Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Lower than Vermin: Tory Party 2013


Today the Tory Party declaimed poverty, need and want (terms redolent of the UK in the 1930) by proclaiming that this country does not need foodbanks as the welfare state provides enough for all.

A mouthpiece of the Tory Party proclaimed today, on the basis that Cameron has been forced to visit a constituency foodbank, that "benefit levels are set at a level where people can afford to eat. If people have short-term shortages, where they feel they need a bit of extra food, then of course food banks are the right place for that. But benefits are not set at such a low level that people can't eat."

Bevan: The NHS as an Ideal
A 'bit of extra food', where 'they feel the need'? This vernacular from the Tories reminded me why, whether for good or ill, I joined the Labour Party in 1984. Aged 16 I had read, amongst other texts, Aneurin Bevan's statement on his experience of the absolute rejection of the philosphical and moral case for the NHS by Churchill's Tory Party, leading to his famous 'lower than vermin' statement in the House of Commons.

That historical statement is as valid today as it was in 1948. These people are are not just lower than vermin, the Conservative Party today occupy a position in political life which attempts to reduce to the lowest comon demoniator the means of debating how we tackle poverty and inequality. And why? beacuse it is in their interests to maintain this manifest degradation.

And so, Bevan was right, and here is what he said in '48, and why it remains relevant today as much as ever:

"That is why no amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party that inflicted those bitter experiences on me. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin. They condemned millions of first-class people to semi-starvation. Now the Tories are pouring out money in propaganda of all sorts and are hoping by this organised sustained mass suggestion to eradicate from our minds all memory of what we went through. But, I warn you young men and women, do not listen to what they are saying now".

In Solidarity


Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Education for solidarity within spaces of resistance

The tragic deaths in Brazil over the weekend have lent a further, separate and urgent impetus to limit fire-related deaths as a result of the neglect of multinationals and connected businesses in the global manufacturing chain supply 
As reported today on the Labor is not a Commodity blog (  - an umbrella grouping comprising reportage from The International Labor Rights Forum, STITCH, SweatFree Communities and U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project work)  even WalMart has pressured into action announcing a zero tolerance approach to health and safety standards and a range of other factors in the factories and workplaces of suppliers.
What remains to be seen however, is how serious WalMart take this new found zeal, and ultimately what impact it has. The catalyst to WalMart's decision was the unovering of the MNC's link to two companies both operating out of the Tazreen Fashion Factory which was the site before Christmas of the tragic, uneessary deaths of over 100 workers at the garment manufacturing factory in Dhaka:
This disaster is, sadly, nothing new in this sector nor in Bangladesh. I reported before Christmas on the excellent new book by Doug Miller (Last Nighshift in Savar) which chronicles the global campaign between the Clean Clothes Campaign and the ITLGW following a similar tragedy in 2005.
Doug's book, whilst first rate in execution and coverage, is only one illustration of the global scale of the continuing aberration of what are in effect human rights abuses achieved as a manufactured outcome in the global operation of MNCs, and driven by governments who week to attract their investment.
The latest coverage from the Labor is not a Commodity blog provides s short, sharp sense of the scale of the phenomena as its current homepage starts with the WalMart annoucement, covers two other factory fires in Bangladesh and focuses on the recent release by Apple of the outcome of its annual audit of global suppliers revealing, yet again, the largescale use of child labour - amongst many other examples of abuse and exploitation - across its supply chain and particularly in China.
As Last Nighshift in Savar illustrates trade unions, NGOs and other civil society organisations can and do have an important role to play in resisting the worst excesses of global capitalism and this is explored more broadly in a fascinating book Globalisation, Knowledge and Labour by Mario Novelli and Anibel Ferus-Commelo. Whilst the focus of the book is, amongst others, an exploration of the valuable role that workers' education can play in generating organised resistance to exploitation, it helps to unpick the complex nature of MNC global supply chains and the subsequent deadening impact upon wider, broader worker solidarity and consciousness raising - making the need for educational initiatives all the more vital. Although not a cheap book, I thoroughly recommend it as a means to analyse the roots to new forms of worker collaboration with wider socially progressive movments and to newer, altered forms of worker organisation.
As with most of my writing in the blog, what Globalisation, Knowledge and Labour points towards are the prospects and opportunities for continued and revitalised forms of solidarity that reach beyond traditional notions, fixed largely on the activity of singular trade unions located in the nation state.
There is incredible room for optimism in seeking the means to resist and overcome the ideological, political and economic systems which lay behind the factory fires in Bangladesh, and the other day-today injustices faced by workers globally, and thus an urgent need, I would argue, to revisit the central role that trade union education can play globally in being central to this process.
In Solidarity

Friday, 11 January 2013

Union Voices: The Future of Organising in the UK


Pressure of work since the start of the new year has kept me from posting until now, but I am pleased to use this first post of 2013 to focus on an issue of critical importance to the future of labour movements in the UK: for what, who and how should trade unions organise the unorganised?

These questions, and many others form the focus of a critically new important publication, Union Voices: Tensions & Tactics in UK Organising written by Melanie Simms, Jane Holgate and Ed Heery.

I am honoured to have been asked to speak about the book at its launch event on 22nd January (6-8pm) at the TUC. Register here:

Without wanting to give 'the story' away (although many of you will be able to guess the end) the book provides a fascinating insight upon the potential of organised labour under New Labour between 1997-2010 to define and apply a model of renewal sufficient to respond to the onward march of neo-liberalism.

The problem largely of course was that that march was being led by New Labour itself (an account of this more specifically is here: and, as the authors reveal, compelling divergent interests flawed an overwhelming capacity of organised labour to, for example, renew levels of active participation by members, but ultimately to secure a dominant, embedded sense of the future of trade unionism.

Union Voices should be a must-read by all of those within the British trade union movement with responsibility for policy, education and organising.

Working at Ruskin College, and leading an MA for trade union activists and officials, a constant concern however, is the extent to which organised labour isn't always prepared to listen to informed, concerned critical analysis of political, cultural and political impediments to trade union renewal.

Union Voices is written by colleagues with a genuine concern for the future of organised labour in the UK (and internationally) it should in turn be read by, and acted upon, by all and any of those with an influence on this.

In Solidarity