Sunday, 7 December 2008

What Future for Union Learning?


Another great week on the TU education front starting off with 3 days at the T&G centre in Eastbourne delivering the National Association of Probation Officer's ULR course (pictured) and then finishing off with a new reps course for the Association of Educational Psychologists (AEP). Two fantastic unions that I do really enjoy working with.

An interesting debate always arises during the ULR courses about the future of government-funded initiatives like the Union Learning Fund (ULF) either under another New Labour government or the Tories.

The Tories did threaten to close the ULF down on day one should they have won the last general election so it may be safe to suggest what the ULF's future should Cameron win next time around. Having said that though unionlearn did make an appearance at the Tory conference in '07 (were they there this year anyone?) and there is nothing to suggest that the Tories have a huge problem with initiatives like Train to Gain etc.

Leaving that aside however, the debates arising from courses like the ULR one is what future the legacy of funding from New Labour has left the movement. There is some very good analysis of what the relationship between the government and the movement has meant from highly reputable sources like Gary Morton. See his profile at:

Please read his essay (written in collaboration with Paul Smith) posted on the Union Ideas Network site: Nine Years’ New Labour: Neo-liberalism and Workers’ Rights

Gary's analysis of how TU's have not fully benefited from mainstream New Labour policy is well worth reading and discussing with other colleagues. I do not necessarily prescribe to everything he says however, he does address the long-term fallout from the relationship from a pro-trade union perspective.

In dissecting the essay an interesting question emerges about the sustainability of the partnership model that has been keen to initiatives like the ULF and Union Modernisation Fund (UMF). Gary is sceptical that it will last once the cash has gone.

Your thoughts?




Sunny said...

Hi Ian,

Many thanks again for the BNP membership list link - I've had a great time winding up a variety of fascists!

In terms of this post I haven't given any thought to the concept a post-New Labour relationships with the employer.

In my workplace there is no notion of partnership anyway. Even if there was it would, as Morton suggests, just be illusory and time-limited in some way to cash or an agreement.

Much better I think to simply understand the conflictual nature of the TU relationshp with the employer and get on as best you can.



Ian Manborde said...

Hi Sunny,

Glad to hear that you have been harassing Nazis!

Thanks for your input around the discussion.

I can understand your position here as a member of a large bureaucratic union I have known many reps to feel cut off from regional and national activity - and like you being happy to get on with work at the 'coal face'.

Once of the downsides though is then the lack of accountability on the part of those who got elected on very low turn-outs and the concept thereafter of the 'democratic deficit'.

Working with a particular region of X union (I better not name it as I work regularly for it!) I know of a regional officer who is consistently reminder branch activists of their need to get involved in elections for posts of the regional council.

This is largely because, in his view, a highly select and largely unrepresentative clique, have maintained a stranglehold on the decision-making.

I do understand your view of getting on 'as best you can' but surely trade union activity is wider than just the workplace?

It's not for me though to tell you how to carry out your role - although we have had some useful discussions in the classroom - but I would caution against an instinct to withdraw from wider activity in your union just because you aren't being invited to.

Please let me know what you think about that I've said.



cider said...

I have read the article you highlight before and was doubtful about the political position of the authors.

I tend to be cautious of the views of those who are 'practitioners' rather than activists as they have the comfort of taking a back seat on workplace developments and are allowed a breather enabling them to order their thoughts.

Like your first man I really do not spend too much time analysing the political-industrial relationship.

I find political and trade union leaders so far removed from the realities of the real world that regardless of any new models of partnership between the two there is little actual effect in the workplace.

Where I do agree with the essay is where it states that we should legislate less on the position of trade unions as it enshrines our ineligibility as natural players in the workplace - and to leave it up to unions to to hammer issues out with the employer.

Ian Manborde said...


Many thanks for your input.

I tend to think that my response to your feedback is similar to that of Sunny's.

In that whilst I appreciate you primarily construct your perspective of trade union activity within the context of your workplace - you allow people at certain levels within your trade union free reign to do whatver they like; unopposed.

There is a distinct political philosophy which argues that if you can put off the people that do the real work and disempower them from asking questions, voting in elections etc. that soon there is an unnacountable 'elite' which emerges and acts with impunity.

I can't believe that is the state of affairs you really want in the British trade union movement?

Please let me know what you think about what I've said.



TGWU Rep said...


I can see all the points being made here but I am going to join the side (surprise, surprise) of the other reps.

It's easy to say that unaccountable people sit on committees and they should be challenged but that can take serious time and effort. politically also it isn't a wise thing to do depending on who you are going against.

Things are bad enough at work without having a war with regional officers and committee people.