1The usual story begins sometime in the late ’70s. Cue violins. Besotto voce: The rise of neoliberalism — as personified by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher — signalled the beginning of the end for trade unionism. Since then, unions have experienced rapid and relentless decline. Right? Union officials have spent the last forty years trying to turn a rout into a retreat.

The trouble with this dominant narrative is that, according to the best data we have available, it is wrong for most countries. In this paper Peter Hall-Jones looks at how our perspective has been skewed by the experience of a relatively small number of post-industrial nations. The real story is far more interesting and instructive. It also suggests a positive way forward. Rather than running trade unions as ailing small businesses, we should be building cooperation along supply chains. (more…)

New Unionism says: In the UK the issue of the blacklisting of workers with union links, particularly in the construction sector, has been in the news on and off for most of the last twenty years. In 2009, public data protection agency the Information Commissioner’s Office closed down a group called The Consulting Association on the grounds that it was illegally collecting and selling information about construction workers. The Consulting Association was founded and run by a group of major construction companies and it was these companies that were paying for its ‘employee vetting’ services – services which in reality were about ensuring that workers with a history of union involvement or whistleblowing on health and safety breaches were not taken on at any construction site. Although these companies have apologised for their involvement with the Consulting Association, they have not admitted any liability and remain eligible for public contracts. Despite a recent parliamentary report calling for further action to be taken against businesses involved in blacklisting, the government is resisting calls for a public enquiry. Now the Chartered Institue of Personnel and Development, the professional association representing human resource and personnel managers, appears to be attempting to minimise the damage that blacklisting causes, prompting a robust response from the chair of the UK’s respected public industrial arbitration and conciliation service ACAS. Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group reports. (more…)

The Governing Body of the International Labour Organization (ILO), currently meeting in Geneva, appears to heading towards asking the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to settle the row sparked by the ILO employers’ representatives claim that the right to strike is not protected by existing ILO conventions. (This previous post explains the background to the argument.) At this stage the Governing Body has still to make its final decision, but the publication last week of a ‘revised draft decision‘ that proposes to ask the ICJ to intervene suggests that workers’ representatives are winning the argument. The workers have been pressing for the referral of the question to the Court rather than the alternative solution, the establishment of a new internal dispute resolution tribunal. If the GB finally confirms the reference of the matter to the ICJ — and given the publication of the revised draft decision it looks almost certain — it would be a first for the ILO. While international bureaucracy nerds, especially those who have read this background document, might point out that the ILO referred 6 cases to the ICJ’s pre-second world war predecessor court, the last time this happened was in 1932 and in any case only one of those six references was on the interpretation of an ILO convention. While there’s no guarantee that the ICJ’s decision will be what workers’ representatives want, according to the ITUC the legal arguments that the right to strike is indeed enshrined in international law are pretty strong. Watch this space.

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The global union database project – UNIONWIKI – was launched today (25/5/14). In true Wiki tradition, the project has soaked up thousands of hours of collaborative work from volunteers within the New Unionism Network, with practical support from the ITF. Next step, if all goes to plan, is to create national union directories and then a facility for free wikis for individual unions. Along the way we also want to find out where our true strengths and weaknesses lie — with graphs showing the data by country, region, sector, confidence level and national income. If you’d like to know more about the project and future plans, please email unionwiki@newunionism.net.

volunteersWe’re looking for TWELVE volunteers to spend a month each as a Guest Editor. The job involves anything from about five hours per week to… well… you set the upper limit. We need your ideas, your energies, your perspectives and your networks. And hey – we need to shake things up a bit! It’s not just about running the Blog and FaceBook pages. We’re happy to see change… love the stuff… so you’re welcome to propose new projects, or conduct provocative interviews, or organize Meet-Ups, or launch a YouTube channel, or create a Prezi, or design a smartphone app… Play to your strengths!

There’s no particular job description for our 12 Guest Editors, just like there’s no wages (sorry – we should have mentioned that earlier!). This is not because we’re tight with money, just because we don’t have any. We get by on volunteer work and a budget south of shoestrings. (so hey – if fund-raising is a strengths of yours, we also need to talk!) In short, this is a great chance to make contacts and work alongside some inspiring strugglers and thinkers. The only restriction is that your work and approach must be in keeping with our principles (here) and our content guidelines (here).

Please contact communications@newunionism.net if you think you can help.

Network member Conor Cradden argues that ILO workers’ representatives have employers on the back foot on the thorny issue of the right to strike.

ILO_snapEmployers’ representatives at the International Labour Organization (ILO) have recently started to worry that freedom of association and collective bargaining rights might mean something more than offering workers a seat at the table and then proceeding to ignore them. They seem finally to have realised what the rest of the world has always known: the point of freedom of association rights is to allow workers to challenge unilateral managerial control over business costs and organization. For the last couple of years the employers have been desperately battling to make sure that freedom of association rights mean as little as possible in practice. However, the 2014 report of the ILO’s independent legal advisory body, the Committee of Experts, suggests that this particular battle is not going their way. (more…)

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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…)

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