Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The Response of Labour in the Economic Crisis


I have just returned from a fantastic few days with students and teaching staff of the Global Labour University (GLU). The GLU held its annual summer school in Berlin which was billed as:

Former GLU students (alumni) are cordially invited to participate in the third GLU Alumni Summer School, organised jointly by the University of Kassel and the Berlin School of Economics and Law. The GLU summer school will bring together GLU alumni and current GLU students, as well as professors and trade union experts from the GLU network. The summer school is intended to strengthen the network links between GLU alumni and to explore possibilities for future research collaboration. The main theme of presentations & discussions will be about the Current Financial and Economic Crisis and Labour Responses.

The GLU is a highly innovative concept (students pictured above) offering masters level educational opportunity (just as at Ruskin College) at four partner institutions in South Africa, Brazil, India and Germany.

There is more info on the GLU at

You can view the GLU summer conference programme at:

The summer conference offered a highly challenging, stimulating range of presentations all of which provided a perspective on labour and trade union responses to the financial and economic crises. Clearly the evidence to-date suggests a degree of both rationality, for example in the BALPA shares-for-pay deal with British Airways and innovation for example in the deal brokered by the Opel works council in Germany (part of the summer conference) to protect jobs by reducing hours.

A contentious point within all of the debate however, was the degree to which trade unions should be proposing significantly alternative economic models to capitalism or just defending their place within the current malaise. Naturally an issue here is the degree of trade union significance in proposing the former, but also the degree of bargaining influence potentially lost in accommodating the latter.

So, a question here is, to what degree should trade unions support, or not, attempts by the state, employers etc., to shore up their position within the global economic downturn or is now time to turn the screw?



Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Responding to the 'C' Word


Just back from a few days at the TUC in Liverpool, leaving only after I'd caught Gordon Brown's speech to Congress yesterday afternoon.

Surveying the press this morning it's clear that the movement is taking markedly different positions in response to the statements about cuts in public expenditure with, not surprisingly, those unions affiliated to the party, attempting to spin some degree of positivism out of his statement.

First of the block were PCS with a suggestion that they may go to court to challenge Brown's proposals to make it easy to dismiss civil servants and so cut down on the central government redundancy bill. In typical combative style Mark Serwotka stated that the union would "be taking legal action in the courts about the robbery of people's rights and we will be calling every single member in this country to take industrial action."

In the other corner though Paul Kenny, Dave Prentis and Derek Simpson all commented more positively on a speech that, they argued, ring-fenced frontline services and gave a commitment to increase jobs.

Overall Brown didn't reveal anyting that delegates weren't expecting and as such there wasn't the walkout from the usual suspects as soon as he started to mention the dreaded 'c' word.

In truth however, and certainly in the period in the run up to the general election, the relationship between the party and the trade union movemement will be tense as we rightly try and place a stake on clear commitments to, for example, further reform within financial services, jobs growth and protection for vulnerable groups within the economy if Brown's prescriptions yesterday are to become manifesto commitments.

This is of course against the backdrop of polling evidence in most of the major unions that a majority of members will not be voting labour. If this is indeed the case, is there time to turn their views around and to consolidate broad trade union support for a fourth term?

Your views, as ever are welcome.



Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Building a Co-operative Economy


I do hope you had a good break over August. I am just back from a fantastic family holiday in Egypt and here is a picture of me quad biking in the Sinai Desert. Extremely adventurous for me to be doing this, but my daughters Ruby and Isabella threw down the challenge and I am more scared of them than I am of falling such a piece of machinery!

As usual plenty to blog about and this weekend I am contributing to the annual event for the UK Society for Co-operative Studies - more info at:

The blurb for the event states:

This year's conference provides an opportunity to reflect on the impact of the unfolding global financial crisis and domestic economic recession on the Co-operative Movement. It will also be a chance to relate these debates to developments such as the launch of the Third Sector Research Centre in the UK and the work of the Commission for Co-operative and Mutual Housing. As our conference will be following the International Co-operative Alliance's research conference in Oxford earlier in the week, this year's research roundtable will have an international flavour.

You may remember that in May this year I blogged about an event I jointly organised between Ruskin College, Unions21 and Coops UK which sought to rejuvenate the historical links between the trade union and cooperative movements through an exploration of modern methods to support employee ownership options for running businesses and social enterprises.

The event this weekend also examines this potential through the session I will contribute to and which is called Public Policy – Towards a Co-operative Commonwealth?

The idea of employee ownership is still a highly contentious one for the labour movement and as the May event demonstrated there is little room for debate around this from, for example, some trade union's perspective in the context of privatisation and externalisation.

Still, as employers seek alternative options to engage employees in share ownership as an alternative to increased remuneration, as with the recent agreement with BA and BALPA, and others like GM transfer stock to the UAW, it is essential that these developments are explored and understood to better support the potential for change in the economic policy of trade unions.

It is not simply enough as trade unions, particularly in the UK, have done in the past to simply ignore economic, social and political trends and assume that to do nothing is an option.

Or am I wrong, and is it heresy to suggest that workers, like those of the John Lewis Partnership, should own shares, and/or control corporate policy, in the organisations they work for?

A good, controversial topic to kick off the new academic year!