Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Future of Organised Labour: MA ILTUS @ Ruskin College

I am now recruiting the next cohort of the MA in international labour and trade union studies (ILTUS) at Ruskin College, Oxford. If you follow this blog you'll know that I report on my work, and that of other teachers and students, regularly. I am proud to say that Ruskin still plays a major role in the delivery of trade union education, and the MA ILTUS is the only programme of its type in the UK.
I have compiled this short promotional video having interviewed graduating students of the 2010-12 cohort who attended their graduation ceremony in August, and current students who were attending a residential workshop in September to prepare for their second year of part-time study in 2014-15. These are trade union activists and officials from the UK and overseas and offer a snapshot of their view on what they have gained from the MA and/or why they enrolled.
I would be very grateful if you would signpost interested colleagues to this clip. My contact details appear at the end and interested trade unionists are invited to attend a comprehensive open day on Saturday 15th Nov and in 2014: 8th Feb, 22nd March and 7th June. This is a great way to meet current students and discuss their MA experience informally over lunch, read examples of the outstanding research completed by past students and see samples of the books, journals etc., read by students as part of their MA study. Thanks! Ian

Sunday, 27 October 2013

A Great Day for our Labour Movement

Colleagues, Yesterday at Ruskin College students of the BA in international labour and trade union studies (ILTUS) graduated. This was an important historical moment in Ruskin's history of providing labour movement education as these women and men comprised the first two cohorts from 2006 and 2007 to commence what was then a new venture for Ruskin in providing higher education opportunities for activists and officials. As our sisters and brothers graduated today I was reminded of the quote by Cesar Chavez: Real education should consist of drawing the goodness and the best out of our own students. What better books can there be than the book of humanity? Although I feel that the BA ILTUS (magnificently led by my colleague Tracy Walsh) does strive to get the very best out of students, and does so with a profound sense of the role of trade unions infocusing on issues of humanity and the pursuit of social justice, actually, as trade union teachers our trade union students strive to ensure that they get the best out of us also. The pics are: The Class of 2006! Me and Joan Allen. I've known Joan for years as she moved from being a UNISON activist to a rep for UNITE. A first class trade unionist, and one who I tricked into enrolling on the BA knowing that she could do it - and here she is graduating! Me, Andy Wells and Tracy. Andy produced an outstanding dissertation on community unionism and I am proud to say that I supervised his dissertation. Me and Simon Taylor, another student who produced an outstanding dissertation that I supervised on social enterprise and the response of UNISON. Me and Bill Ryan. Bill was one of the first students I ever taught way back in 1993 when I first started TU teaching for the WEA. Me and Russ Grieg. I knew Russ when he started his pathway to Ruskin via a diploma course in labour studies at Ruskin. Russ was one of the UNITE representatives at Northern Rock who helped negotiate the first big bailout following the economic crisis - what a story! Sorry that all this text is packed together, the blog website doesn't appear to be functioning as normal today, but I was desparate to post the pics.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Notoriously Militant: Invitation to a Book Launch


Notoriously Militant is the title of a new book which explores the rise of organised labour at the Ford plant in Dagenham. This title could equally be applied to its author, Sheila Cohen, trade union activist and academic who has contributed much to the analysis of the roots of the crisis of British trade unionism and has helped to project a way forward - her last book Ramparts of Resistance should be essential reading for any trade unionist with a concern about the future of trade unionism in the UK.

Sheila has very kindly agreed to speak at Ruskin College (16th Nov at 7pm) as part of her book launch activity. Please come along and bring a guest. The talk will form part of the residential workshop of students of the MA in international labour and trade union studies (ILTUS) that I run at Ruskin.

The blurb for the book provides this overview:

In 1946, after a series of stormy strikes and a mass occupation at Ford's plant in Dagenham, Essex, thousands of workers came together in a new branch of the Transport and General Workers Union. Later, in the early 1980s, a band of dedicated workplace activists brought branch 1/1107 to explosive life with support for working-class causes from equal opportunities to the stunningly effective boycott of parts for South Africa.

Notoriously Militant, which takes as its title a tabloid journalist's verdict on the branch, covers the history of Ford's Dagenham plant - and its roots in Henry Ford's early US activities - from 20th-century shop-floor struggles to the 21st-century fight against plant closure. Based on original research and oral history, Notoriously Militant offers a primer for activists and analysts on the confrontation between worker militancy and the rigours of "Fordism".

This book is a lively popular history looking at -

Working-class history as made daily by so-called "ordinary" workers
Crucial questions of direct democracy and membership participation which can offer highly relevant lessons for today's activists and strategists
Links between basic workplace struggles and - potentially - revolutionary conflict
The pressures towards "co-operation" between union and management - and the consequences
The interweaving of gender and ethnicity issues with the class-based structures of a major industrial workplace.

More than a history of structures - a lively popular history!
To buy a copy go here:

To buy Ramparts of Resistance go here:

See you on 16th Nov!

In Solidarity


Thursday, 17 October 2013

20/10 Day of Action on Blacklisting


The news this week that construction firms will compensate blacklisted trade unionists was met with a mixture of scepticism and accomplishment. There is some noteable querying of how and whether firms will measure the degree of harm done as a result of blacklisting, and similarly whether they will incur any additional liabilities as a result of awarding compensation. There is however, some sense of achievement on the release of the news, not least amongst those groups who have led this fight and left the firms and Parliament with no room to view this struggle as one that will be droppped.

The primary campaign organisation here is the Blacklist Support Group and here's the group's comment on the compensation annoucement:

Hot on the heels of the compensation annoucement comes a call from the TUC for a day of action on blacklisting:

All unions have signed up to this and it includes a lobby of Parliament and a call for a full public inquiry to investigate, for example, collusion between the police and UK intelligence agencies on the gathering of 'information' on trade unionsts and the disclosure of this to firms directly to dubious outfits like the Consulting Association who then sold this information on on a commercial basis.

There are profound civil liberties and human rights issues here, and the Coalition should commit itself to allow an inquiry to unearth the detail and legislate against its reoccurence. Given the complex, close associations between construction firms, property developers and the Conservative Party however, it is highly likely that they will dismiss the call for an inquiry -which in turn makes the demand even more urgent.

Do what you can to support the day of action and keep following/supporting the work of the Blacklisting Support Group.

In Solidarity


Sunday, 13 October 2013

New Forms of Worker Organisation


I am very pleased to annouce a visit to Ruskin College next year by Manny Ness as part of a UK tour to launch his latest book, New Forms of Worker Organisations.

Manny's output is of central relevant to the labour and trade union studies students at Ruskin as his work has focused on an exploration of how best labour movements respond to the changing needs of workers and the rapid changes across the US labour market drawing in, for example, mass waves of documented and undocumented migrants.

This new book takes a step back and explores new labour movements and organisations - particularly rooted in syndicalist approaches to worker mobilisation - and asks whether these approaches are indicative of a positive turning point in labour's response to a neo-liberal globalisation.

There is a great accompanying website for the launch of the book and I'd encourage you to review the contents and ultimately get a copy:

As a taster here a couple of review comments:

Immanuel Ness has added another book to his excellent series for understanding the survival strategies of the politically most profound, yet most deprived section of the citizens, during the last almost five centuries. I expect this book to stimulate the fresh debate on what de-politicization of the working class amounts to. Besides, after reading the chapters in this work, the question that haunts the liberal minds is why is this unprecedented intolerance of capitalism occurring at a mature stage of its development? Autonomist restoration is born of the spectacle of irrationality. Its impulse is to demand order in the midst of chaos; it protests, it demands, it insists that the outrage be brought to an end. These essays are most likely to throw challenges to the conventional economics of collective bargaining.
Debdas Banerjee, Professor of Economist, Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata, India and author, Labour, Globalization and the State.

By organizing a strike or going out on the street to protest with demands against the bastions of capital, labor activists rarely think about the historical significance of what they are doing. This collection of vivid chapters of major labor struggles reveals the essential nature of the labor movement in the last quarter century. Here in Russia, this book will be very useful as we need to learn the international experience of workers’ struggles.
Vadim Bolshakov, trade unionist and labor movement activist since 1989.  From 2005 to 2009, Bolshakov was coordinator of the Committee of Solidarity Actions in St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region.

In Solidarity


Wednesday, 9 October 2013

A Spirit of '45 for Our Times


The Daily Mail's rabid attack on the 'socialism' of Ed Miliband presages dire concerns about the approach of the media towards the Labour Party in the run-up to the general election 2015.

Celebrating VE Day, London 1945
As we approach a screening and panel discussion of Ken Loach's new film, The Spirit of '45, at Ruskin College this Friday (book free tickets here:, it is clear that the Tories, and their acolytes in the rightwing press, will do all they can to intimidate the electorate with revisionist scare stories of Labour in power, including an assault on the labour movement.

The Spirit of '45 is the obvious antidote to the Tory poison, but we are left with some profound questions about where that spirit exists in the modern Labour Party, if at all, and if not who acts as its custodian.

Joining us at Ruskin for a post-screening panel discussion will be Dot Pearson (National Pensioners' Convention) and Alex Gordon (RMT) who feature in the film and who will help kick-off a debate around the implications of the film for where we are now.

If you can join us please do for what promises to be a lively, entertaining evening.

In Solidarity


Wednesday, 2 October 2013

A Future that Works


The turnout on Sunday for the demonstration in support of the NHS (and everything else under assault by the Coalition) was fantastic, and so I just wanted to post some pictures. Naturally enough the turn out from trade union branches in the North West was particularly strong, but the the UK as a whole was represented really well.

What a stark contrast to the Daily Mail's vile attack on Ralph Miliband over the weekend to see thousands of trade unionists reject the narrow hatred of the right - both in government and the attack dogs in the media - by coming together and advocating so passionately and positively for a future that works. A future that offers stability, fairness, a living wage and ultimately some degree of dignity regardless of age, employment status, who you are and where you come from.

When we screen the new Ken Loach film, the Spirit of '45, to the new students at Ruskin on 11th October they will get some sense of what happens when a government commits to make those ideals a reality, not least by creating the NHS. What we must explore by extension however, is to how to maintain the fight against the Coalition and continue to defend public services across the UK.