Friday, 29 July 2016

The legacy of Chris Wilkes (18/12/57-18/03/16)

Dear Colleagues,

Yesterday at Ruskin College we held a memorial event to celebrate the life of Chris Wilkes, the Principal of Ruskin College who died unexpectedly on 18th March.

The event drew many current staff members, and a diverse body of ex-Ruskin staff from the period of Chris's time at Ruskin, the bulk of which he spent in the role of General Secretary on appointment in 1991.

I left Ruskin College in 1991 and so missed meeting Chris, however, we did meet when I worked at the WEA and Northern College, and it was a great privilege to be under his leadership when I started to work at Ruskin College, first as a visiting tutor, from 2000.

Many people made a contribution yesterday, including Ruth Spelman, Chief Executive of the WEA, and Stephen Yeo, ex-Principal.

The overwhelming sentiment expressed was of a kind, caring, considerate man, with a profound commitment to the development and delivery of education which could transform the lives of working class women and men.

I spent many very happy hours with Chris on a variety of areas of work and always felt his genuine support and care for my role at Ruskin. Chris was also my main encouragement to start my doctorate research and I am aim to dedicate this to him.

I was privileged yesterday to host the memorial event, and this allowed me to introduce speakers, and I concluded by saying that the event marked not the end of the way that we remember Chris's legacy, but just the beginning.

In Solidarity


Friday, 15 July 2016

Learning Activism: The Intellectual Life of Social Movements

Dear Colleagues,

As you will know I am toiling away on my doctoral thesis which focuses on activist learning and the role that the MA programme that I run at Ruskin College plays in this.

There have been hundreds of sources of material that I have been drawing on to help frame my analysis. My starting point has that literature which maps out the development of workers' education in the UK, and I am indebted to people like Jonathan Rose for his book The Intellectual Life of the British Working Class:

Naturally enough the role of Ruskin College here has been something that I have enjoyed having the time to focus on in detail. Teachers and Leaders by Richard Lewis, for example, is critically important in discussing the way in which education for trade union activists reflected deeply the tension in the labour movement about its place within capitalist economies:

There are limits however contemporarily around literature that relates to the knowledge production processes of trade union activists (which is good for me I suppose) which has meant that I have been drawing heavily on comparative material within social movements.

The work of colleagues like Laurence Cox and Mario Novelli have been instrumental here for example: and

It has been fascinating to uncover this (and similar) material that uncovers and explores the informal and formal processes by which activists generate knowledge as an aspect of their activism, and in turn how this informs their sense of agency and shapes the strategic orientation of movements.

I have written here several times of how influential the writing of Aziz Choudry has been (e.g: - quite possibly the definitive book on the subject) and I wanted to give a plug for his latest book, which is his most personal.

Learning Activism: The Intellectual Life of Social Movements is as the book's blurb states designed to encourage a deeper engagement with the intellectual life of activists who organise for social, political and ecological justice. Combining experiential knowledge from his own activism and a variety of social movements, Choudry suggests that such organisations are best understood if we engage with the learning, knowledge, debates and theorising that goes on with them.
It is from this perspective that I am aiming to shed light on the similar processes by which trade union activists generate knowledge and how this aids their development of theory for modes and processes of trade union renewal.

The process of examining how this works in allied social movements is essential, I argue, as much of the debate on trade union renewal pushes for greater proximity and collaboration between organised labour and social movements - the educational arena . The research output of my colleague Jane Holgate is critically important in building and sustaining this argument:

Please have a look at the contents/buy a copy here:

In Solidarity


Wednesday, 6 July 2016

GLI Summer School 2016: The Politics of the International Labour Movement

Dear Colleagues,

Just a brief post from the 2016 Summer School of the Global Labour Institute (GLI). Please follow the fascinating, thought-provoking programme via Twitter or Facebook or live streaming:

This year's group photo - somehow I ended up with the 'R' in solidarity.
The principal focus of the Summer School (this is the fifth) is an examination of what kind of political values are required by trade unions globally to respond to the vast range of social, economic and political challenges.

So invariably, we kicked off on Monday with Asbjorn Wahl (Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees) with a session on developments with the capitalist economy (particularly around financialisation) and the extent to which organised labour has a defined anti-capitalist strategy.

Of course it is true to say that most established 'traditional' unions have no anti-capitalist agenda. Instead, and certainly the case in industrialised economies, the focus is on gaining comparative advantage for organised workers. This was a fascinating session, with opportunity for discussion, and which fed into today's focus on the environment. Taken together the sessions revealed that the compromise and embededness of some labour movements with capitalist economies require some urgent thinking on the part of those movements on their future survival.

The uncompromising position of the FSIE Teachers' Union of Romania.
Thanks to Peter Damos of the union for proudly wearing showcasing this logo all week.
Yesterday kicked off with a comparative focus on the health of organised labour from a Nigerian, Latin American, Romanian and UK perspective. The day concluded with a fascinating presentation by Paula Hamilton of the ITF on the Industrial Hubs Programme:

One of the most impressive elements of the Hubs idea is that it has come from, and is built on, activist knowledge and experience of the differing employers/sectors allied to logistics hubs. Although the ITF should be congratulated for developing and piloting the programme, it is important to note that the core philosophy is the simple notion of trade union solidarity. How did it come to this that we need to think through and strategise upon how workers inter/intra the movement co-operate and support one another's struggles? This is not, of course, to criticise the ITF, but to support the GLI's insistence that labour movement activity rests on a clear platform of political goals and values.

Today's session continued the focus on labour movement responses to transnational capital with a presentation by Paula on the ITF's campaign focusing on DHL. John Storey of the GLI drew on his experience as a UNITE activist within UNILEVER to discuss the IUF's Casual-T campaign ( Angelo Gavrielatos of IE provided a sound analysis of the extent of the agenda of capital in the education sector, Finally, Mora Sar of the Food & Service Workers' Union of Cambodia provided insight on a campaign at a large Carlsberg plant.

With Baba Aye of the Medical & Health Workers' Union of Nigeria and Michael Ayuraboya of the National Association of Graduate Teachers of Ghana 
This afternoon we have the fantastic opportunity to hear from John Hilary of War on the latest positions re TTIP and TISA. Tonight we get to watch the film that accompanies Naomi Klein's book This Changes Everything.

Tomorrow's focus is explicit;y around the political state of organised labour and Friday is spent concluding the Manifesto of the Summer School.

The Manifesto (here is a link to last year's: provides a great insight both into the focus of the Summer School and also its outcomes - well worth reading, and please use the GLI link at the top of the page to read this years which will be published in a month or two.

Attending the Summer School has been particularly valuable as I continue with writing up my doctoral thesis. One of the key, re-occurring themes of the Summer School so far, and that my thesis discusses, is the political sustainability of traditional models of trade unionism in the face of rampant financialised capital.

In fine form (as ever) John Hilary of War on Want
Two quotes were used to underline this messages. One is from Warren Buffet, the US investment guru: There's class warfare alright, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making the war, and we're winning.

The quote from last year reflected his concerns around continuing deep-seated and rising economic inequality, particularly across the famed American middle-class, the bell weather socio-economic group in America.

The second quote is from the Gen Sec of the ITUC, Sharan Burrow: We are not only losing collecive bargaining rights, we are now effectively in a labour war across Europe, the US, emerging democracies. Why? Because the old stakeholders who drove the neo-liberal economic policies that would seem to be foul policies, the Washington consensus if you like, are back in control. We thought the global financial crisis showed them that this was a failed economic model. We were wrong.We now have a situation where we are largely engaged in what I can only describe as a labour war.

As Dave Spooner of the GLI has repeatedly asserted throughout the week thus far (and has maintained throughout his working life within organised labour) is that the movement has the capacity and ability to generate a response within the context of this war.

There has already been some really valuable insight on how workers have regained power and control in the workplace and in local communities in what appeared to be hopeless situations.

Dave kicked off the week reminding us of the valuable role of Paulo Freire in shaping the approach to workers'/adult education and it's helpful to finish this post with a quote from him in the context of the the new ideas that can come from the knowledge that workers create, even in what appears to be overwhelming situations:

Critical and liberating dialogue, which presupposes action, must be carried on with the oppressed at whatever the stage of their struggle for liberation. The content of that dialogue can and should vary in accordance with historical conditions and the level at which the oppressed perceive reality. 

In Solidarity