Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Organised Labour & The Room for Optimism


The last posted item before I start leave and I feel the need to end on a positive note.

Scanning the items posted over the year there is indeed much to be concerned about and for me one of the most concerning issues this year was the murder of striking miners during the Marikana dispute.

It is deeply worrying that black SA workers could be murdered by the police under an ANC government. This shocking incident tells us that class remains as a deep faultline in a country in thrall to neo-liberal policy as a means to 'modernise' an economy built on apartheid.

Despite the fact  however that many many leaders of the apartheid-era liberation movement are now deeply embedded in the corrupt practices of the SA government and MNCs( Cyril Ramaphosa springs to mind here) one of the abiding legacies of that movement was a radical political consciousness which found an expression in many forms, including journalism. And, as could be expected the analysis of Marikana, in the context of SA politics, featured heavily in the coverage of Pambazuka News.

Here is the link to the first of many pieces, but one which starts with a report on how Groundup, a community journalism project reporting from SA townships, led on the news coverage of the dispute and of the murders: http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/84051

What happened at Marikana. not least during the period of a looming election in SA, will not go away, and the independent news media will continue to report on the outomes of an incident rooted in the history of a country built on the manifest exploitation of black workers. Whilst the reputation of both leading SA miners' unions have not reflected well before, during and after the dispute, that the workers decided to strike voluntarily and mobilised across the different mines involved in the dispute is a means for us to constructively conceive of a remaining legacy of how workers can and do respond in a country like South Africa.

Dan Gallin: How and why do workers gain or lose their
political  and industrial consciousness?
Looking globally for further signs of optimism one of the many positive events last year was the summer school of the Global Labour Institute (UK) and the report from this The Political Agenda of the International Labour Movement is, I argue, one of the best ways of exploring the current state of organised labour, the challenges posed, and the responses thus far.

You can get a free copy of the report at the GLI's website, and I encourage anyone interested in the future of organised labour to get a copy, take a break, read, reflect and act upon its inspiring coverage of the outcomes of the school: http://global-labour.net/

The report kicks with Dan Gallins overview of how and why the GLI was created, and the historical purpose of the summer schools, which partly was a means to address what he assesses as a continuing withdrawal - partly by European TUs - from an intellectual analysis of the changing nature of capitalism and of what this meant for changes in working practices and in turn what this meant for workers and trade unions.

Part of Gallin's concern (and there is a link here to my comments about the SA liberation movement above) was that labour movement did not generate a conscious understanding on the part of members and activists of this change, that leaders were 'bereft of political imagination' and thus were enable to foresse the looming, dominant changes to in European labour markets (women, migrant workers etc) and thus resulted in a scenario where large portions of the European workforce remain outside of collective bargaining coverage and/or unorganised.

I wamted to end with a reference to Gallin's opening statement at the GLI event because Ruskin College has been, I would strongly argue, trying to fill the educational and intellecutal vacuum to which he refers. And, the BA and MA in international labour and trade union studies (ILTUS) are wholly reflective of this.

So, keep an eye on the labour news during 2013, there will be, as always plenty of it, and I will do my best to flag up areas of particular interest and concern.

Hope you have a great break over the Xmas period.

In Solidarity