Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Colombia: International solidarity is essential

A further post from Brighton, and on the theme of international labour solidarity, but this time following a moving speech here from Nidia Quintero during a lunchtime fringe event today.

Nidia is an exeutive commitee member of FENSUAGRO, the Colombian agricultural workers union. FENSUAGRO has received considerable international support from UNITE and the USW, in alliance with Justice for Colombia, in their fight against brutal state repression. Nidia recounted the murder of her husband and son for the trade union and political activities, but emphasised the centrality of international solidarity action and support as a key means to sustain Colombian workers.
We also heard from a number of other speakers during the event, including Vicky Phillips of Thompsons, who delivered their own perspectives on life in Colombia following a recent visit. A key theme that came out of these contributions was that life for women and the poor was just as harsh as it is for trade unionists.

Pictured above is my colleague Tracy Walsh with Nidia.

Join Justice for Colombia and help support the struggle of workers and their familes.

In Solidarity


Monday, 25 June 2012

Global Labour Solidarity: Alive & Well - UNITE Conference Brighton

Am at the UNITE conference in Brighton with my colleague Tracy Walsh promoting the international labour and trade union studies BA and MA at Ruskin.

And, as an additon to the last post, I came across (pictured left) Philip Mutete who was at Ruskin in the 70's and came to Ruskin from the Ugandan Textile and Garment Workers Union as a result of harassment he was receiving from Idi Amin's regime. Philip strode up to the stall and said, quite right, 'Ruskin, my college!'.

It was Philip's experience at Ruskin - he went back to Uganda for a period after Ruskin - that led him to come back to the UK and to his current role at Kraft Foods in Banbury and his current role as UNITE activist.

One of the great experiences of working at Ruskin is coming across alumni who are still active somewhere in the global labor movement - a testimony to our durability

And, just to prove that we are working hard, a picture (below) of Tracy and I on the joint Ruskin-UNITE education stall.
In Solidarity

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Global labour solidarity: Alive and well


I had hoped to report on the recent victory over Nestle by the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF), but as ever workload has kept me from the blog.

Yes we can! Global trade union pressure is just as relevant and vital
today as it always has been
And, in any case, there is a piece on this by Eric Lee on the 'In These Times' site. Naturally this will be much better written and informed than anything I write, so I thought that the least I could do was promote Eric's article and ask that you read it: http://tinyurl.com/74bnq7g

These victories are essential not just for the workers directly involved - but of course who are the priority - but for the message it sends to multinationals and governments.

The significant boost that it gives to trade unionists on the ground is also welcome. What the piece reminded me of, as I have written of previously here, is that as the private sector continues to make inroads into public sector service delivery, this kind of international co-operation will be more important than ever.

The arrogance of the multinationals isn't surprising (why would it be?) but we should be very concerned when they suggest that the public don't care about privatisation and the implications for service delivery.

In a Guardian piece on Wenesday David Taylor-Smith, G4S head of operations for Africa and the UK, said starkly that, when it comes to manages and runs a police force, the public "don't really care": http://apps.facebook.com/theguardian/uk/2012/jun/20/g4s-chief-mass-police-privatisation?post_gdp=true

Really? Says who Mr. Taylor-Smith? I think he forgets the public concern around crime and that, should G4S cock-up - which they shall - they will be royally condemned for attempting to profit, quite literally from crime.

This is also a reason why mainstream trade unionists should be backing any attempt to block privatisation by uniformed and non-uniformed police staff. The uniformed staff issue is controversial I know, but rank and file officers are now getting a political awakening and realising that a Conservative party im government is not their natural ally.

So, if we can combine in the mutual interest of limiting the privatisation of the criminal justice sector in the UK, then we should go right ahead. In fact, the onus is on the Police Federation to use the 20th October demo as a signal to the labour movement that solidarity action is possible.

Interesting times indeed!

In Solidarity


Thursday, 14 June 2012

Age management: The trade union response


From Mon-Weds this week I spent an immensely rewarding time at the final dissemination event which marked the end of the GFTU's successful SAATT (supporting active ageing through training) project.

Representatives of the partners from the GFTU's SAATT project
at the Raseborg Institute 12-13th June 2012
We were hosted at the Raseborg Institute by the project's Finnish partners, the largest public sector union in Finland, JHL (www.jhl.fi/portal/en). The Institute is an incredibly impressive educational and leisure facility owned by JHL and located in the south of Finland near the town of Karis.

Attending the event were representatives of all the project partners: EKA, the Athens Labour Centre, the Professional Staff Asssociation of the World Food Programme and COMMUNITAS the education and training arm of COMMUNITY.

At the heart of the project, funded by the European Commission's social dialogue strand, was a focus on the employment, economic and health needs of older workers facing retirement, employment past retirement age or a mixture of both. The project developed two training programmes one aimed at TU reps (including on online version) and focused on the primary collective bargaining areas around the concept of 'age management' and a programeme aimed at individual TU members which includes an element on diet and nutrition in later life.

The project is set within the context of an ageing Europe and where across EU member states the default retirement age is being withdrawn.

The project benefited from expert input from nutritional specialists from within the World Food Programme, and in particular Ann Callinan who spoke at the Finland event. So, whilst this particular project has concluded we are left with valuable training resources available to project partners and affiliates of the GFTU.

Tiina Saarelam of the Finnish
Institute of Occupational Health introducing
the FIOH approach to age power at work

Sirpa Puolakka of the WEA in Finland delivered
a session on the creation of well-being at work

A big thanks to Riitta Vehovaara of JHL for supporting
project activity in Finland and organsing the
June event
Ann Callinan of the WFP takes delegates through her resources
on diet and nutrition for trade union members

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Organising sex workers


Over the next few weeks the students of the MA that I run at Ruskin (international labour and trade union studies) will complete and submit their dissertations.

Although they need to be marked and externally examined I will take this opportunity to share with you the phenomenally impressive body of original research undertaken and highlight its contribution to the future of labour movements globally.

I shall start with the research focus of Jenny Webber. Jenny's focus is on the trade union experience of trade unions organising sex workers in the UK and France.

As an ex-GMB official Jenny's starting point is an analysis of the approach of the International Union of Sex Workers (www.iusw.org/) which is a branch of the GMB. Her research focuses on a comparative analysis of the experience of the IUSW and STRASS (The Union for Sex Workers) (http://site.strass-syndicat.org/category/english/) in France.

When Jenny originally proposed the research topic I shared her enthusiasm for exploring the range of economic, social, health and political issues of sex workers both in the UK and globally.

What I admittedly was not fully conscious of was the depth and complexity of the debate around sex workers from a feminist perspective.

Some of this became clearer when a representative of the IUSW, Catherine Stephens, spoke to the MA cohort, and it was here where I understood for example, the historical rejection by radical feminists of sex work as work, and thus as something which is legitimised, even if partly, when unionised.

There is a healthy body of literature/research/discussion on the topic (which includes Gregor Galls 2006 Sex Worker Union Organising http://www.palgrave.com/products/title.aspx?pid=270919).

As an aspect of her research Jenny attended the Sex Worker Open University (SWOU) which was held in October 2011 in London. The clip of the activity within the SWOU gives a real insight to the atttitude of sex workers themselves to the issues of unionisation, and of their perspective of feminist and governmental attitude towards sex work.

From a personal perspective I share Jenny's primary conviction that sex workers are workers, and that their interests and concerns overlap with mainstream workers in several areas - not least in the form of protection from unfair employment practices. Whilst I acknowledge the need to debate the political and economic contexts of sex work, I feel uncomfortable denying a particular group of workers/people the opportunity for self-organisation and self-determinism.

Please take the time ot have a look at the clip and feedback on the issue raised. Jenny will hopefully be able to respond to those who post a response.

In solidarity


PS I should add that Jenny appears in this video. She is seen initially holding the placard 'There are no bad women, just bad laws'.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Wisconsin and beyond

Later today we'll know whether the local and national labour movement in the US has been able to displace Wisconsin's Governor Scott Walker through what's known as a recall - essentially a local referendum. This is the man who last year sought to take a hammer to the basic human right to belong to a trade union and to allow for free collective bargaining.

If Walker wins the referendum then all other Republican governors across the States will have a green light to attack trade union membership and bargaining rights just as we witnessed in Wisconsin last year. The battle in Wisconsin was one however, where the labour movement in the States clearlty pulled out the stops and, as on many occasion, they were able to show the trade union movement internationally that despite low union membership levels, there is still plenty of fight in the movement.

As Gary Younge wrote in yesterday's Guardian this battle tells us much about the state of the working class in the US and the price it is continuing to pay for the economic crisis. In effect, and with no attempt at grandstanding, Younge reports on the clash between this Tea Party Republican and the Wisconsin labour movement, as nothing short of class war.
Walker's record speaks for itself. In his first year in office Wisconsin lost more jobs than any other state, and was one from last in private sector job growth. He has cut tax relief to low-income families and the state's Medicaid program. He has introduced a voter ID bill that will limit minority and low-income electoral participation, reproductive rights legislation that has forced Planned Parenthood to suspend providing basic services to women and repealed the law that protects equal pay for women. In short, he has hammered working people, undermined the capacity of those who represent them and marginalised many of those who might vote for their interests while effecting a massive redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich: a more balanced budget for a more unequal society.

Allied to the situation in Wisconsin is the backing by US multinationals of Walker's campaign and, as Rachel Maddow, amongst others, has shown, what we are witnessing is an assault on workers' right backed principally by corporate interests. This clip of Maddow was shown at last Saturday's TUC Grassroots event and underlines the real concern about democratic accountability broadly, but more specifically the outcome of the Wisconsin recall for trade unionism across the US: http://tinyurl.com/cnwu6ng.

A key theme of Younge's piece, and of much coverage of the labour matters globally, is the extent to which workers, their families and communites are paying a high price for an economic crisis not of their making.

Whilst I wouldn't suggest that UK trade unions face the same local onslaught as sisters and brothers in Wisconsin, the national threat overall is very similar. Clearly the thrust of the Beecroft and Lofstedt reviews of employment and health and safety law, for example, are posited in the same oxymoronic tone by the Coalition as their acolytes in the Republican right - you can create new jobs by destroying existing ones, and if trade unions are the defence of workers and those jobs, well, we'll get rid of them too.

Obviously, we send a strong message of solidarity to US trade unionists today, and hope the that the Wisconsin recall goes the right way. If it does, then let us spend some time understanding how and why, and using this experience to defend workers' rights in states with Republican governors as rabid as Walker.

If not, then the battle in Wisconsin gets repeated across the US and our support in this fight will be required more than ever, not least because, their fight is ours.

In Solidarity