Monday, 20 December 2010

A Winter of Discontent - or not?


On the same day that a number of trade union leaders are meeting Cameron at No. 10 to threaten, amongst other things, a programme of industrial action during 2011, I have just issued a press release (in my role as Projects Officer at the General Federation of Trade Unions) to announce a major European transnational project which will promote alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms - is this good or poor timing?

The background to the GFTU's initiative is the increasing workplace tension across the EU caused as a result of governmental austerity measures and employer belt-tightening in the face of the recession.

Naturally, as witnessed in Greece, France, Ireland etc., workers have taken to the streets and at the same time there has been an increase in the volume of workplace disputes resolved without recourse to court settlement.

A very useful snapshot on the rise of ADR was produced by the European Foundation for the Improvement in Living & Working Conditions (EUROFOUND) last year, and written by John Purcell at the Industrial Relations Research Unit (IRRU) at Warwick Univ:

Although there are some understandable variances in the approaches used by European trade unions to indsutrial action and to ADR itself the report concluded:

There is some evidence to suggest that attitudes to the use of ADR in individual labour or employment disputes are becoming more positive. In the last 10 years, 15 countries have seen initiatives of some sort in ADR. Trade unions are generally in favour of ADR, while employer organisations in most countries now support it and governments increasingly view ADR as a cost-effective and speedy alternative to court proceedings. It is suggested in some quarters that lawyers and judges are less enthusiastic about ADR, while others contend that it is the judges who are pioneering forms of pre-hearing mediation. All of these findings suggest that there is likely to be an increased take-up of ADR in the future.

Perhaps this is the reason that the GFTU has been awarded the funding by the European Commission, but a starker truth is that the industrial relations scene in the UK is set to become relatively bleak, and that any measure that encourages employers to settle disputes is no bad thing.

As Bob Crow has been quoted today as saying in reference to Len McCluskey's call for strike action:

"Len McCluskey is spot on. We need co-ordinated action, and a social and political movement that mirrors the anti-poll tax campaign if we are to turn the tide on the fiscal fascism of this ConDem government."

Full story:

Whether ADR is sufficient to respond to the growing crisis in the UK remains to be seen, but anyone who would like more information on the project is welcome to get in touch. Please send an e-mail to me:


Jas said...

Hello Ian,

On first read of this piece it looked like you were attempting to force unions across Europe to avert from strike action as a tactice in the recesssion.

On a second reading though (you'll be pleased to see that I won't be calling you a conservative reactionay - or not today at least!) I can see that the project aims to provide TUs with the skills to get employers to understand the implications of strike action as part of a wider brief of improving conciliation skills.

I noticed that ACAS recently lambasted some TU FTOs for not understanding the basics of mediation/conciliation and so a project like this will be of help partic in the UK.

Good luck with the prject and I hope you enjoy Christmas.


Val said...


I am intrigued by the sound of the new GFTU project, I'd be grateful for more details please.

Although I am generally interested in improving my arbitration skills I do personally think that if we face significant challenges in the workplace over the next few years it is to the advantage of members if we can keep negotiations going for as long as possible.

It is all very well for people like Crow and McCluskey to bang their drums about strikes but, will members want this and, where their unions are reliant on other unions for the development of a united front, will they gain their support?

Trade union strategy in the UK must have a greater coherence/relevance in the context of the recession and the GFTU project may aid this.

Hope you have a good Xmas and hope to see you at Wortley, Northern, Eastbourne etc. soon.


Ian Manborde said...

Hello Jas/Val,

Many thanks for not seeing the GFTU project from a reactionary knee-jerk anti-strike perspective.

As you both state the GFTU approach is to purposively push forward the abilities and capacity of trade union negotiators to accurately articulate the postion of a workforce based on an acute understanding of the relevance of arbitration in increasingly tense employment situations.

The GFTU seeks to aid the work of its affiliates through initiatives like this. Ultimately the trade unions we work with will decide how they apply new skills/knowledge in the contexts that they operate in - much like the outcomes of every project I have been involved in.

Pushing the boundaries and extending knowledge and expertise is what we do well at the GFTU.

Please send me an e-mail ( and I can send a detailed project outline and register you for periodic e-mail alerts.

Hope you both have a good Xmas break!


Jenni Ashton said...


I tend to think that people like McCluskey and Crow are in cloud cuckoo land when they talk boldy all trade unions jointly and uniformly being able to replicate anything like the tremendous, sometimes spontaneous student protests.

For a start the student protests are not shrouded in the same kind of statutory straightjacket that TUs are and, most importantly, I would ask whether the same combination of will and anger exists amongst workers?

Even if it does will it crystalise into a 'yes' vote for industrial action and even if so, for how long?

Very interestingly I noticed that the ASLEF ballot for action with London Midland drivers was stopped via High Court injunction yesterday - yet another way to neuter trade union protest even when the members do vote for strike action.

I am in no way defeatist, I feel though I am being more realistic. Why is why I think the GFTU's new project can inject some degree of pragmatism and realism into trade union bargaining in the current economic context.

Good luck with this Ian and I look forward to seeing you at some point in the New Year. Perhaps on the TUC demo on 26th March?

Best wishes for Xmas.


Pete Eden said...


This new project smells suspiciosuly of EU money attempting dangerously to subvert the natural instincts of organised labour to revolt at a time of extreme assaults of workers' living standards - correct?

I have no doubt that you might dress this up as something else, perhaps an attempt to ameloriate the inherent conservatism of some in the European trade union movement perhaps.

What puzzles me though is how, at a time of great opportunity to mobilise different elements of British society under attack from the ConDems you would chose to take the soft route of keeping angry workers off the streets?

Some might say that this is another example of the snout in the EU gravy train, not me though Ian, I like you too much!

Hope you have a good Xmas comrade.


Ian Manborde said...

Hello Pete,

And many thanks for your comment on the GFTU new project.

I haven't heard from you for a while, but I suppose it's no coincidence that are your adopting the guise of Scrooge at this time of year.

I think the prior comments deal uniquely with the spirit and intent of the new GFTU project and so I'll leave you to ponder the future of trade unionism across Europe whilst others get on with the work of ensuring that labour movements continue to represent the interests of workers in the face of the harshest economic climate since the last recession.

Happy Xmas