Monday, 22 July 2013

Tooth & Nail: Billy Bragg - Tolpuddle 2013


I am particularlyy proud of the fact the Ruskin College is the only institution of its kind to return to Tolpuddle year-after-year.

And this year the appearance of Billy Bragg is made all the more special as my wife has brougnt me tickets to see Mr. Bragg in Birmingham as part of the tour for his new album.

So, thanks Billy for supporting Tolpuddle once again and see you in Birmingham in November!

In Solidarity


Tuesday, 9 July 2013

A Workers' Society: The El-Ghazl Factory, Mahalla, Egypt


Long before mass, popular resistance brought down the Mubarak regime, ushering in the doomed Islamist Morsi, I spent a glorious period in Egypt exploring at close quarters the work of the unofficial pro-union Centre for Workers & Trade Union Services CWTUS (

The leader of the Centre, Kamal Abbas (of whom I have blogged before) has been serially brutalised by the regime but nevertheless was party to the historic creation of official, independent new federation of Egyptian trade unions born in the aftermath of Mubarak and before Morsi (

A distinct feature of Egyptian workplace activism that I was familiar with before my visit, but that I learnt more of in my time there, was that despite the official labour movement acting as a mouthpiece for Mubarak, there thrived a dominant, independent labour movement (of which CWTUS and other NGOs provided support) which bore bitter, constant state-inspired assault but which remained undimished helping to inspire the populist backlash rendered most vivid in Tahrir Square in 2011.

The filmmakers Cristina Bocchialini and Ayman El Gazwy have created a rich, vivid portrayal of this secular, working class movement bound within the lives of 'a workers' society' at the gigantic El-Ghazl factory in Mahalla, Egypt.

The strapline for the film is all you need to know of why you must watch this eye witness "insight on the cauldron of revolt where workers inspired an uprising".

To view the film click on this link:

There is some helpful background historical material here:

In Solidarity


Friday, 5 July 2013

Welcome to the New World Order


One of my all time favourite Springsteen tracks (The Ghost of Tom Joad) carriers the profound lyrics

Shelter line stretchin' 'round the corner
Welcome to the new world order
Families sleepin' in their cars in the Southwest
No home no job no peace no rest

Finishing the song with narrative lifted directly from The Grapes of Wrath

Now Tom said "Mom, wherever there's a cop beatin' a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there's a fight 'gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me Mom I'll be there
Wherever there's somebody fightin' for a place to stand
Or decent job or a helpin' hand
Wherever somebody's strugglin' to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you'll see me."

I recommend a reading of the book as it is a classic of sociological analysis of the implications of industrialisation, economic degradation but also of the triumph of the human spirit.

I am posting the item as I have returned to the song recently and never cease to be in awe of how in crafting its structure it allows for the layering of the US depression era in the current context of the economic crisis.

YouTube has many different live versions of the song, this is one of the best.

In Solidarity


Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Small Unions: Part of the Big Picture


Working for the GFTU, the UK’s federation for small, specialist unions and professional associations, it is always of interest when there is a development which helps (re)inform our labour movement understanding of the way in which small groups of workers comprising their own bargaining unit are of critical relevance to organising strategy.

Grunwick: An insight upon state fear of worker mobilisation
Classic workers’ struggles represented throughout the UK’s labour history from Tolpuddle to Grunwick illustrates the power of small groups of workers to challenge employer and state power. Indeed, direct state aggression/violence in both of these cases represents a critically valuable insight on the potentially far-reaching implications of worker resistance and of what the state feared.

So the current response of employers and their acolytes across right wing politics in the US around the mis-named micro unions is a contemporary perspective on an historic tradition of labour movement expansion of new forms and models of collective representation of workers.

In a fascinating piece which was published recently by In These Times there is an important investigation of the way in which the employer-right-wing-lobby nexus is attempting to curtail the capacity of independent small groups of workers to gain formal recognition for collective bargaining purposes.
The nexus is attempting to re-classify, re-brand and toxify an age-old tradition of workers voluntarily and organically seeking to gain recognition as a means of either creating a new, standalone union or gaining additional power through merger with a larger, long-standing union or federation. Thus the term ‘micro union’ has been crafted to suggest that officials from the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) have been actively encouraging groups of workers to organise and thereby offering them easier access to recognition.

As Bruce Vail outlines in the In These Times piece
A micro-union, in short, is a relatively new description for a time-worn labor organizing technique that focuses on smaller, sharply defined groups of workers for the purpose of creating collective workplace action. That tactic, although nothing new, rubs against the grain of the popular imagination of labor organizing as a mass movement against large, highly visible corporations.

In short, what is happening in the US is an attempt to circumvent by statute the most natural form of expression on the part of workers: the right to collectivise their interests and mobilise these in the form of a union.
Although there is some suggestion that the latest attempt to curb this tradition will fail the article is well-worth a read regardless, if nothing else for a sense in the US of the right-wing backlash in the face of a nascent upturn in the appeal of unions as a voice for workers:

In Solidarity