Sunday, 14 June 2009

Long-Term Measures to Embed Migrant Workers


Have just completed a challenging, lively weekend with the students (pictured) on the MA in International Labour & Trade Union Studies (ILTUS) at Ruskin College, Oxford. The MA was created by Sue Ledwith (pictured centre with blue top) and comprises a fantastic crop of students from across the globe.

One of the topics discussed over the weekend was the trade union response to migration. In particular students were providing feedback on their action research that combined migrant worker interviews. Within this area of work there is a need to consider the long-term measures that unions should adopt to ensure, for example, that these workers are encouraged into positions of leadership/activism.

This will feature in the work in some of the work I will be hopefully engaged in with the GFTU as part of their proposals for funding from the third round of the Union Modernisation Fund (UMF). The focus of UMF III is vulnerable workers and the need to ensure that, aside from activity to reduce/eradicate vulnerability/exploitation, trade unions should seek to work collaboratively with potentially marginalised workers to encourage greater self-organisation, assertion etc.

Naturally this isn't easy work and the UMF projects will operate within challening environments. This work is long-term and will require unions to maintain activity and prioritise this area of work long after UMF funds have gone.

How and where do you think this work needs to start and how do we maintain it?

Your thoughts, as ever, are welcome.




Never Surrender! said...

The British trade union movement is bound to repeat its mistakes. Black and Asian workers in the post-war period had to fight tooth and claw to get unions to organise them and then again to get recognition within trade unions. Even today the groups for black members are attacked as divisive or irrelevant - ironically underlining the vital need for them!

Workers from eastern europe will be the same this time around. Yes, unions have worked hard to recruit some but the majority remain in the hard to reach areas liek agency work.

Those that have been organised will be left, like the bulk of trade union members to fester. Leaders dont want asssertive members despite your claims. Why would they?

We must though use own own separate efforts to help thse workers to mobilise and make the same demands as other immigrant workers from decades and centuries ago.

Paulski said...

Never Surrender:

Point taken on the issue of marginalised workers & the capacity / will of the official TU movement to reach them. The argument could be developed to criticise the capacity / will of Our Great Movement to organise, as a broad & consolidated base, the whole working class. "Organise the Unemployed", perhaps? Anyone fancy a bit of syndicalism?

Not holding my breath....

Ian Manborde said...


Very good point and one which suggests (certainly in the post-war era) a greater reluctance to organise more broadly and industially. Only beacuse of the recession for example, are we revisiting the need to maintain TU membership amongst the unemployed. Ironic that at many of the old unemployed workers centres withered under new labour only to find that we need them more now than ever!

As for syndicalism - where do I sign up!

Many thanks for your contribution

SUNNY said...


There is some pessimistic comments here - cant trade unions change?

You have commented before on some very good work by trade unions in organising migrant workers. This is a good start and yes more needs to be done.

To right off the movement doesnt get us anywhere.

Hope keeps us going - dont lose sight of that!


Ian Manborde said...

Hi Sunny,

Good to hear from you and thanks for the comment.

I'd like to think that I generally retain my optimism and my generally hopeful outlook.

You are right, I have commented before on the relative strengths and weaknesses of TU approaches to working with vulnerable workers - and in particuar migrants.

You are right, some very good work has taken place.

My comments around the future role/position of migrant workers in UK TU's however is predicated on historical examples of resistance and intransigence - not a view that history will necessarily repeat itself.

Indeed, I hope that the UMF projects around the issue of vulnerable workers will help shape TU strategy here in a way that no other catalyst has previously.

My optimistic view is that TUs can and should think on a lon-term strategic basis about their position via vulnerable workers - not least to counter the rise of the BNP on the back of the British Jobs for British Workers campaign.

Hope to meet up soon - I am at Esher on several occasions in July.

Best wishes


TGWU Rep said...

I agree with the fella before you.

The T&G (sadly supposedly called 'UNITE' these days - what a joke!) has a mixed history or organising black workers but also in the 50-60s opposing their integration onto buses and tube etc. But then had Bill Morris as Gen Sec - not a bad outcome from a history of outright racism in the T&G eh?

Hold your head up Ian, not not down - you'll see more that way.

ShopSteward85 said...

There is probably a middle ground here.

Unions will organise anyone these days.

Some will stay in membership and (slowly) rise through the ranks.

It will take longer (as has always been the case for nonblokes and nonwhites) for newer groups to emerge.

The movement will continue to shrink and refine itself.