Thursday, 29 March 2012

Trade unions and austerity: Athens, March 2012


During a visit to Athens at the start of the week on behalf of the GFTU I took the opportunity to briefly interview Christina Theochari of the Athens Labour Centre. The Centre is a partner in a GFTU project funded by the European Commission on active ageing.

I was keen to get Christina's take on the current position of Greek trade unions and the austerity programme of the government. There is much on-going debate across the European trade union movement around the extent to which labour movements are seen to support austerity measures or not, and Christina's take on the role of Greek trade unions and the economic crisis is not only thought provoking, but a clear illustration of the vital role that unions can play in supporting workers during the economic crisis.

In Solidarity

Friday, 23 March 2012

Labor Notes Conference - May 2012


One of the greatest aspects of my job is having the time and space to look globally at how labour movements act to strengthen and stabilise their work. In this context I have always admired the work of the US-based organisation Labor Notes .

 They have consistently maintained a high-profile in support of rank and file campaigns to organise workers and promote workers' rights.

As their web-sites blurb states, Labor Notes is a media and organizing project that has been the voice of union activists who want to put the movement back in the labor movement since 1979.

Through our magazine, website, books, conferences and workshops, we promote organizing, aggressive strategies to fight concessions, alliances with workers’ centers, and unions that are run by their members.

Labor Notes is also a network of rank-and-file members, local union leaders, and labor activists who know the labor movement is worth fighting for. We encourage connections between workers in different unions, workers centers, communities, industries, and countries to strengthen the movement—from the bottom up.

That movement is needed because workers are being hit hard by their employers. We have lower real wages, less job security, and smaller, weaker unions than our mothers and fathers did.

The web-site and blog are well worth keeping an eye on to follow grassroots organising campaigns across the US ( 
and and I'd encourage you to consider buying some of their literature. The Troublemakers' Handbook by Jane Slaughter is known and respected internationally, and it is one of the many activities of Labor Notes that has often led me to ask of the UK trade union movement, 'why don't we do this?'. On that vein I am primarily posting this item to promote the forthcoming Labour Notes conference in May.

If I had the spare cash (it is in Chicago) and time I would definitely get myself over there. As usual the range of workshops and speakers is first class in offering a first class opportunity to learn from frontline organisers and of their campaigns.

If anybody does make it I would love to hear back from you. If nothing else though please make the Labor Notes website one of your Favourites, it certainly is one of mine.

In Solidarity


Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Living in the Margins

Government cuts are having a disproportionate impact
on those services geared towards black communities.

I spent a highly productive day today with a group of UNISON shop stewards at the union’s West Midlands Regional Centre focusing on the skills and knowledge needed to handle members’ cases which centre around race discrimination.

Part of the discussion focused on the relative paucity of the employer’s duty to undertake equality impact assessments as an aspect of the public sector equality duty under the Equality Act (2010).

Even the EHRC acknowledges that in the current era of austerity cuts are having a direct impact on equal treatment in the delivery of public sector services and the TUC, amongst many others, have been doing a good job of authoritatively evidencing the specific dire gender-specific impact of the cuts agenda:

Thankfully the way forward for trade unionists, and the millions of people in the UK affected by Coalition policy, is being charted by people like Mark Serwotka who this week rightly announced that the British trade union movement should, in the context of Labour’s disastrous adoption of the Coalition’s cuts agenda, be considered as the de facto government opposition.
At long last a trade union leader in the UK accepts also that the best route to resistance and survival is through alliances with those organisations who find common cause in the context of austerity:

We understand the need to combine different forms of opposition. We have campaigned for tax justice for quite a few years but it was when UK Uncut sat on the floor in Topshop and shouted pay your tax that it became a front page story. You have got to have the alternative, you have got to stand up for people at work and union members, but you also need to embrace more direct methods of getting your case across. And I think that's the way that we see things going forward.
Read the full interview with Serwotka here:

The connection here with the original issue of equality impact assessment and the need for trade unions to reach out to allied organisations is sharply underlined by the on-going media campaign by the Afiya Trust on the impact of cuts on black communities and the services historically established to serve their needs.

The Living in the Margins analysis provides conclusive evidence ( that public sector organisations do not take their impact assessment duty seriously and also that black communities are suffering a disproportionate impact of the cuts agenda. There is a great piece in today’s Guardian which does justice to the Trust’s on-going campaign and I recommend that you read it:

Suffice to say that what we have here and now in the UK is the perfect storm which should precipitate a more significant degree of collaboration between the trade union movement and that network of service users, providers, charities, protest group etc etc which could and should form the broad based alliance which is probably the best chance we have to forcefully challenge what the Coalition is doing.

Can it happen? We have no choice.

Yours in solidarity


Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The Worker & The Law: Bill Wedderburn

Colleagues, I am working away from home at the moment with that fine trade union and professional body the Association of Education Psychologists (AEP) at their base in Durham. I have just discovered however the passing away of one of those people who were central to my generation's understanding of the fundamental importance of free, independent trade unionism to the maintenance to essential liberties for the worker in liberal society.

Bill Wedderburn's textbooks on comparative  labour law set the understanding of our approach to analysing and understanding how trade unions should best apply statutory rights to secure their long-term future. Weddurburn was for me, and many trade unionists like me who became trade unionists under Thatcher, a beacon of rationality and perspective.

Read his obituary in the Guardian to get a grip of why many in the movement mourn his passing:

As you'll see Bill was central (amongst many other achievements) to the creation of the Institute of Employment Rights and I am proud to record the close association of one of my employers, the GFTU, to the Institute and of the contining importance of the Institute to providing  the UK trade union movement with a legal perspective on those issues of central importance.

Bill Wedderburn's legacy is phenomenal and I am particulalry keen to acknowledge his understanding that UK trade unionism did not fare well under New Labour. I would also say that students of labour and trade union studies should take the time to read his first publication, as I did as a student at Ruskin in the 80s, The Worker & The State, as he creates a deeply analytical and philosophical rationale for the central relevance of trade unions in free societies.

Bill was an influential figure during that critical phase during the 60s and 70s of trade union history and without whom trade unionism in the UK, despite its current beleagured state, would not be in a state of resilience and in a position to fight back against the coalition.

As Joe Hill said though, let us not mourn, and as Bill would have wanted, let us organise!

In Solidarity


Saturday, 10 March 2012

Older Workers in the European Economy

Chris Ball (TAEN) addresses the FECCIA
conference on the outcomes of his

I am just back from a critically important conference which focused on the one of the most pressing economic and social issue for governments, trade unions and employers, that of an ageing European workforce and the challenges that poses in the workplace and across the economy.

The conference was hosted by FECCIA in Prague 7-9 March. FECCIA is the European association of managers in the chemical industry, and was funded by the European Commisson as a partnership with ECEG, the European chemicals employers group and EMCEF, the European chemical and energy workers' union.

I attended the event with my colleague Judith Jackson (Head of Education at the GFTU) and we were there representing the GFTU's own project on the issue of the protection of the employment interests of older workers.

Details of the FECCIA project are here ( and information on the GFTU project I am managing are here ( and both take as their central focus how best to support the employment needs of older workers, particularly as they face the prospect of remaining in work past traditional retirement age.

Although the event explored what is understood as the big demographic issues posed, and Chris Ball of TAEN ( did an excellent of this - and of illustrating the issues specific to the chemicals industry - the event was more concerened to understand what specific action was needed.

The relatively new concept developed to explore this is couched in the terminology of age management and this particularly useful approach allows employers and trade unions to look at the central issue of job re-design, health and safety etc., as well as those allied issues of learning and personal fitness and health.

I was personally pleased to see both employers and trades unions come together to dispel the spurious notion that support for active ageing in the workplace is automatically to side with older workers against the interest of younger workers - a dangerous fallacy made worse during an era of austerity and high youth unemployment.

Ultimately however it is important that employers, working with trade unions, can ensure that there is a greater inter-play of the interests and needs of workers at different ends of the age spectrum and there were some excellent examples offered from companies like BASF.

Ultimately the conference was a showcase of the best of what trade unions and employers can achieve when working jointly - not always possible or easy - on an issue that is here to stay for some time.

Any questions or comments on this are very welcome.

In Solidarity