Sunday, 27 May 2012

Ruskin College: Grassroots activism since 1899

Just returning from a great time with international, European and UK trade unionists. First stop Rome for 2 days with trade unions allied to a European TU project on safeguarding the interests of older workers. Then onto the TUC Grassroots event on Saturday to run a stall (with my colleague Tracy Walsh - who co-ordinates the TU and labour studies BA at Ruskin). As you can see from the pictures the TUC event was also a great way to meet up with friends old and new.

Thanks again to Becky Wright (Director of the TUC's Organising Academy) for enabling Ruskin to have a presence at Saturday's event, and for putting together an impressive opportunity to explore the intersection between trade unionism and community organising - truly a major opportunity to secure social justice for workers and the communities they belong to.

But of course, this has been the mission of Ruskin College since its creation in 1899, so we were very pleased to be at the start of a modern push to explore a new approach to a traditional role of labour movements both in the UK and globally.

Tracy Walsh and I proudly promoting
Ruskin College at Grassroots
Standing in the Forum next to the Colliseum
in Rome on Friday

TUC Grassroots presented an installation created
by students from Goldsmiths comprising placards from
demonstrations in 2011
Outgoing MA ILTUS student Ben Egan pictured
with incoming MA student Jayne Pinder - both organisers
with the NUT

Ruskin is proud of its association with Amnesty International's
Trade Union Network. Shane Enright (pictured here) is AI's TU
Campaigns Managers
& Global TU Adviser - what a great job!
Ellie O'Hagen (just returning from the UK Uncut
party outside Nick Clegg's house) introducing
UNITE's community organising

In Solidarity


Monday, 21 May 2012

Which Message and to Whom?


Just a brief post as I am on the hoof at the moment but I couldn't help noticing the sheer mess of contradictions coming from the right as news is released about the potential attack on employment rights contained in the Beecroft review of employment law due to be published at the end of the week.

At least Vince Cable has come out opposing the main thrust of the proposals and is quite rightly arguing that they send the wrong message and don't support a strategy of investment and growth.

It is quite clear that the proposals represent an assault on basic employment rights masquerading as a need for small firms flexibility during austerity.

As revealed in a BBC news item today the right can't identify whether the proposals are to enable business owners to more easily sack people, or to create more jobs for the unemployed - or perhaps they are both sides of the same coin? I suppose like most Tory messages, it is designed to appeal to different people on different days of the week.

Tory MP Damian Collins is quoted as saying "It would be terrible if smaller businesses were holding back on recruiting because they're worried about whether they can sustain the income they need to keep those people on over the longer period of time."

On another part of the lunatic spectrum  Adam Marshall, director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "Of course employment rights are important, but should be weighed against opportunities for the unemployed who are looking for work."

So, between Collins and Marshall British workers can expect the removal of a front door at their place of work, and the installation of one that revolves instead.

Don't laugh, these b******s are all too serious.

Keep your eye on Beecroft:

In Solidarity


Saturday, 12 May 2012

REMPLOY: The Fight Goes On

GFTU staff (in the form of myself, Judith Jackson, and the General Secretary, Doug Nicholls - pictured standing on left) were proud to join REMPLOY staff and supporters at a lobby of Parliament and the DWP offices on Thursday.

Despite the looming closure of REMPLOY factories the Coalition has still offered no credible solution to the likelihood thst staff will lose their jobs and end up on benefit or, worse still, forced through the punative work capability assessment (WCA) into inappropriate work reduced benefit entitlement.

When the WCA was introduced many concerns were raised ( about the stringent measures used to assess the suitability of applications for incapacity benefit (now re-labelled as employment support allowance (ESA)) and of the particurlarly harsh outcomes for those with a mental health illness.

Despite the acknowledged support of a range of charities for the closure of REMPLOY factories it is an undeniable fact that the bulk of UK employers pointedly (although not explicitly) refuse to hire applicants who disclose a form of disability. This has been the case historically (and in fact was the catalyst for the creation of REMPLOY in the first place) and certainly since the creation of the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act (now embedded within the Equality Act 2010).

The static state of high unemployment for the disabled is captured by the latest assessment of data by  At every level of qualification, the proportion of people aged 25 to 49 with a work-limiting disability who lack, but want, paid work is much greater than for those without a disability. 

Read the rest of the depressing data here:

So, what is to be done? Nothing probably. Despite the economic viability of many of the factories the government refuses to investigates proposals to rescue any. And, in the current economic context, supported by what the data tells us, the prospects of employment for those sacked do not look good.

But, the fight goes on - and I am sure I speak for all of those who look at this blog from time to time, when I say that we are in solidarity with them in their fight.

In Solidarity


Thursday, 10 May 2012

Goodbye Vidal Sassoon


It was very sad to hear the news of the death of Vidal Sassoon as his departure marks the loss of one of the UK's true fighters again fascism. Most people only know of Sassoon as a high stylist - and of course he is rightly regarded in this respect - but for many on the left his true legacy is his active role as a member of the infamous 43 group of Jewish ex-servicemen and women who took the fight to Moseley's Blackshirts (and other far-right groups) in the immediate aftermath of the second world war.

I hadn't heard of this aspect of Sassoon's life until, as a student at Ruskin College, I read Maurice Beckman's famous analysis of the birth and activity of the 43 Group (

Sassoon never hid his roots as an anti-fascist street fighter and in the period when he took up scissors rather than rocks invested time and money into tackling racism and anti-semitism. To get a flavour of why he joined the 43 Group and its relevance to the fight against racism here is an extract from an interview he gave to the Jewish Chronicle a few years ago.

The 43 Group: Their legacy remains
“It was a rather strange situation because the war was over. Before the war there was quite a strong fascist party led by Oswald Mosley and he and his cohorts were put in detention (jail) during the war by Churchill. After the war they came out and immediately started up again with their anti-Semitism and running through the streets and having meetings, it was quite ridiculous. Many truly brave Jewish ex-servicemen started the “43 Group” because there were 43 people at the first meeting they had. These were tough men who had been through the war. Of course volunteers were needed, I was 16 or 17 at the time, most of my friends joined the 43 Group and there were quite a few hundred of us. Truly the fascists were smashed in the streets and yes if you were scared at times [it was] because it was scary. But after we saw the pictures that came out and the whole story of the Holocaust, there was actually no way we could allow fascists to run through the streets. I was arrested one night and put in jail, the following day the judge told me ‘to be a good boy’ and let me go. That was our life in those days, we decided that we were absolutely not going to allow what happened pre-war when Jews were just beat up indiscriminately in the streets. It worked beautifully because of mainly the tough Jewish characters that were in the British armed forces during the war, they were the people that did it. But also there were quite a few gentiles who had seen the camps, the horror of Europe and fought with us.”

Sadly Sassoon lived long enough to witness the rise of new, virulent forms of far-right activity in the UK, but what he, and other members of the 43 group bequeath us is the spirit to continue the fight.
Goodbye Vidal Sassoon.
In Solidarity

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Support Strike Action: 10th May

Quite rightly May has got off to a cracking start with great May Day events across the UK, the NHS Rally on 7th, national pensions strikes on 10th, the GMB Remploy lobby of Parliament on 9th (I'll be there and posting an item later in the week) and plenty more to come.

What with Labour's impressive local government performance last week and the generally poor standing of the Coalition at the moment, now is the time for the labour movement to be visible and championing all of those directly effected by the austerity programme.

Even police officers will be mounting a show of disgruntlement with the Coalition later this month - things must be bad! But, as I have argued before, we should attempt to seek some solidarity with police officers and certainly especially police staff as the privatisation of the criminal justice sector continues apace and threatens to disrupt the fabric civil society in ways as yet unprecedented - read the post a few days ago on privatisation and you'll get the gist.

For a list of action/events across the UK for the strike action on 10th May:

If you aren't sure how to keep up with the lastest action/news etc use Union News;

In Solidarity


Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Spaces and Places: May Day 2012


May Day greetings to you all wherever you are.

There is an excellent piece in today's Guardian (link below) which is an interview with Noam Chomsky (in reference to his forthcoming book) by two leading US Occupy activists.

Part of the interview focuses on the lessons learnt from the Occupy movement and Chomsky draws on labour movement traditions in his response.

One of Chomsky's themes is the notion of the spaces/places that movements need to meet/reflect and share allied movements - well worth reading - as is his new book (only £4 at The Guardian bookstore - which is linked to the article.

It is the notion of this overlap of ideas/movements which led me to selecting the image above for this year's May Day events.

I do hope that whatever you are doing today brings you together with like-minded activists and that you enjoy May Day 2012.

In Solidarity