Thursday, 25 April 2013

Another Tragedy in Savar


History is doomed to repeat itself as yesterday yet another building collapse in Bangladesh confirms what we know when corporates based in the global north seek to exploit the poverty and informality of the global south.

Earlier this year I reported on the publication of Doug Miller's account of an earlier building collapse (Last Nightshift in Savar) and of the global campaign by the ITLGWF and the Clean Clothes Campaign to seek justice for the widows and orphans of that earlier tragedy.

And in my last posted item I commented on a trip to the US in March of those who were effected by the November 2012 building collapse at the Tazreen Factory and the critical role this played in the campaign aimed at WalMart to improve global labour standards.

We were fortunate at Ruskin College to hear personally from Doug Miller when he visited to speak to the MA ILTUS students in March and a particularly informative aspect of his talk was just how ruthless ruthless multinationals are in selecting Bangladesh as a core feature in the supply chain for ready made garments (RMG).

Laia Blanch of War on Want has been quoted extensively on yesterday's tragedy stating emphatically that "It is dreadful that leading brands and governments continue to allow garment workers to die or suffer terrible disabling injuries in unsafe factories making clothes for Western nations' shoppers."

The power to effect change that is driven by multinationals is possible. Doug's book chronicles for example the decison by the Spanish corporate Inditex to financialy compensate the families of those affected by the 2005 factory collapse.

Even that however is essentially remedial, as the major issue in Bangladesh is building and labour standards.

Primark has yet again been found to have a supply chain connection with a major disaster and so we can only hope that some form of pressure can be brought to bear to diminish what on a human scale is the worst form of outcome for already impoverished, exploited workers and their families.

In Solidarity with Bangladeshi Garment Workers


Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Pretty Simple Advice to Wal Mart


In an unprecedented showing of co-ordinated action representatives of workers across the global Wal Mart supply chain have collaborated to develop and launch a no-nonsense outline of simple to follow core principles to enable the multinational to meet key labour standards.

I wrote earlier this year of a similar focus on fire safety which had been driven largely by the factory fires in Bangladesh and Pakistan in 2012. Here however, labour movement organisations have looked right across the history of Wal Mart's poor approach to employment and working conditions to generate a set of standards applicable globally and rooted in a wide variety of gross breaches of rights and other violations of basic and human rights.

The news of the meeting has been reported in several forums and as ever the coverage supplied by those behind the Labour is not a Commodity blog and International Labour Righs Forum is to be welcomed. For this blog though I'd like to draw on the  coverage supplied by a relatively new US-based labour movement body, Warehouse Workers United (

Wal Mart is facing pressure currently on a number of fronts, not least domestic arising from the series of wildcat strikes carried out by their own workers in late 2012 and reported in this blog. The most consistent form of pressure on the multinational has however come from the labour movement globally and so the meeting on 9th April leaves Wal Mart yet a further headache.

At this meeting were represenatives of  the National Guestworker Alliance, Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity, Warehouse Workers United, New Labor, Warehouse Workers for Justice and Jobs with Justice. Strategically this event coincided with the arrival in the US of Bangladeshi workers who have survived the Tazreen factory fire in Bangladesh last year. These workers are here to press the case for the adoption of the Wal Mart labour code with senators and representatives in a series of meetings in April.

The WWU coverage of this development is well worth reading and if you follow this link you'll also be able to read the detail of the proposed code. Over the next few months I'll be following the progress of this work and will write this up for the blog:

In Solidarity


Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher: My Part in Her Downfall

CPSA & NUCPS Strikers Outside EOC HQ Sept 1989

With the tremendous news of the departure of Thatcher I am reminded of my own part in her demise as Prime Minister - or at least, this is the story I've been peddling for decades.

Prior to heading off to Ruskin in 1989 via a TUC scholarship I was a CPSA activists occupying various branch roles in what was then the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) in its head office in Manchester.

Then, as now, the Tories took the opportunity of being in office to hammer those statutory agencies which in any way addressed the inequities of capitalist society. So, under various Home Secretaries from 1979 the EOC suffered yearly cuts in funding and influence. In addition, the Commission was one of those organisations which was treated as a pilot under Thatcher's infamous Next Steps initiative to commence the path to outsourcing, privatisation etc.

Quite rightly the EOC decided that enough was enough and by 1988 we decided that a strike was on the cards. And, in an early crowning achievement as the EOC Branch Secretary I worked with the Branch Chair (Mark Dodman - to my left in the picture above) to steward and organise a joint strike with the more moderate members of what was then NUCPS.

The picture above was taken in September 1989 and shows the vast bulk of staff out on a day's industrial action, supported by colleagues in regional offices in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The strike was a succes in as much as it united staff and brought a sense of solidarity - even if not the extra cash we were after.

A month later and I was starting my Diploma in Labour Studies at Ruskin and, with this news this leaked to Downing Street, Thatcher starts to crumble and at this point the likes of Heseltine et al commence the slow, steady process which witnesses her tearful exit from No. 10 in November 1990.

So, farewell Thatcher, you are as despised as you are venerated and I, like many hundreds of thousands of young men and women in the 1980s, remember starkly an era of hopelessness and despair. Thankfully I was able to pursue a route out of this vacuum via the labour movement - and remain thankful for tis- but for far too many others this was not the case. For the gross negligence of the misery your wrought I am one amongst many who are glad to see the back of you.

In Solidarity


Tuesday, 2 April 2013

A Cause for Concern in St. Davids


Am having a splendid time with my wife and youngest daughter in the beautiful west Wales city of St. Davids. Plenty of bracing walks, fresh (very cold) air and good food. The cathedral here is fantastic and even for the wretched sinner like me it is worth a mooch about. Off to see the ancient megaliths tomorrow and then heading home for teaching at Ruskin this weekend.

Despite the rest and good times here, it has been quite depressing to read the coverage of the perfect storm of austerity measures which came into being yesterday. There are changes now being implemented that not even Thatcher would have thought of.
The good news (for some at least) is that even the Tories themselves expect a sound kicking at the country council elections in May. Have a look at this story and follow the links to related items:
In Solidarity