Sunday, 23 December 2012

Ending the year on an optimistic note...

There has been much to concern trade unionists in the last year, but MA course leader, Ian Manborde explains why there is some optimism as the year draws to a close.


The last posted item before I start leave and I feel the need to end on a positive note.

Scanning the items posted over the year there is indeed much to be concerned about and for me one of the most concerning issues this year was the murder of striking miners during the Marikana dispute. 
It is deeply worrying that black SA workers could be murdered by the police under an ANC government. This shocking incident tells us that class remains as a deep faultline in a country in thrall to neo-liberal policy as a means to 'modernise' an economy built on apartheid.
Despite the fact  however that many many leaders of the apartheid-era liberation movement are now deeply embedded in the corrupt practices of the SA government and MNCs( Cyril Ramaphosa springs to mind here) one of the abiding legacies of that movement was a radical political consciousness which found an expression in many forms, including journalism. And, as could be expected the analysis of Marikana, in the context of SA politics, featured heavily in the coverage of Pambazuka News.
Here is the link to the first of many pieces, but one which starts with a report on how Groundup, a community journalism project reporting from SA townships, led on the news coverage of the dispute and of the murders:
What happened at Marikana. not least during the period of a looming election in SA, will not go away, and the independent news media will continue to report on the outomes of an incident rooted in the history of a country built on the manifest exploitation of black workers. Whilst the reputation of both leading SA miners' unions have not reflected well before, during and after the dispute, that the workers decided to strike voluntarily and mobilised across the different mines involved in the dispute is a means for us to constructively conceive of a remaining legacy of how workers can and do respond in a country like South Africa.
Looking globally for further signs of optimism one of the many positive events last year was the summer school of the Global Labour Institute (UK) and the report from this The Political Agenda of the International Labour Movement is, I argue, one of the best ways of exploring the current state of organised labour, the challenges posed, and the responses thus far.
You can get a free copy of the report at the GLI's website, and I encourage anyone interested in the future of organised labour to get a copy, take a break, read, reflect and act upon its inspiring coverage of the outcomes of the school:
The report kicks with Dan Gallins overview of how and why the GLI was created, and the historical purpose of the summer schools, which partly was a means to address what he assesses as a continuing withdrawal - partly by European TUs - from an intellectual analysis of the changing nature of capitalism and of what this meant for changes in working practices and in turn what this meant for workers and trade unions.
Part of Gallin's concern (and there is a link here to my comments about the SA liberation movement above) was that labour movement did not generate a conscious understanding on the part of members and activists of this change, that leaders were 'bereft of political imagination' and thus were enable to foresse the looming, dominant changes to in European labour markets (women, migrant workers etc) and thus resulted in a scenario where large portions of the European workforce remain outside of collective bargaining coverage and/or unorganised.
I wamted to end with a reference to Gallin's opening statement at the GLI event because Ruskin College has been, I would strongly argue, trying to fill the educational and intellecutal vacuum to which he refers. And, the BA and MA in international labour and trade union studies (ILTUS) are wholly reflective of this.
So, keep an eye on the labour news during 2013, there will be, as always plenty of it, and I will do my best to flag up areas of particular interest and concern.
Hope you have a great break over the Xmas period.
In Solidarity

Friday, 23 November 2012

Workplace Justice on Black Friday

Today, Walmart workers in the US are taking strike action to co-incide with the mass shopping event, Black Friday.

Here a Walmart worker, and The Nation contributer, Josh Eidelson (@josheidelson) give an overview of how Walmart have responded so far.

Ruskin College MA course leader, Ian Manborde says:
Despite the extent of setbacks we face as trade unionists, there is always room for optimism and hope - and here is the latest cause for celebration. Workers at Wal-Mart across the US are out on strike and currently campaigning for mass action on Black Friday (a mass shopping event in the US - where Wal-Mart makes millions in profit overnight). Although different labour movement and/or social justice organisations are working with Wal-Mart workers to mobilise for the event, some of the best coverage (and organising activity) is being managed by the Corporate Action Network:
As an employer of 1.4 million people in the US alone Wal-Mart has consistently used its corporate muscle to attack attempts to organise in supermarkets. Thankfully, when Wal-Mart bought ASDA in the UK a similar attempt at union bashing was ultimately thwarted by the GMB, but only after the ruthless victimisation of trade union reps and workers across the UK chain of shops ( So, use the CAN site to read more about the latest cause for celebration for trade unionists globally. If workers in Wal-Mart succeed in improving terms and conditions the knock-on effect across the States and elsewhere will be phenomenal, so keep an eye out."

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Farewell Bill McCarthy

MA Course leader, Ian Manborde writes on a sad passing:


With the sad death earlier this year of Bill Wedderburn, and now the passing away on Sunday of Bill McCarthy, the UK has lost arguably two of its most impressive, outstanding experts on labour law, industrial relations and the of the role of trade unions within these.

Despite the almost luminary position that Bill McCarthy came to occupy as an industrial relations academic, and also principal adviser to successive Labour governments – his input well established historically in those seismic shifts in UK trade unionism, the Donovan Commission report of 1968 and the flawed policy of Barbara Castle, In Place of Strife – his roots were much more common to those of us in the trade union movement.

Bill came to Ruskin College in 1953 supported by his union USDAW. He met his wife, Margaret Godfrey whilst at Ruskin and they went to become stalwart activists in the Oxford Labour Party.

Whilst Bill went on from Ruskin to pursue a career which dominated the industrial relations landscape of the 1960’s-80s’ he never came to conveniently ignore (as many others did) his trade union origins.
As a student at Ruskin in the 1980s Bill’s book, the magisterial Trade Unions, was seen as of such fundamental importance to building the knowledge base of new students that it was set as mandatory reading before we even set foot across the threshold. His written and advisory output over 40 years in academia and government circles was prolific but within this he retained his deep, abiding interest of what it was that could retain at a grand scale union strength and influence in collective bargaining and industrial relations machinery; but absorbed also by the minutia of the union rule book.

There is a wonderful obituary to Bill McCarthy in today’s Guardian, supplemented by a personal reflection from Geoffrey Goodman.
Taken together the coverage represents a fine critical analysis of the role of an individual during a period of fluctuating fortune for British trade unions; but one in which without the imprint of Bill McCarthy our current position as trade unionists in the UK could not have  been the same.
The Guardian obituaries are here

As a mark of respect for Bill's work in support of British trade unions he became one of only two honorary fellows of Ruskin College, and at the next meetings of the College's Governing Executive and Governing Council, there will be a minute's silence.
In Solidarity

Ian's blog can be found Here

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Union Bashing Brought to you by the World Bank

It is interesting that our next workshop brings together the twin themes of neo-liberalism, with Sian Moore's session on Friday, and union bashing with Pete Martin's guest speaker slot on Saturday evening.

The evidence of the World Bank's anti-union stance in its own neo-liberal policy has been evident for years. The latest means by which their anti-unionism is starkly evident is via an analysis of its most recent Doing Business report.

There is a fascinating analysis of the report from a trade union perspective by Michelle Chen in a recent article for In These Times (subscribe to this, it's free and excellent in range and content). Although Michelle is a regular writer for In These Times she principally writes for CultureStrike (if migration interests you read this) and the Asia Pacific Forum. Links for both sites are at the bottom her article.

The article can be read here, and if your an MA student I  encourage you to read it in preparation for the the second workshop

Link to article here. 

Ian Manborde

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

John Lewis Cleaners in New Pay Dispute

During the first weekend seminar on the MA there was much discussion about different ways of organising, and the different traditions internationally. Of course, as part of the discussion the Industrial Workers  of the World came up. So it's with interest that we came across the following press release, especially given the current high profile of campaigning and debate around the living wage. 

Also as Ian Manborde, course leader says "The IWW is making phenomenally important progress in organising often marginalised workers in the UK" 

Here's what the IWW says: 

"Today, Monday 12th November, the Industrial Workers of the World union (IWW) have lodged a fresh pay dispute on behalf of outsourced cleaners at John Lewis. This follows the IWW cleaners strike at John Lewis in Oxford Street earlier in the year – the first strike in John Lewis history. 

In the run up to Christmas and January sales, John Lewis can expect to see profits spike, bringing in £millions. Meanwhile, our members working in their buildings are earning minimum wage of just £6.19 p/h. 

Budget cuts have seen their workloads increase, leading to stress, sickness and depression. But with no sick pay, they have to carry on regardless. Meanwhile, poverty pay means home life is a daily struggle. 

The cleaners, working at four John Lewis sites in South London including the famous Peter Jones store in Sloane Square and the company HQ in Victoria, are not part of John Lewis’ famous ‘partnership’. Instead they are employed by a contractor, Integrated Cleaning Management Ltd. (ICM), part of the giant Compass Group Ltd. 

But now these second class workers have had enough. 

Following extensive attempts by the workers to improve their situation, their union IWW entered a new pay claim with ICM on 26th October. Clear, realistic and reasonable, not to mention necessary, the pay claim aims at an immediate and backdated increase to £6.72 p/h for cleaners, £8 p/h for supervisors, plus a timetable of discussions aimed at securing full London Living Wage of £8.55 and full sick pay. 

ICM have not been able to respond within the agreed 14 day period and therefore IWW have today lodged this fresh trade dispute. If no resolution is forthcoming, IWW and our members 
are ready and willing to pursue any lawful action available, up to and including lawful industrial action in the run up to Christmas and January sales." 

Friday, 9 November 2012

Film review: The Salt of the Earth

As a bit of a film fan I made sure I had a couple of DVDs with me for the long journey back up to Auld Reekie after our first session.  One of them was something I had been intending to watch for some time but for some reason had never got round to it- Herbert J. Biberman's Salt of the Earth.  The timing couldn't have been better; the number of themes contained in the film that we had talked about over the weekend was striking.


Made in 1954 it's a remarkable film for its time.  Based on a real life strike in a New Mexico zinc mine it was written, directed, and produced by blacklisted artists and stars a mixture of blacklisted and non-professional actors (many of whom were actual miners).  It is unapologetically radical in its promotion of workplace and community resistance in the face of unimaginable intimidation.


However, what really makes this film stand out is its treatment of race and gender issues.  The women here aren't passive observers but are instrumental in the success of the strike.  Furthermore, the film doesn't shirk away from exposing the systematic opression they face as women, in their own homes and communities as well as wider society.


Also, after one of our colleagues mentioned the need to understand and be sensitive the culture of migrant workers, I nearly fell out of my rather cramped train seat a few hours later when the main male character, Ramon, made exactly the same point to his union organiser.


It's not without its faults but the treatment of these issues was well ahead of its time.  Fortunately, the film is now in the public domain so you can watch it free of guilt on the internet at



Kevin - MA ILTUS student 2012-14

Sunday, 4 November 2012

The Milibands & The Minimum Wage: Alan Fisher Remembered

In the front page article in The Observer on 04/11 the Miliband brothers are praised for suggesting that a living wage (LW) could form part of the Labour platform at the next general election: 

 Further reading of the article reveals however the imprint of cold fingers when the suggestion appears that employers might voluntarily sign up for the LW following the lead of those champions of the poor and weak KPMG.

Hard on the heels of the last week's damning report on the state of poor, and the crippling effects that austerity is having on too many families, the Resolution Foundation( )
pour much cold water on any attempt to smash poverty through feeble, voluntaristic means.

It is interesting that Dave Prentis is party to the Milibands' tinkering with low pay as it tells those who are interested that UNISON's historical roots run deep to a much more fundamental and powerful demand that work should pay (to coin a phrase from the Coalition - but of course with a different emphasis) and that pay, to use a more traditional TU phrase, should be the going rate for the job.

Alan Fisher (and Bernard Dix) carved out the labour movement's position on low pay in 1974 with their publication Low pay and how to end it: A union view. The trade union position on low pay (as with equal pay) reveals a shameful record of reaction and cowardice, yet for Fisher and Dix (leading policy lights in NUPE) the time had come to end the appalling levels of low pay faced by large proportions of public sector workers.

You'll find plenty in the Ruskin library on the history of this but here is a good, short summary: 

 With the 70's UK economy in (reasonably) good health it was understandable that the government should take the lead in setting pay trends (and indeed they did throughout the 60s and 70s negotiated with TUs in the form of incomes policy) and in adopting a minimum wage. Although the national minimum wage (NMW) only came into being once New Labour (and the Milibands) were in No.10 no accurate history of the pressure on the Blairites to introduce the NMW is faithful without a reference to Fisher and Dix and indeed NUPE.

Yet, here were are over 40 years later with the Labour heralding voluntarism as the means by which employers should be encouraged to move from the NMW to a LW. It reminds me of New Labour's tragic handling of the finance sector in the 90s between Gordon Brown (then Chancellor) and Patricia Hewitt (then Secretary of State at the DTI) when they claimed that 'light touch regulation' way be the way in which to regulate the sector.

And thus light touch has brought us the heavy hand in the spectacular rise in levels of poverty and the response of the Coalition to the phenomenon.

I will look with interest at how UNISON (both lay and official) in particular responds to the LW debate - particular because of the Shephard/Dix legacy - but also because the LW speaks of a much more fundamental problem for UNISON - and the other affiliated unions with public sector members - which is how they sell the continuity of low pay for public sector workers (Ed Balls has promised the continuity of the pay freeze under Labour) when it is obvious to all that the economic plight for low paid workers is set to worsen.

Where are the new Shephard/Dix that UNISON desperately needs?

In Solidarity

Ian Manborde
Programme Co-ordinator