guild, can't divine the missing steps that seem too obvious to mention, have no way to visualize a scene that to her is as clear as day. And so she doesn't bother to explain the jargon, or spell out the logic, or supply the necessary detail.

Taken from his book, The Sense of Style (https://tinyurl.com/jwljnev) the simplest explanation of Pinker's position is that you can become so bound up within, or confident about your subject knowledge, that it becomes difficult to relate this in simple, explainable, understandable terms.


To know that I actually know what to do here is frustrating - I just need to keep reminding myself of the advice I'd give to students tackling the same challenge. In addition I shall bear in mind Pinker's advice to manage this problem:

Get rid of abstractions and use concrete nouns and refer to concrete things. Who did what to whom? Read over your sentences and look for nouns that refer to meta-abstractions and ask yourself whether there's a way to put a tangible, everyday object or concept in its place. “The phrase ‘on the aspirational level' adds nothing to ‘aspire,' nor is a ‘prejudice reduction model' any more sophisticated than ‘reducing prejudice.'”

When in doubt, assume the reader knows a fair bit less than you about your topic. Clarity is not condescension. You don't need to prove how smart you are — the reader won't be impressed. “The key is to assume that your readers are as intelligent and sophisticated as you are, but that they happen not to know something you know.” 

Get someone intelligent and part of your intended audience to read over your work and see if they understand it. You shouldn't take every last suggestion, but do take seriously when they tell you certain sections are muddy or confusing. “The form in which thoughts occur to a writer is rarely the same as the form in which they can be absorbed by the reader.

Put your first draft down for enough time that, when you come back to it, you no longer feel deep familiarity with it. In this way, you become your intended audience. Your own fresh eyes will see the text in a new way. Don't forget to read aloud, even if just under your breath.

In Solidarity

Ian

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Fight the Tory Attack on Schools

Dear  Colleagues,

The education unions are heading a campaign to fight back against cuts in school funding. Please use the interactive website below to identify an event near you that you can support.

You can also organise your own event by ordering resources from the campaign website:

http://www.schoolcuts.org.uk/#!/

Whatever you do, please join one of the most important campaigns of current political history.



In Solidarity

Ian