Friday, 16 July 2010

Migrant Labour in Times of Crisis


Can I encourage you all to download and read the latest edition of CLR-News produced by the European Institute for Construction Labour Research:

The Institute comprises a dynamic, authoritative cooperative network of researchers and trade union officers at European level directly engaged in research and trade union activity across the EU.

I was particularly interested in a comment in the latest CLR News (entitled Migrant Workers in a Time of Crisis) which came out of a seminar held in May earlier this year called The economic crisis: a disaster for trade unions or an opportunity for revitalisation?

Ultimately the seminar suggested that the context of the global recession (particular within construction) created relatively greater opportunity for mobilisation and revitalisation.

A suggestion for this conclusion came from the following notion:
Social protest movements have historically intensified at the beginning of an economic upturn, when people realise there are problems with distribution as a result of the inadequacy of the political leadership. Therefore, there is a vital role for trade unions to be involved, and the French are typically exemplary in terms of organising protest movements. (p.60)

An interesting point I thought however, what I remain to feel confident about is the strategic response of the UK labour movement in particular to what is emerging, day-by-day, as a frontal, ideologically-driven assault on not just the public sector, but also trade union rights.

If we are to see a greater propensity for the UK labour movement to engage in what we know are social movements I am very interested in what will act as the drivers and catalysts for this, particularly in the way that we engage with (or construct) a wideranging public resenment toward the fiscal review of public expenditure, with mobilising activity allied to the labour movement.

So, my question generally is, if we agree with the assertion from the CLR seminar, from where does the activity arise that creates the social movement protests to the Con-Dem-induced crisis emerging across the UK?


I am away on holiday to France from 25th July (a country that knows how to organise a strike!) and won't be back until 8th August.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Critical Pedagogy as Trade Union Strategy


I've just been reviewing the July edition of The Shop Steward, journal of COSATU, and have been struck, as always, by the dominant theme of political education and consciousness raising as a critical feature of trade union organising strategy.

See the latest edition of the journal and archive to later editions here:

I've been fortunate over the years to work closely with a number of South African trade unionsists and have been conscious of the extent to which trade union education and political education are synonymous in that country in a way that it no longer is in the UK.

On the COSATU web-site there is a link to the distinct philosophy that underpins the Congress's educational strategy. COSATU places its approach within the context of 'critical pedagogy'. The Wikipedia link provides a definition:

"Habits of thought, reading, writing, and speaking which go beneath surface meaning, first impressions, dominant myths, official pronouncements, traditional clich├ęs, received wisdom, and mere opinions, to understand the deep meaning, root causes, social context, ideology, and personal consequences of any action, event, object, process, organization, experience, text, subject matter, policy, mass media, or discourse."

This pedagogy (approach to teaching) is a core feature of COSATU's political and industrial and I was interested in the way that this feature in two new developments.

The first was in the wording (see p48 of the journal) of a declaration from a mass education conference hosted by COSATU in April and bringing together over 200 community, trade union and political organisations. The event sought to the COSATU 10th Congress Mandate:

(i) to deepen ideological work on a mass base through mass political education and the development of alternative consciousness,
(ii) to advance a programme for transformation of South Africa and the world we live in; and
(iii) for an organisational development and building programme responsive to new realities, and able to build community participation and leadership as part of ensuring maximum unity of the working class.

In order to achieve this, the conference adopted the following declaration:

During the week of 13 – 16 April 2010, we, over 200 delegates from trade unions, labour service organisations and community organisations met in Johannesburg to assess the momentum of class struggle in order to initiate and plan a strong mass education campaign whose primary aim is to raise class consciousness and develop alternative forms of knowledge and struggle in order to build working class power.

The second phenomenon of a deeply politically entrenched attitide to trade union education (see p.47) is in the launch of the SACP/NEWAHU Chris Hani Brigade. The initiative seeks to draw trade union activists into the role of political commisars in the image of the murdered political activist Chris Hani:

The union’s primary aim is to establish a team of national commissars who will continue with the struggle by actively working and educating our society about the socialist principles
that were championed by Cde Hani. These commissars will then in turn, run a similar programme in their respective provinces, supported and guided by the national office.

The educational programme for those selected includes:

1. Introduction to Marxist Theory
2. Introduction to Political Economy
3. The National Democratic Revolution and the struggle for Socialism – what role for trade unions?
4. Capitalism, Patriarchy and women oppression
5. Working Class internationalism
6. Political Economy of Health and Education

As I reflected on just two examples of educational activity of COSATU I pondered the vital role of trade union education in the UK as a direct response to the deeply reactionary political agenda of the coalition.

I know and understand that we cannot simply replicate in the UK the political philisophy of marketedly different economic and political contexts however, what I anxiously wait to see in the UK is the development of a dynamic, rigorous, sophisticated response to the continuity of a neo-liberal agenda that seeks to initially undermine, but ultimately smash trade union organisation as we know it.

The education of trade union activists can and should play a part in such a strategy and I welcome comments on whether, if it all you agree with anything said here and, if yes, what this educational agenda would comprise, and what it would seek to achieve.


Thursday, 1 July 2010



Just wanted to write a note of thanks to all of the current international labour and trade union studies MA students at Ruskin, who have this week completed the Herculean task of getting their dissertations researched, written, and in the for the deadline of 30th June - all 20,000 words!

It has been a true privilege to have worked with these brothers and sisters over their 2 years at Ruskin and I do wish them well in their future work in support of the global trade union movement.

Just so you can put a name to a face they are:

Seated from left: Walton Pantland, Sue Ledwith (previous co-ordinator of MA programme), some odd Mancunian fellah and Carol Jess.

Standing from left: Rick Cottam, Anthony Foster and Linda Delgado.

I am sure these fine trade unionists will now have a well-earned, long summer break!