Monday, 30 March 2015

Workers Rights in a Global Economy


Ruskin College is an associate member of the Global Labour University (GLU) which is a network of universities, trade unions and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) delivering an MA programme similar to that run at Ruskin:

It is a real privilege to belong to the GLU community and I am pleased to be able to advertise the first (and free) online course to come out of the GLU initiative: workers' rights in a global economy.

The term MOOC stands for massive open online course, and so this GLU MOOC is a real opportunity for trade unionists globally to get to grips with the issues of securing workers' rights globally.

The course summary is:

Rights and dignity at the workplace are fundamental human rights. However, workers’ rights continue to be violated every day - millions of people worldwide are facing exploitative working hours, poverty wages, humiliation and mistreatment at work. There are estimates that today’s world has a higher number of slaves than any other time in history.

This MOOC discusses what Global Workers’ Rights are and which instruments and strategies can be used to implement them. Based on a careful mix of video lectures, readings, online resources and interviews with activists and labour scholars from around the world, you will gain both knowledge and practical skills for furthering workers’ rights worldwide.

At the end of the course you will understand the history and concept of global workers’ rights and the institutional structure of the International Labour Organization (ILO) as the key player in setting International Labour Standards. You will be able to join the economic debate about labour standards and competitiveness, and understand the concepts behind the fundamental rights of Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining.

You will understand the different approaches for realizing decent work in the informal economy and gain an overview of instruments and initiatives beyond the ILO. The course also allows you to apply this knowledge to a practical case from your country and gain skills and competencies for using the existing instruments and mechanisms for protecting workers’ rights.

This is a fantastic opportunity for trade unionists to get to grips with one of the most profound challenges we face.

You can sign up for the course here:

And there is an introductory YouTube video here:  

In Solidarity


Sunday, 22 March 2015

Audacity and the Power of Union Education


I've just finished an exhausting, but hugely rewarding weekend's teaching on the MA in international labour and trade union studies (ILTUS) at Ruskin.

A huge thanks to all who contributed. On Friday this was:

Sue Ledwith (creator of the MA and now Ruskin emeritus fellow) on the gender pay gap and its relationship with union leadership

Stephen Mustchin (Univ Manchester Business School) on international regulation and collective bargaining

A joint guest speaker session with

Becca Kirkpatrick (Citizens UK - Personal capacity) on a perspective of how/whether trade unions are achieve renewal through community unionism

Jane Holgate (Leeds Univ - via video interview) on the background to community unionism and whether this is a route to trade union renewal.

On Saturday this was:

Jo Cain (Head of LAOS, UNISON - Personal capacity) on culture, organisation and union leadership.

Jack Cao (Keele Univ) On workers' resistance in China.

The keynote event was Saturday night and the presentation by Ethel Buckley (Head of Campaigns at SIPTU) on the 2014 Greyhound lockout and the union's strategy to win.

Although I must thank all colleagues who contributed (and of course Fenella Porter who shares running the MA with me) over the weekend, the student feedback confirmed that it was Ethel's session which, as a form of praxis, brought the entire weekend's teaching session together.

Many thanks to Roger McKenzie (AGS UNISON) for getting off the ground the idea of an activist in residence and for Ethel to agree to spend 18-22 March in the UK spending time with UNISON branches in Oxon and at Ruskin.

Her presentation to the MA students on Saturday night about the strategy developed by SIPTU to overcome the workplace lockout at Greyhound refuse in Dublin in 2014 was an exemplar of how trades union can still beat overtly hostile employers in a legally and economically hostile climate.

A key theme of Ethel's was the need for trade unions to be as audacious as employers, and this was exemplified in how SIPTU worked closely with those communities affected by the lockout.

Before Ethel left Ruskin earlier today I read a short passage from Jonathan Rose's Intellectual Life of the British Working Class as I wanted to underline the need for the ILTUS programme at Ruskin and the activist in residence as a place/space for ideas to be shared in the context of Ruskin's tradition of trade union education.

The pictures below provide a small glimpse into the dynamism and excitement of the weekend.

Construct a winning narrative: Ethel's first lesson for the group
Jack helping students to analyse worker resistance in China 
Mary, Chilayi, Janet, Marie, Matt and Louise: Deep dissertation discussion!
Annie, Phil, Byron and Paul: Getting to grips with research questions
Nimisha and Marie: Making a start on research design
Ethel addresses the whole group
In Solidarity


Sunday, 8 March 2015

Organising the Unorganisable? Voices from the bottom up: Researchers and Activists Forum on Precarious Work 23-24 April


Maurizio Atzeni has organised a fascinating, international line-up of speakers around the theme of workers' organisation and precarious work at Loughborough University 23-24 April.

The event reflects key themes of his last book ( which is a result of the research arising from his Marie Curie Fellowship:

Maurizio taught on the MA ILTUS in October whilst there invited myself and students to attend the event to discuss how teaching trade unionists at Ruskin reflected/projected theory/practice around precarious work and organising.

The event details are below, and I welcome those who read this blog to come along. Please contact me for further details.

Organising the Unorganisable?
Voices from the Bottom Up
Researchers and Activists Forum on Precarious Work

Loughborough University 23-24 April 2015
An insight view of workers struggles in China- Ralf Gongchao Collective

The organisation of work in Chilean Ports and dockworkers organisation- Lucas Cifuentes, Advisor of the dockworkers Union/Universidad de Chile

Migrant organising in the UK-Gabriella Alberti, Univ. of Leeds  and Independent workers of Great Britain; Joyce Jiang, Roehampton Univ. and J4DW (Justice for Domestic Worker)

Workers in retail distribution centres in the UK and in Italy- Workers' Initiative Poland (Inicjatywa Pracownicza), Angry Workers of the World, Devi Sacchetto Univ. of Padua/Connessioni Precarie and Giorgio Grappi, Università di Bologna/Coordinamento migranti di Bologna e di Connessioni precarie

Forced Labour in Brazil (and beyond),  Fabiola Mieres, Durham University

Workers’organisation in textiles sweetshops in Argentina- Jeronimo Montero, Ministry of Labour and CONICET Argentina

Pedagogical insights of producing knowledge for and with activists and union organisers- Ian Manborde, Ruskin College, Oxford

Organising informal transport workers in developing countries- The Global Labour Institute and the International Transport Federation  

In Solidarity


Sunday, 1 March 2015

Securing the Right to Strike: ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association


Buy it: Read it
In his lifelong analysis of industrial conflict and strike action the eminent industrial relations academic Richard Hyman was attempting to tackle his central concern around the relationship between industrial action and class consciousness. This analysis is epitomised best in his 1972 publication Strikes.

On first reading the book as a student at Ruskin, and just previously having organised and led a strike with CPSA members at the then Equal Opportunities Commission in Manchester, I was particularly struck in the chapter on the sociology of strike action by what I considered to be the simple, matter of fact notion that structural influences condition workers' conscious understanding of the implications of strike action.

Hyman argues that there exists a 'structured dialectic of social structure and social consciousness'. Having first become a trade unionist when Thatcher was Prime Minister and experiencing her early experiments on marketisation with the civil service as the laboratory, and thereafter campaigning against the banning of trade unions at GCHQ, you couldn't but understand that any trade union resistance during this era was predicated on a response to the early phase of neo-liberalism in Britain.

Wind forward 30 years' later and the 'structured dialectic' was being realised at an international level through the assault by the employer's group at the international labour organisation (ILO) on the right to strike as it was framed in ILO Convention 87 on freedom of association.

There is an summary excellent article (written as a GLU Labour Column piece) by Jeffrey Vogt (legal adviser to the ICTU) which links to a much more detailed report he wrote on the employer's stance:

Interestingly the strategy of the employer's group is revealed in a YouTube interview with Chris Syder who is spokesperson for the employer's group at the ILO: ttp://

As Syder reveals in this 2011 video UK employers and the Coalition understand that any attempt to dismantle the right to strike in the UK (which is being threatened by the Tories) will trigger an appeal to the ILO. Thus the dismantling of the right in Convention 87 would diminish the possibility of the ILO agreeing with the UK labour movement that there had been a Convention breach.

See the Syder video interview here:

Thankfully, the employer's strategy has failed and, as announced late last week, they employer's capitulated as they were wary of the ILO dispute being referred to the International Court of Justice  (ICJ) which is a requirement of the ILO constitution in such situations.

In criticising the employer's group actions, and celebrating the victory, the ITUC General Secretary, Sharan Burrow justifiably said:  “Having created the crisis, employer groups and some governments were refusing to allow the issue to be taken to the International Court of Justice even though the ILO Constitution says it should be. We’ve now managed to negotiate a solution which protects the fundamental right of workers to take strike action, and allows the ILO to resume fully its work to supervise how governments respect their international labour standards obligations.”.

For most workers the 'structured dialectic' will be understood in local terms, although typically for public sector workers, like me as a CPSA activist in my much younger days, national political considerations are key influences also. The failed attempt by the employer's group at the ILO reveals that, as we have always known and understood, that there are critically important international influences at play undermining the political and economic status of workers' right.

How and whether workers can gain a conscious appreciation of this in the context of strike action is a critically important role for trade unions, because, on the back of any such education, is the need for workers anywhere in the world to understand that their strike action (and its outcomes) is irrevocably associated with the action of others.

Whilst it's unlikely that Hyman et al make for bedtime reading for  those that comprise the ILO's employer's group, it is clear that they understand the dangers of the dialectic, and the assault on Convention 87 was a brazen attempt to ease national deregulation of industrial action rights further.

We must be alert to the next stage in their strategy.

In Solidarity