Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Ruskin College: The legacy of trade union education and research

Colleagues,

My colleague Caroline Holmes (co-ordinator of the BA ILTUS) at Ruskin College has pulled off a fantastic feat in organising the first student-based and led symposium of the Critical Labour Studies network (CLS: http://criticallabourstudies.org.uk/site/).

The network provides a forum (via an annual symposium and email discussion list) for critical engagement with the intersection between research activity and issues of work and labour internationally. Thus praxis is a central dynamic of the CLS philosophy, and exemplified in the international labour and trade union studies (ILTUS) programme at Ruskin.

The event next week allows BA and MA students (including alumni) to showcase their research approaches and subjects underlining the inexorable role of praxis in responding the trade union crisis and renewal theme which runs thorough the ILTUS progranme at Ruskin.

Adam Alarakhia address sister and fellow activists of the Communication
Workers Union (CWU) at a black leadership event in April on his
experience of the BA ILTUS at Ruskin and the importance of radical education
in social justice movements
The event is a considerable milestone in marking Ruskin's historical role in contributing to and shaping research by and for labour movements. It also recognises the pivotally important role that Ruskin now plays in being the only educational institution in the UK which still provides labour and trade union studies education.

The event next week reflects the spirit of hundreds of similar occasions at Ruskin, and allied publications. One of these events/publications is still used on the MA and is a continual reminder to me of what Ruskin has contributed to trade union research, but also of the need to maintain our reputation.

The new MA ILTUS cohort with Dan Blackburn of the
International Centre for Trade Union Rights (ICTUR)
Trade Unions and Social Research was published by 1991 and is jointly edited by Keith Forrester and Colin Thorne. It is the only book that I know of which focuses specifically on the research needs of labour movements and how these might be met, both by trade unions themselves and/or with academics.

The book brought together papers from a number of those who attended a conference in July 1991 and which focused on this specific theme.

Despite the distinctive nature of the book, and its continuing relevance to trade union learners, an ironic omission given that the event which led to the book, was held at Ruskin, was the role of the trade union learner/student in contributing to the research needs of labour movements.

Hence the relevance of next Saturday's event, and the need, all being well, to publish student/staff research output from the ILTUS programme area at Ruskin.

Here is the text from the publicity flyer that Caroline has put together:

Ruskin College hosts the First: Student Critical Labour Studies Conference

On 13th December 2014, between 11am and 6pm, Ruskin College is hosting the inaugural student Critical Labour Studies conference as part of the CLS network. This is the first conference of student work, that is being hosted by current BA students for the specific purpose of discussing and debating subjects that current and former BA and MA International Labour and Trade Union Studies (ILTUS) students are researching.

Students will be presenting their research topics and presenting them to an audience of students, academics and other interested parties, for discussion, feedback and debate. Topics on the agenda will include Sexism in the media, UK Trade Union Political Education and how are migrant workers viewed by the trade union movement in relation to the enlargement of the European Union? 

The conference is free and open to any interested parties who want to attend. Please just turn up on the day. The canteen will open for lunch and refreshments until 2pm. The conference will be held in rooms 209 and 210.

We are looking forward to a lively and active conference that will give students an opportunity to share their ideas with others who are studying within their field.
Come along and join in.


For more details contact:  
Caroline Holmes Programme Co-ordinator BA ILTUS. cholmes@ruskin.ac.uk 
01865 759608.

In Solidarity

Ian

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Modern Slavery: Traditional Remedies

Colleagues,

We are approaching the last wretched gasps of the Coalition government, so it is no wonder then that much of the most urgent legislative reform is tabled at the end of a Parliamentary period, only after the ConDems have placed own priorities on the statute books.

Thus the Modern Slavery Bill (http://tinyurl.com/l8vfqjq), long-since demanded, rears it head only now.

The case for such a bill is, sadly, as evident now, as it was when the Coalition was formed. Indeed, an article in this weekend's Guardian (http://tinyurl.com/q7gzf2z) estimates a record number of 13,000 slaves across the UK. Given the very nature of this human tragedy however, who actualy knows the exact number?

Indeed, as reported by the Institute for Employment Rights last week (http://tinyurl.com/ls5t289), the Global Slavery Index (GSI) of the Australian NGO Walk Free Foundation, records a 23% increase on last year's estimate of the total annual number of people bonded by modern forms of slavery, and places the figure at 35.8 million people

It isn't just the ConDem's neglect in the timetabling of the Bill that reveals the abject disinterest in the issue; there are actually many other ways in which forms of modern slavery are accelerated by Coalition policy and practice.

Anti-Slavery International, for example (as commented on in the Guardian article cited earlier) note that exploited and vulnerable workers - particularly those who are undocumented and fear deportation - remain trapped in a situation where abusive employers exploit this fear.


Similarly, and as documented last year by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (http://tinyurl.com/ngd4omw) there has been an 84% drop in the number of prosecutions by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) despite the massive rise in documented cases of forced labour or employment below the national minimum wage in those sectors covered by the GLA: http://tinyurl.com/osubryd

It is evident to anyone who has followed the devastation of ConDem policy that the 'war on red tape' and support for the 'wealth creators' has led to  pulling back on regulatory and enforcement bodies specifically in the area of employment, but more generally right across the public sector in the UK.

Thus we have definitive evidence of rising modern slavery, and declining cases of prosecution.

To add a further dimension to understanding why modern day slavery will remain undisturbed in the UK, and may yet set to rise, Cameron's speech last week to European Union (EU) leaders was somewhat diminished in tone, and did not carry the full set of proposals (e.g. capping benefits to EU migrants), yes was nevertheless posited on an ever hardening position on migration.

Labour's Pat McFadden recently acknowledge that political rhetoric on migration was akin to treating the matter 'as if it were a disease'. Labour's own recent behaviour around EU migration has not helped in creating a more humane, tolerant treatment of the issue: http://tinyurl.com/kfyrbj9

This behaviour of political parties around migration, and Cameron's speech last week, is now having a multiplicity of effects, not least boosting UKIPs "told you so" rhetoric on the need to renegotiate Britain's status within the EU, but worse still, placing EU migrants specifically, and all migrants generally, at an exposed position to exploitative work. In the rush to the bottom employers know that they are able to trade off those disgruntled unemployed British nationals enamoured by UKIP's siren calls, with those recent migrants desperate to get work at any cost.

And it is often in between these cracks of sometimes formal, although exploitative work, that migrants fall and comprise the largest proportion of those estimated to be amongst the 13,000 in modern slavery.

Thus, the remedy to such a situation is not just through statute but through principled leadership which understands the punitive, corrosive social effects of allowing slavery to continue and consciously chooses not to look the other way.

As William Wilberforce said of those in Parliament who fought his anti-slavery campaign, despite knowing the volume of people and sheer misery involved:

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”  

Cameron et al are in exactly that position now.

In Solidarity

Ian

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Trade Union Blacklisting: Our Turn to Make a Fuss

Colleagues,

On Friday in Manchester, Mike Emmott of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), spoke at the 50th anniversary event of the Manchester Industrial Relations Society (MIRS) and condemned as "a big fuss" the trade union fight against blacklisting.

Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group (http://www.hazards.org/blacklistblog/) has written a response, below, which has been distributed this evening by Jane Holgate via the Critical Labour Studies (CLS) network.

Dave's statement (including responses from many blacklisted trade unionists) is an elegant, thoughtful response to Emmott. Invariably the man from the CIPD will see this as yet more fuss. Rightly, the statement reflects on the impact on families of blacklisting, which was the dissertation research of Dermot Finn who graduated from the BA ILTUS programme at Ruskin earlier this month.

Dermot Finn, blacklisted electrician, chronicled the impact
on families of blacklisting in his BA dissertation.
On Saturday in the Guardian magazine there was a lengthy main article on the profound personal and professional impact of whistleblowing, which invariably includes blacklisting - and on occasion is done in a formal, authorised manner, not the usual seedy notes in cheap cardboard files of bodies like the Consulting Association.

Coincidentally, the first story, of Raj Mattu, is one I am very familiar with as he worked at Walsgrave Hospital which is where I live in Coventry:  http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/nov/22/there-were-hundreds-of-us-crying-out-for-help-afterlife-of-whistleblower

Mattu's story alone gives the lie to Emmott's position as blacklisting as "a big fuss about very little".
Emmott also claims to find as "distateful" trade union attempts to investigate historical episodes of blacklisting. Yet it has been the trade union movement which has helped generate evidence of police and secret service collusion in blacklisting. Curious then that Emmott claims "trust, fairness and respect" as fundamental to the employment relationship.

Neil Smith ends Dave Smith's statement noting that the trade union movement's fight against blacklisting will continue. Invariably Emmott's "big fuss" claim will ensure that the fight is going to get bigger and better.

From Dave Smith, Blacklist Support Group...

Mike Emmott, CIPD: Blacklisting is "a big fuss about very little".

Chair of ACAS, Sir Brendan Barber has publicly clashed with Mike Emmott  from the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) over the issue of blacklisting. The very public disagreement was in front of 200 of the UK's leading industrial relations academics, HR professionals and union officials when both men addressed a conference to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Manchester Industrial Relations Society.

Emmott, a former senior civil servant and the CIPD 'employee relations expert' was a keynote speaker on behalf of the HR body, a central theme of his speech was the need for HR managers to embed a "culture of trust, fairness and respect".

During the Q&A session he was questioned about trust and fairness by GMB union political officer Neil Smith over the lack of response by the CIPD to blacklisting. In response Emmot first claimed he did not know a great deal about the issue but then went on to describe the blacklisting scandal as a "big fuss about very little" and stated that he found "union moral outrage over blacklisting, rather distasteful".

There were audible gasps and an immediate rash of tweets from the audience. The conference then loudly applauded follow up questions that identified a number CIPD Fellows personally being involved in blacklisting union members. A flustered Emmott again responded by claiming to not know about the matter, even though the issue has been front page news in the media, including the CIPD's own journal. He concluded by saying he would be happy to have the CIPD members accused of wrong doing as his neighbours.

ACAS chief, Sir Brendan Barber (former TUC General Secretary) followed Emmott and publicly stated that he totally "disagreed" with the CIPD spokesperson stating that "blacklisting is a major injustice that has not been resolved" adding that it "raises huge issues about corporate culture and responsibility"

The comments by Emmott were even more shocking as blacklisted workers and Shrewsbury Pickets were in the audience and Manchester Royal Infirmary was the scene of the two year dispute which finally exposed the Consulting Association blacklisting conspiracy.

Tony Jones, Mancheter electrician & MRI picket, blacklisted for many years after raising concerns about electrical safety commented: "Yes, it is a big fuss about nothing when you cannot feed and cloth your kids and don't know why. To me that's a form of child abuse"

Steve Acheson, Blacklist Support Group chair and Manchester electrician added:"BSG has submitted a complaint to the CIPD for breaches of the code of ethical conduct but 2 years later not a single member of the professional body has faced any sanction. Nor has any senior manager involved in blacklisting been disciplined by their employer, most remain in post or have even been promoted to the Board. The firms and CIPD have cried crocodile tears about blacklisting but the mask of hypocrisy worn by the HR profession has finally slipped.""Blacklisting breaches our human rights. It is morally wrong. For any individual to face every day of his life, with no prospect of securing a legal right to employment because of a conspiracy is a complete crime."

Neil Smith, GMB political officer whose question sparked the row, said:"GMB will continue to campaign to name and shame those guilty of blacklisting and will work with other groups to get justice for those that were wronged. CIPD and others involved will be took to task no matter how long it takes."

In Solidarity

Ian

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Lighting the Spark: The Battle for Free Education

Colleagues,

I am in Belfast representing Ruskin at the invitation of Trish Lavelle (Head of Education) at the annual Communication Workers' Union (CWU) Union Learning Rep (ULR) networking event in Belfast.

Although I am here under the umbrella of Ruskin's partnership agreement with the CWU, and to promote Ruskin's BA in international labour and trade union studies (ILTUS), I am really proud to have been asked to work alongside several CWU activists in running the workshop title Lighting the Spark, which focuses on the development of workplace strategy to encourage members into activism through educational activity.

It struck me yesterday that, as students took over central London in the fight for free education, how important is the parallel work of unions like the CWU in advocating that position in the workplace. The CWU's ULRs have pioneered some of the most innovative approaches to engaging their members in educational activity, and they can proudly claim the credit for working solidly to have ensured that 60,000 working class adults have engaged in some form of educational activity as a result.

Trish Lavelle: Leading the fight for free adult education yesterday in Belfast.
Same day, same fight: Students in central London yesterday.
As the countdown begins for the general election next year there couldn't be a more important time to remind politicians of the central role of free education in ensuring that adults engage in political activity and vote. Of course, there are those on the right who also understand that an educated working class is not in their interests: Thatcher and Gove knew this and pursued education policy form this ideological basis.

Even if free education is fought from that perspective, at least the right should acknowledge that it is in everyone's interests to understand the link between poor educational status and ill health, criminal activity, recidivism etc., and that it is ultimately in this country's long-term political, social and economic interests to ensure that education is not just free, but that it forms the central plank in social policy that generates the kind of living standards common across most northern European countries.

As Trish commened yesterday when kicking off the ULR event, Germany has taken the principled position of ending tuition fees in higher education, and done so in basic economic grounds, which found that the fees were disrupting not just educational engagement and attainment, but that ultimately the Germany economy, was suffering too.

Whilst I am not an advocate of the kind of supercharged capitalist economies like Germany, I am not so stupid as to not clap when even the arch conservatives like Angela Merkel realise that free education makes sound business sense. If only the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour Party could come to the same conclusion

In Solidarity

Ian

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Transparency & The Establishment

Colleagues,


Just a brief post as I am teaching at Ruskin this weekend as we have three cohorts of the BA international labour and trade union studies (ILTUS) in. What a fine bunch of trade unionists! Even though I am not feeling great, it is reviving to be here and to hear of their natural, comradely support for the on-going UCU boycott of marking/assessment. It is great to also of how their research/study is having such a significant impact on their activism/campaigning.

Very proud of our Ruskin BA students: Dermot Finn graduates
on 25th Oct from the BA ILTUS 2008 cohort
I have been minded to pen a short item as this week the Coalition launched its 'transparency code' for local government. Whilst this is ostensibly a new process for weeding out local government corruption, it is in truth a ruse to attack municipal trade unionism. Read the detail of the new code here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/local-government-transparency-code-2014

As you can see the new code requires that local authorities now publish data on the volume of trade union facility time taken by trade union representatives:

Trade union facility time
35. Local authorities must publish the following information on trade union facility time:

total number (absolute number and full time equivalent) of staff who are union representatives (including general, learning and health and safety representatives)

total number (absolute number and full time equivalent) of union representatives who devote at least 50 per cent of their time to union duties

names of all trade unions represented in the local authority

a basic estimate of spending on unions (calculated as the number of full time equivalent days spent on union duties multiplied by the average salary), and

a basic estimate of spending on unions as a percentage of the total pay bill (calculated as the number of full time equivalent days spent on union duties multiplied by the average salary divided by the total pay bill).

Of course none of this serves, as the new code suggests, "to place more power into the citizen's hands to increase democratic accountability" (by the way, we are not citizens of a republic, we are subjects of the Queen) and is instead a crude attempt to attack the role of democratically elected and accountable trade union representatives who act in pursuit of their statutory rights to safeguard the interests of their members, and indeed the wider public.

Of course because this measure is ideologically driven the code seeks not to capture any of the following:

(1) The extent to which trade union activity seeks to minimise the exposure to liability employers' actions e.g. reducing the likelihood of accidents, resolving grievances/disputes.

(2) In quantitative/monetary terms the money saved by such action.

(3) Trade union facilitation of whistleblowing activity which might reveal, for example, where an authority is not meeting a statutory duty.

Britain at its best (and saving employer's time and money)
I could go on, and on, but I am limited for time, and in any case, the TUC (working with NatCen) has calculated that trade union representatives saves employers on average £700m per year: http://www.natcen.ac.uk/our-research/research/the-value-of-trade-union-facility-time/

And,of course, none of the reality - of the actual impact of day-to-day-trade unionism - is acknowledged here, as this is an ideological assault.


The key thought that struck me on listening to Eric Pickles launch the new code on Thursday was how the UK desperately needs a transparency code for the UK's establishment - and by this I mean a toxic mixture of that which composes the state plus the media, sections of the upper class, and sections of the financial services.

Owen Jones visited Ruskin last month to launch his new book, The establishment, and how they get away with it. Although Owen focused largely on the finance sector-Parliamentary nexus, his overall thrust is of how a dense, opaque, pre-historic network predicated on class, power, the media and corruption has disempowered Parliament for centuries and routinely reimagines itself through, for example, the movement away from the selling of Parliamentary seats to the easing of corporation tax bills.

Although Owen's book is new, it was published too late for what I see as a profound insight on the way in which the British establishment has had, and continues to have, a corrosive effect on British public life, in the form of the disastrous attempts to find a chair for the Panel of Inquiry into Historical Child Abuse.

Both appointed chairs to-date, Butler-Sloss and Fiona Woolf, have had to stand down in disgrace when it transpired that their establishment links, either by relation or friendship, had revealed profound conflicts of interest.

The reason why a transparency code is needed for the affairs of the establishment, as exemplified by the scandal of Butler-Sloss and Woolf is that:

(1) In appointing these characters the civil service (a deeply embedded aspect of the establishment themselves) could not of themselves see past the obvious linkages between the appointees and prior government ministers. So entrenched are their lives in this netherworld that simply to belong to it places one beyond reproach.


(2) Woolf claimed not to be able to remember relationships with fellow members of the establishment (the Brittan family) to such an extent that she had to be reminded that she dined at their house and was often seen out with them. Similar to the above point, but when challenged on her links, the hapless Woolf commented that you would have to be a hermit not to have links to prior Home Secretaries, and know their wife, and dine in their home. No, you need only be normal.

(3) On revealing that mistakes had been made in making the appointments the Home Office, rather than holding its hands up, tried to re-write history.

Uh oh, its the establishment! Keep an eye on 'em.
The list is endless, and I must say I enjoyed greatly the squirming of Theresa May when she had to apologise this week for the debacle over which she had presided: http://tinyurl.com/ppfmydl

Of course, the whole debate about the role of the establishment in British society has been discussed for decades. I remember. for example, reading as a student at Ruskin John Scott's 1991 classic Who Rules Britain? on this very issue.

Here is a more recent article of his, but where he explores the same theme of power, domination and the state: http://www.eolss.net/sample-chapters/c04/e6-99a-19.pdf

It is, sadly, unlikely that the British people will ever a version of an establishment transparency code. No doubt MPs and the like would say that Parliament, standards bodies (OFCOM etc.), the media etc., are the transparency code, but the Levenson Inquiry alone proved conclusively, that
no such code exists.


Even today there is further evidence of the need for the establishment code, with the Observers' article evidencing further what we knew already of the deep, sustained collusion between the police and those bodies (Consulting Association etc.) who compiled information (much of it wholly incorrect) which was used for trade union blacklisting: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/nov/08/police-colluded-blacklist-construction-workers-consulting-association-union-activists

So, for now, even though we are under even greater scrutiny than ever, the power of trade unionism is the surest way in which transparency will be demanded and realised in the UK and internationally.

In Solidarity

Ian
 

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Challenges & Opportunities for Organised Labour in the USA

Colleagues,

I spent last week in the US as part of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Empire State College (ESC) New York and Ruskin College. 

The labour studies department of ESC is housed in the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Centre and is one of the oldest and largest providers of labour studies and trade union education in the US. Follow this link for more info: http://www.esc.edu/labor-studies-center/



The MoU will allow Ruskin to learn from ESC's considerable experience of developing and delivering modes of blended and online learning both across the US and internationally. As this work progresses I shall post further items on how blended and online learning is impacting on the ILTUS programme at Ruskin.

In the meantime, I took the opportunity before I left the US to interview my main contact at ESC, Jason Russell (Assistant Professor of Labor Studies and Co-ordinator of the MA in Labor & Labor Policy) in order to gain his expert perspective on the key challenges and opportunities facing organised labour in the US.

The video is below and I hope that you find it a valuable insight on the critical influences on organised labour and where some of the most promising developments are taking place.


In Solidarity

Ian

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Best of Humanity: Ruskin College Graduates

Colleagues,

Today, poet, author and scriptwriter AL Kennedy graced Ruskin with her wonderful literary presence and spoke with passion and beauty of how Ruskin students/graduates are, in her opinion, "the best of humanity".

Kennedy was not being misty-eyed, but actually quite matter-of-fact in recognising that Ruskin's women and men are people of conscience who come to Ruskin with a distinct social purpose and go on to make a profound change in their personal lives, that of their families, their communities and those who they go on to work amongst.

And, even though John Ruskin himself was on record as being against the establishment of Ruskin, I was transfixed when Kennedy relayed her perspective that Ruskin's students could bathe in John Ruskin's dictum of a correlation between truth and beauty. It reminded me of William Morris's similar notion that social progression was for all, and that culture excelled when practiced and engaged with by all classes.

Today was Ruskin's annual graduation event and I was so proud to see students of the BA and MA in international labour and trade union studies graduating today.

The pics below are:

Piotr Plonka (graduating today before the scheduled MA ILTUS graduation next year as he has plans which means he needs his certificate) with my dear colleague Fenella, without whom the ILTUS MA couldn't run.

 
BA ILTUS  '08 cohort graduate Dermott Finn with Peter Dwyer. Dermott wrote an outstanding dissertation on the impact on family's lives of trade union blacklisting
 
 
 
Dermott, Sue Orwin and Carol Kinell of the BA ILTUS '08 cohort. These students have worked SO hard to get to where they are.
 
 
Lisa Birch (left) graduates with her close SPE friend Maureen. Lisa has started in Oct as an MA ILTUS student - she is already a great student!
 
 
 
 
For more pictures please see my Facebook page.
 
In Solidarity
 
Ian