Thursday, 29 January 2009

Losing the Plot


This week Iceland's bumbling Prime Minister quietly slid from office not least as a result of a fear for his skin arising from the increasingly hostile crowds congregating outside his chilly office.

In his stead strides Johanna Sigurdardottir (pictured) who Fidel Castro-style claimed in 1994 having lost a party leadership election "My time will come".

So far so good. What has incensed me however, was that in this transition just about every news item on the matter focused primarily on the fact that Johanna was openly gay and had previously been a flight attendant. See:

Apart from the fact that no prior level of qualification, experience, talent etc. has shown itself useful in successfully avoiding the current global economic crisis, what has here sexual orientation got to do with anything?

Just as worrying is a finding from research I am conducting with colleagues from the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) and Ruskin College. In a surveying exercise a noteable degree of resentment and hostility was expressed toward a very basic question (I think) around the sexual orientation of respondents. Survey respondents were trade union activists and officials.

Am I losing the plot?

Although I resent the admission, I acknowledge that the many parts of society are still uncomfortable with gay and lesbian people and relationships. I also work with enough trade unions and trade union activists to have come across statements and 'jokes' that aren't just offensive but potentially criminal.

Leaving Iceland to one side, how do we move forward in addressing the ignorance and intolerance within our own ranks?



Sunday, 25 January 2009

Thompsons Weekly Labour & European Law Report


From January I will be contributing a quarterly column to the weekly edition of Thompsons Weekly Labour & European Law Report. You can view the latest edition and sign up for the e-version by going to:

My column will provide a short, topical focus on an employment law matter of direct interest to trade union representatives. The first is a focus on the ACAS consultation on paid time off for trade union reps.

I'll place a link to the latest version at some point on the blog. In the meantime please wait for number 101 of the LELR (29 January) to be published to read my article.

Any comments on what I have written and ideas for future editions are welcome.



Friday, 16 January 2009

Trade Union Humanitarian Assistance for Gaza


Can I urgently ask you to support the TUC's current Give for Gaza campaign. You can donate online and get further information at:

The global labour movement response has been overwhelming and the image here shows the ITUC co-ordinated first shipment of supplies to Gaza via Egypt being shipped on 9th January.

The ITUC reported that:

The first humanitarian flight, on a plane made available by Royal Jordanian Airways, arrived yesterday afternoon at Al-Areesh airport in Egypt, near to the border with Gaza. The cargo, including three ambulances, a range of medical supplies, milk for babies, rice, wheat and children’s food, will be distributed inside Gaza by the Red Crescent. The aid consignment was the first delivery under the appeal made by the ITUC, ITF, the GFJTU Jordan and the PGFTU Palestine.

Give what you can colleagues or better still organise a whip-round at work and/or ask your trade union branch, region or nationally to make a donation.

No need for a discussion or debate about this item.

Many thanks


Thursday, 8 January 2009

ACAS Consulation on Time Off for TU Duties


You have until 16th March to comment on the revised code of practice that will govern your new rights to time off to carry out your trade union duties.

The last amendments were made in 2003 and the consultation document offers up some useful changes e.g. the opportunity for equality and environmental reps to at least be recognised as distinct reps in their won right although the consultation document doesn't go as far as deeming them bona fide 'statutory reps'.

More controversially however is the greater recognition of non-union reps of the kind that can be appointed under the European Works Council regulations and the even more H&S slippery ones who can be appointed for the purposes of health and safety 'consultation'.

I don't need to stress the potential significance of any changes that arise from the amended code of practice and legislation that will be enacted so please do have a look ( at the consultation document and find out if your union is submitting a response as you can bet your life that the CBI, IoD and other ne'er do wells will do.

The question for this posted item is what change to the existing statutory rights would you want to see implemented?

Many thanks


Saturday, 3 January 2009

A Workers Right to Organise: Lessons from America

Dear Colleagues,

A happy new year to you all!

I am very pleased to kick off this year's blog with a story that updates a previous post last year about the fantastic organising activity undertaken by the newly formed Starbucks Workers Union ( which has been formed as a local (or branch to UK colleagues) of the mighty Industrial Workers of the World (

There are a variety of excellent You Tube clips (e.g. which document the background to this story and which illustrate vividly how best to grow a campaign that sought to capitalise on the failure of a corporation's ethical stance and used this as an inititiative to radicalise and organise predominantly younger workers.

The latest news from the US ( is that the new workers' union is proving able to resist the corporations attempts to retrench their position and outflank the new union.

What's great about this story is that it thoroughly trashes any notion that economic depression neutralises the will and capacity of workers (particularly the young) to unionise and that even in a country with a relatively weakened statutory framework of protection for workers there is still the potential to beat corporate interests in the courtroom as well as the workplace.

I am also intrigued by this story as it runs parallel to those which question what the relationship will be between the Obama and organised labour under the new administration. Much is made, for example, of the concessions wrung out of the United Autoworkers of America ( in supporting the bail-out given to the consortium of car manufacturers. The trend, some suggest, is that Obama may find it difficult the premiums given to 'union jobs' within straightened economic times. Regardless of this however, the vast majority of unions in the US backed Obama and will naturally expect some form on concessions out of the first administration.

A good start then to 2009 and I hope we can maintain this trajectory.

The question I'd like to ask though is how can we in the UK recreate the Starbucks effect?

Answers and comments as usual please.