Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Ma nitkellimx bil-Malti


Just a brief item before I head off for a week of sunshine (hopefully) and (some) rest in Malta with my family.

All being well I'll also be meeting colleagues from the General Workers Union ( and labour studies department at the University of Malta (

The image posted with this item is of the GWU symbol on the first class stamp printed in 1983 to mark the 40 year anniversary of the formation of the island's largest union.

The historical development of the labour movement in Malta mirrors that of the UK given the strong historical links and is definitely worth investigation - send me an e-mail and I can send some reading.

Will post a new item when back.



PS The title of this post translates to 'I don't speak Maltese' as this has to be one of most difficult languages to read let alone speak, although I will be giving it a go. As stated in the Encyclopædia Britannica Maltese is the Semitic language of the Southern Central group spoken on the island of Malta. Maltese developed from a dialect of Arabic and is closely related to the western Arabic dialects of Algeria and Tunisia. Strongly influenced by the Italian dialect spoken in Sicily, Maltese is the only form of Arabic to be written in the Latin alphabet.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

There is Power in a Union


A friend of mine has recently brought this new book (published in September last year) to my attention. To my shame I wasn't aware that it had been published but on reviewing it found it to be one of the most readable and honest books on the development of the labour movement in the US - of which there are hundreds.

To save time (forgive me for this) in doing the book justice I have lifted the book's review from the UCS bookstore - from where all good trade unionists should buy a copy:

This sympathetic, thoughtful and highly readable history of the American labor movement traces unionism from the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts in the 1820s to organized labor’s decline in the 1980s and struggle for survival and growth today.

Philip Dray’s ambition is to show us the vital accomplishments of unionism over the past 200 years and illuminate its central role in our social, political, economic, and cultural evolution. There Is Power in a Union is an epic, character-driven narrative that locates this struggle for security and dignity in all its various settings: on picket lines and in union halls, jails, assembly lines, corporate boardrooms, the courts, the halls of Congress, and the White House.

The author demonstrates, viscerally and dramatically, the urgency of the fight for fairness and economic democracy — a struggle that remains especially urgent today, when ordinary Americans are so anxious and beset by economic woes at the hands of employer greed and a new global capitalism that threatens to create a permanent underclass. He notes that security of full-time employees is also threatened in the new 24-hours-a-day workplace dominated by computers and e-mail, which he calls "the electronic collar." Illustrated with dozens of photos, posters and more.

"The unending struggle between unions and big business has never been more vividly told. Philip Dray is a marvelous storyteller who brings history memorably alive, and you will not soon forget the tales of murder and greed, commitment and sacrifice that fill these pages. But this is more than history; the compelling saga of labor as a crucible for social change should prompt some honest and hard debate about what’s happening to workingmen and -women today."


Friday, 4 February 2011

The Slippery Slope Starts Here

With the formal start of the Government's consultation exercise on 'reforming' the process for resolving workplace disputes the sledgehammer is just about to swing on the weak framework of employment rights that UK workers have in comparison to our brothers and sisters on the Continent.

If you look at the consultation paperwork ( it is no suprise that the Tories have cast this assult on rights within the context of their own austerity measures and, as a result, they wish to
'remove barriers to growth and job creation'.

It beggar's belief that the Tories retain their ideological assumption that a weakening of employment protection = an increase in employment within the economy. This was the same assumption that decried the introduction of the minimum wage (a downward pressure on wages and mass unemployment the lunatics cried) and instead we saw an increase in employemnt and a flattening of wage variance at the lower end of the labour force.

One of the more worrying features of their proposals is the extension back to two years of the qualifying period for the right to take to Employment Tribunal a claim of unfair dismissal. The consultation documents delights in the fact that such a change would result in
'3,700-4,700 fewer claims being made to tribunal' and what of the legitimate claims of unfair dismissal within this number who will fall foul of the change?

The Tories (as it is they who control the government and the attack dogs here) are clear that they will continue, perhaps at even greater a pace than Gordon Brown, the neo-liberal assault on social and welfare protection within the British economy.

As the labour movement prepares for industrial action this year we can expect a new wave of 'reform' that will bite deeply into our capacity and capability to organise and respond to the large scale assult on the public sector and standards in British society generally. We have to resist this in any way we can.

Please take the time to read the consultation document and make sure that your trade union is providing a response. Your general thoughts on this piece are also welcome.