precariat


guild2

This is the final in our series on how global unions might be built. In it, the author argues for a rejuvenated form of solidarity built around occupation. Industrial unions began to replace guilds and friendly societies during the first wave of new unionism – starting towards the end of the 19th century. The labour movement may have lost something critical along the way. Look at the way we talk about work — people do jobs; but people are occupations. The author argues: “…we need to start from the principle that what we do and seek to do is more important than who we do it for.” As we have seen elsewhere in this series (see here, for instance) a revived focus on occupation could be constructed as an added dimension to existing union activity and structures — it need not require any major reconfiguration. The benefits to working people are obvious, as we have seen with professional associations and support networks. But a new approach based on occupational citizenship might also help us address some of the most pressing problems we face:

  • How do we organize and bargain across borders in an age of globalization?
  • How do we organize “the precariat” – that rapidly growing class of workers who come and go before unions can reach them?
  • How do we rebuilt solidarity and influence in an age where many unions are struggling just to sustain themselves?

(more…)

frameworkThis article was originally published in the Global Labour University’s “Global Labour” column, here. It has been submitted to the New Unionism Network’s discussion on global unionism by the author, a member of the network. You can find out more about global framework agreements here.
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For the past decades of economic globalisation, unions around the world have been on the defensive; their role as voices of the political and economic interests of working people has been marginalised. In a climate of outsourcing, offshoring, flexibilisation and casualisation of work, the loss of union power and the deregulation of labour markets has flourished and opened the way for increasing precariousness and agency work – the “triangular trap“[1]. (more…)

The network is the vanguard.
Dan Gallin, Chair of the Global Labour Institute


The union movement and FaceBook are about the same size, as of October 2012. That’s about one billion members, or one seventh of the world’s population[1]. It’s a milestone that has attracted very little attention because, frankly, the comparison ends there.

But why?

In this discussion the author argues for a new type of social networking as a necessary complement to our organized structures. This new networking needs to protect the user while promoting openness. Adding such a layer to our existing model of unionism would create a horizontal axis, and bring tremendous new strength to existing vertical structures.

(more…)

Network member Mike Waghorne warmly recommends Asbjørn Wahl’s new book ‘The Rise and Fall of the Welfare State’, published by Pluto Press and available for browsing or purchase here. Mike writes:

Many unions will be offended by this book because Wahl criticises their ignorance of how the welfare state came to be won but also because too many of them remain overly committed to social dialogue in circumstances where it is no longer a valid model, given that ‘the other two sides’ have repudiated, in fact if not in PR stances, the consensus and class compromise on which it was built. (more…)

It’s not enough to produce widgets, we must produce quality widgets that can be sold for a profit. This expectation applies across the board — to the service industries as well as commodity production. However, “quality” is a notoriously elusive concept[i]. For this reason blue collar workers (and an increasing share of white collar workers) have grown accustomed to the checklists and graphs that come with quality assurance. Here’s an interesting idea: what if we extended quality assurance processes to employment relations? (more…)

Generally speaking, the term ‘casual’ has positive connotations – relaxed, informal, easy-going. Applied to the world of labour, though, the reverse is true. It describes a situation of increasingly insecure, pressure-driven employment, at the whim of employers whose demands may chop and change, forcing millions of workers to realign their lives, routines and other commitments in their struggles to get by: less casuals than casualties.

Passing the Buck: Corporate Restructuring and the Casualisation of Employment is the latest volume in the excellent Work Organisation Labour and Globalisation series*. It is reviewed here by Richy Leitch. (more…)

If you’ve been puzzling over this whole #Occupy thing, Guy Standing’s latest book “The Precariat: The Dangerous New Class”(1) is essential reading. If you’re a unionist or center-left politician who’s been wondering where the hell your membership base went (and how to win it back), ditto.

If Standing(2) is correct, then we can expect movements like Occupy to evolve and grow. Unfortunately, we can also expect a continuing revival among the extreme right. Hence the word “dangerous” in the title of the book.

At the heart of Standing’s book is the contention that a new class is developing. Just as the rise of the “proletariat” (or industrial working class) changed the face of the 20th century, so is the rise of the “precariat”(3) affecting us today. The implications of this shift are no less radical. Unionists who ignore this change, or cling to hopes of a revival of the 20th century model, are already following in the footsteps of the Guilds. (more…)

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