Friday, 30 September 2011

A Leader Insider of Her: A Response to Child Labour

"You could say that a significant part of who I am comes from being in this organization," she says. "I learned how to value what’ around me, how to respect others, trust in my compaƱeros, and always take into account everyone’s opinion and make sure everyone is heard.

I’ve learned how to always keep moving forward even when there are obstacles in my way. I’ve learned to never give up what you are trying to achieve…The other girls in the organization are great leaders.

Each one has a leader inside of her. We girls are always the most active. We are more interested in politics and are always at the head of the organization."

This statement is from Ana Guadalupe Perez Rosas. She is a 16 year old domestic worker from Bolivia. More importantly, Ana is President of the La Paz chapter of the national child worker union, UNATSBO.

Noemi Guiterrez is the coordinator for CONNATSOP, the Potosi Council of Organized Child Workers also in Bolivia. Having started her working life at 12, and now 17, she is clear about the path the Bolivian government should take to eradicate child labour.

"Everyone says that kids shouldn’t work, but they are not taking into account the economic reality in this country," Noemi said. "Sure, if we were all well off, none of us would have to work. But rather than thinking rationally, the government only says we need to eradicate child labor. I say, they ought to eradicate poverty first."

I have taken these two examples from a lengthier story on the WBEZ web-site:

The storty brings together an impressive array of voices of girls and young women who have either collectivised their interests independently or worked with established labour movement organisations.

What is happening across Bolivia, and other parts of Latin America, is phenomenal and one of the reasons why there is much to be optimistic about the growth in labour movements globally. Additionally, what the Bolivian experience is telling us is that self-organisation amongst young workers can and does happen.

Please take the time to read the full piece which is part of larger initiative around gender, leadership, human rights and the media.

In Solidarity


Monday, 26 September 2011

An Age of Precarity


Last Friday was spent at Warwick University at the second seminar in an ESCR-funded series on young workers and precarious employment.

I hope to make a contribution to the next seminar (16th March - Manchester University) as this focuses on the trade union responses to the issue and overlaps with a national GFTU project.

Details of the seminar series can be seen at If you can make any of the remaining seminars you should as the issues raised are central to the future role of trade unions in the UK (and internationally) from a generic perspective, not just that of precarious work and young workers, although this is of course a serious cause for concern.

What was particularly striking during the seminar was a central sociological, economic and cultural disjuncture occuring across the EU. Put simply, whilst economic imperatives are forcing though changes to labour markets and as a consequence destabilising the likelihood of young workers gaining secure, long-term employment, cultural and societal norms prevail which are in antipathy to modern trends.

A basic example of this arises from an event I attended way back during the last dock workers' dispute (95-98). The dispute became a very nasty business. Not just because workers were sacked in defence on the maintenance of secure employment, but also because of the poor treatment of the dockers by their own union, the TGWU.

The event was a strikers' fund rally in Manchester run by a dockers' wives support group. At the rally one of the sacked dock workers stated simply that he acommodate the employer's demand of moving to a contract based on flexibility of employment if his bank, gas supplier, food shop etc., would accept flexibility in the way he paid his bills.

Although a basic story for me it illustrates the dilemma of workers (particularly, although not exclusively) caught in a trap of the EU's neoliberal policy reform of employment supply (e.g. flexicurity) and its clash with dominant, prevailing cultural assumptions about the way in which people's lives are lived.

This is a central dichotomy that features as part of the seminar series and one of the truly worrying aspects is the extent to which the dichotomy becomes 'resolved' in that precarious work is normalised as an mainstream expectation of young workers.

Clearly this process has to be resisted and so the next two seminars are of particular interest as it explores the range of responses to the predicament.

I welcome comments, questions etc about this item.

In Solidarity


Monday, 19 September 2011

Leaderless Movements Can Win


The volume of material (print/web etc.) that has been produced as a result of the Arab spring has been phenomenal, essential but at the same time overwhelming.

So, the latest book from Jean-Pierre Filiu, the eminent French writer on the Middle East, is a lucid, critical and calm reflection on the 'uprising'.

One of the first striking aspects of the book is Filiu's central position which is that, despite the legacy of attempts of Arab nationalism, and the worst excesses of islamist dogmatism, the hisory of the Middle East does not provide the basis for a form of Arab exceptionalism within the context of open, democratic societies.

As a teacher of trade union and labour studies I would particularly recommend a reading of chapters 4 and 5, 'Social networks work' and 'Leaderless movements can win'.

Although the entire text is worth a read, these two chapters in particular should provoke an interest in the way in which social networks have captured the interest of young radicals and, when combined with forms of grassroots leaderless resistance, it has the potential for a phenoenal degree of impact.

Clearly the impact of events in Tunisia and Egypt (the key focus of the book) may not act as the catalyst for similar in the UK - although it is always galling to hear Tories trumpet protest and uprising in other countries, whilst dismissing similar in the UK - but we should take the time to reflect upon and consider what can be learnt from a phenomenon few predicted but many are talking about.

Any comments, questions welcome.

In Solidarity


Sunday, 11 September 2011

The Legacy of 9/11 and its Aftermath


As part of its focus on the activities around the commemoration of the deaths on 9/11 The Guardian had in it G2 supplement on the 6th September a deeply moving series of interviews with those who had lost someone on that day.

On many occasions the writing in The Guardian moved has moved me to consider writing a letter to underline the extent to which an article had significantly impacted on my thinking.

So, having read the G2 interviews on the train to Ruskin I decided to write something brief but focused. I fired it off and thought nothing of it. Then, yesterday, a text from a fellow tutor at Ruskin (Rosie Nicola) alerted me to the publication of my letter (and hers on a different topic).

The text of the letter is here:

Like many on the left and in the labour movement I have over many years developed a deep-seated resentment toward US foreign policy. The 9/11 attack did little to unsettle this unquestioning attitude, which bled into a corrosive attitude to all things American. Your collection of interviews with those directly affected by 9/11 (G2, 6 September) was a penetrating portrait of the casualties of a conflict not of their making. They look back on 9/11 with stoicism and, remarkably, little bitterness towards the terrorists who inflicted irreparable damage on their lives. The least I can do is that which I have come to dislike of the American polity: to learn lessons, wise up and move on.

The others printed with it can be read here:

You can get a sense of my response to the G2 interviews from my letter and I'd welcome any comments or questions.

In Solidarity