Friday, 27 November 2009

Neil Kearney: A Life on the Frontline


The sad, untimely death of Neil Kearney, General Secretary of the International Tailor, Leather & Garment Workers' Union, is being mourned right across the global labour movement.

I remember Neil in particular through my work as a young trade union studies tutor with what was then KFAT (now part of COMMUNITY) and of the work that he was spearheading challenging the use of child labourers in clothing manufacture in Bangladesh.

Indeed, his impact, particularly in Bangladesh, through the pioneering creation of international framework agreements (IFA) to create a minimum floor of labour standards, based on ILO core labur standards, has resulted in the national declaration of three days of mourning in Bangladesh in the clothing sector.

On the front page of the ITLGW web-site the dedication to Neil reads:

Neil died of a heart attack in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in the early hours of Thursday November 19. He was 59.Neil was a brilliant and passionate defender of the rights of workers who was equally at home negotiating at the highest level or talking with workers on the factory floor. In his 21 years at the head of the ITGLWF, Neil brought tireless energy and commitment to his work. Despite the pressures he faced and the scope of the problems he tackled, his sense of humour was never far away. He was an inspiration to all who knew him. With Neil’s death we lose an excellent General Secretary, a loyal colleague and a good friend.At this very sad time the thoughts of the ITGLWF and its members are with Neil’s wife Jutta and his two daughters Nicole and Caroline.More details on the funeral and the upcoming World Congress will be circulated shortly.

For those who hadn't met Neil before there's a really good YouTube clip (one amongst a large number) that gives a really good portrayal of the person and of the values that drove him:

Neil will be greatly missed but at the same time he is someone who, working with grasroots trade union and political activists, will be remembered as central to the fight to place some of the most marginalised and exploited workers on the forefront of trade union campaigning and organising activity.

I am sure that Neil would have agreed with the famous last words words of Joe Hill who famously said before his death, 'don't mourn, organise!'.

Any comments/memories on the work of Neil that you are familiar with are welcome. Please do also add any comments/condolences to the ITLGW web-site (



Sunday, 22 November 2009

A New Regime of Subordination


This weekend I attended the 6th Critical Labour Studies symposium. The symposium this year had the title Crisis what Crisis: Forward to the Past? and brought together a first class range of speakers who focused on topics ranging from trade union responses to lean production in the UK car industry to the challenges of undertaking research around migration.

You can read further information about the Critical Labour Studies network at you can also register for e-mail updates at:

A summary of the work of the network:

Through CLS we have developed an open working group and discussion forum that engages with many of the challenges facing researchers and trade unionists within the current environment of work and employment. By 'labour', we anticipate, in the traditions of radical researchers over the ages, a broad understanding of myriad social, economic and political agendas.

I particularly enjoyed the discussion around the launch of a new book (pictured) which charted to trade union response to the introduction of lean production techniques in UK car manufacturing. The speakers Tony Richardson and Ken Murphy (ex and current car workers and TU activists) and Paul Stewart (Strathclyde Uni) presented an engaging analysis of how the trade union movement around car manufacturing had interpreted the distinct aspects of the emerging production regime and attempted to limit its most damaging aspects.

The book was launched last week at the BMW plant at Cowley, Oxford and can be bought from Pluto Press (for an extremely reasonable £15). Follow this link to purchase the book:

I took the title for this post from the introduction to the book which essentially presents lean production as yet another exploitative framework from which workers are expected (as Ken Murphy stated) to 'give more for less'.

Interestingly, just prior to the session on the book the conference focus was on the introduction of lean managment methods within revenue and customs offices within the UK.

From a purely personal perspective I contributed to both discussions from the viewpoint that current education methodologies adopted by many trade unions limited (or explicitly excluded) the oppotunity for new trade union reps to develop a sufficient political consciousness to interpret and analyse these developments and so make historical and global connections.

The event was definitely one of those that I would strongly encourage colleagues to attend who want to engage in debate on topics that are thoughtfully presented and which pose key challenges/opportunities to the future of organised labour.

No question this time, just wanted to encourage interest in CLS and the new book.



Sunday, 15 November 2009

Strengthening Black Worker's Self-Organisation


Just back from a brilliant few days with a fantastic group of UNISON reps who were attending the West Midlands Black Members' Self-Organised Group Weekend School in Birmingham.

Everyone who attended launched themselves straight into the core theme of the weekend which was a focus on how to develop and run short workshops aimed at organising black workers.

This was definitely one of those weekends where trade union reps left with a sense of both achievment and also a strong urgency to get things done.

I was keen to capture some of this focus and energy by putting a few of the pictures from the weekend school onto the blog.

The outcomes from this weekend go forward to the groups AGM at the end of the month and all being well during 2010 small groups of black activists will start to run branch-based educational workshops that will continue to build on black worker's self-organisation within UNISON.

Many thanks to all of the reps who attended the weekend school and to Pearline Parker-Loney who is the group's support officer and regional officer with UNISON in the West Midlands.



Tuesday, 10 November 2009

The Future of Union Organising?


This weekend I meet up again with the current MA (international labour and trade union studies) students at Ruskin. A highly dynamic, lively bunch who are getting on with their dissertations as they start year 2 of their study.

A quick plug for the MA as I am currently recruiting for the October 2010 intake. More info at:

Given the global context of the MA and its focus on the future of organised labour I'll be introducing students to the newly published (Aug 09) collection of essays on the future of union organising. The new book has been edited by Gregor Gall, Research Professor of Industrial Relations and Director of the Centre for Research in Employment Studies at the University of Hertfordshire.

The author has featured a few times in my blog given his excellent coverage of, amongst others, the Lindsey Oil Refinery Dispute and his more recent focus on the postal workers dispute.

His latest book is well worth a read and provides a fantastic (predominantly European) snapshot of organising strategies. Some of the issues covered are, from my point of view, a bit old hat and present nothing radically new e.g. social partnership in Ireland.

Of more interest to me however, was the final piece which examined more recent efforts to organise young workers in supermarkets.

Overall the new book is well worth a read. The full list of articles is

Union Organising Past, Present and Future--G.Gall
Union Organising in the US: New Tactics, Old Barriers--K.Moody
Opening Pandora's Box: The Paradox of Institutionalised Organising--S.Cohen
Social Partnership and Union Revitalisation: The Irish Case--K.Allen
Union Organising in the Netherlands: A Combination of Organising and Servicing Strategies--M.van Klaveren &--W.Sprenger
Reinvention of Activism: A Chance for Union Renewal in New Market Economies? The Case of Poland--A.Mrozowicki, V.Pulignano &--G.van Hootegem
The Servicing Organising Community Continuum: Where are Australian Unions Today?--M.Jerrard, S.Cockfield &--D.Buttigieg
Labour Union Strategies in the European Union Steel Sector--D.Stroud &--P.Fairbrother CleanStart: Fighting for a Fair Deal for Cleaners--M.Crosby
Organising Immigrants: State Policy and Union Organising Tactics in the Republic of Ireland--M.Gonzalez-Perez, T.Dundon &--T.McDonough
Union Organising with Old and New Industrial Relations Actors: Sex Workers in Australia and the United States--G.Gall
Reconstructing Construction Unionism: Beyond Top-down and Bottom-up--D.Belman &--A.Smith
Contrasts and Contradictions in Union Organising: The Irish Mushroom Industry--F.Arqueros-Fernndez
Union Renewal and Young People: Some Positive Indications from British Supermarkets--I.Byford

As you read through the articles there is clearly some radical solutions being applied in non-traditional sectors. Do you think your workplace/sector has an interesting story to tell of the way in which you have recruited/retained groups of workers?

As usual, all contributions welcome.



Sunday, 1 November 2009

An Early Warning


Can I encourage you to visit the Unions Together website ( and sign the online petition which is sharing details of an exposure of the Tory's intentions in relations to industrial action ballots should they win the next general election?

In an article in The Guardian on 29th October the plans are revealed as an aspect of the Conservatives' comments on the current CWU dispute with Royal Mail. The article state:

The Tories are looking at introducing laws setting new minimum turnout thresholds for strike ballots on the basis that they can only be lawful disputes if a majority of those being called out on strike have voted for it in a ballot. In the case of the Royal Mail dispute there was a clear majority for the strike among those voting, but not among the total workforce.

The full article is at:

Clearly the article (based partly on comments by Ken Clark - shadow BIS Secretary) illustrate the way in which the Tories have been critically determining their anti-union agenda whilst in opposition and attempting to undermine, amongst other areas of our organisation, trade union democracy.

The fact that many of the hurdles over which trade unions must jump are relics of Thatcherite dogma is a perverse illustration of the desperate desire on the part of sons and daughters of Thatcher to carry on her work.

No question is being asked this time round (although please do comment), can you instead please sign the Unions Together petition and spread the word ?