new unionism


peerThe transnationalisation of production, along with the rise of global supply chains, informalisation, financialisation, and connecting of world markets through informationalisation have all hit hard on workers. It seems to have become impossible to overcome the resulting divisions among working classes, who have been so radically abused by capital. These new structural forces have created an immense need for connected self-organisations of workers, built from the bottom up, and operating simultaneously at local, national and international levels. This article argues for a new global unionism that goes beyond the IWW experience and allows workers to connect local, national, regional and international struggles by aligning with other struggles in life. (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.

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American novelist Thomas Pynchon once wrote: “If you can get people to ask the wrong questions, you don’t have to worry about the answers they come up with.”

So… (cue violins…) how do we stop the decline of unions? It’s a question that has launched a thousand conferences. And, of course, it’s an issue that must be faced. Yes, unions in many rich countries have declined since the early 1980s. I say “of course” because the social pact between labour and the State that followed WWII in these countries was always going to be a temporary phenomenon. The level of union membership that we achieved from 1945 through to the rise of neo-liberalism (with Reagan and Thatcher etc) was an historical anomaly. In fact, something rather similar could be said about level of unionisation in the former Soviet bloc. Of course, yes yes.

If we want to ask the right questions, we really need to think more critically than this. For starters, we need to establish what has been happening to the labour movement as economics went global. That is, what has been happening this century?

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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…)

What makes a good job? And is it in management’s interests, as well as the union’s, to try and make jobs better?

Job satisfaction was once a hot topic in academia. From the 1960’s through till the late 1980’s, management theorists looked at the question from every angle, trying to find ways to create a contented labour force. By this, they meant: “one less concerned with money rewards and less inclined to  unionise[i]”. Researchers expected to find a strong correlation between job satisfaction and productivity. However, when this proved elusive, research funding dried up. More recently, a bunch of new research has helped the democratic labour movement better understand what workers want, and how we can deliver it. (more…)

As unionists, we pretty much know what we’re against, but what are we for? What values should the union movement be prioritizing, representing and promoting? The New Unionism Network ran an online survey from January 2007 to January 2012* (it is now closed). In it, we asked people to select a “Top 10” among 42 values. Below are  the results, with the subsequent 5 included as well. There is a very clear message in here for those who believe “business unionism” is the way forward. Most members do NOT wish to identify with a simple, self-interested approach. If your union prioritizes wage increases above all else, you might need to do some deeper research into what members actually want.

What values should unions prioritize?

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Along with so many unions and groups within the wider labour movement, the New Unionism Network has voted overwhelmingly to support the Occupy movement*. As a contribution, we are producing a series of leaflets by network members who have fully developed alternatives to the current system. (David Schweickart’s model here; Michael Albert’s model here).

Among the hundreds of unions and federations that have endorsed the movement and offered support are:

  • ITUC – the International Trade Union Confederation (the world’s leading international union body) (details);
  • WFTU – World Federation of Trade Unions (the second largest international body) (details);
  • EI – Education International – largest of the sector-based “global union federations” (details);
  • UNI global union – another of the global union federations (details);
  • ITF – the International Transport Workers’ Federation (details);
    (We are still trying to find out about the other global union federations)
  • AFL-CIO – the largest union federation in the U.S.A. (details);
  • SEIU – largest union in Change to Win – the second largest federation in the U.S.A. (details);
  • AFT – the American Federation of Teachers – largest union in the U.S.A. but independent from both of the federations above (details);

(Other U.S. unions…)

The movement went global in October. More than 2,500 Occupy groups are currently listed on the global hub, Occupy Together. However, OccupyWallStreet – the group who catalysed the movement in the U.S.A. – has since been evicted. Similar actions have closed sites across many other cities. There have been 1200 arrests in New York alone. With 2012 approaching, we are about to find out if this is a movement or just a moment. (more…)

The social and democratic revolutions that have been sweeping the Middle East have redrawn the political map and rewritten the regional rules, writes Assaf Adiv*, National Coordinator of WAC-Maan. Antagonisms between Israel, the Arab world and the Palestinians have taken on a new dimension, in light of the movement for change in Arab states. Revolutionaries in Tunisia and Egypt have brought down the regimes of Ben Ali and Mubarak, shifting the center of power back to the street. The order that has prevailed in the region for more than 30 years is being shaken to the core. (more…)

Here’s an interview with Joe Burns, union negotiator, U.S. attorney and author of  “Reviving the Strike: How working people can regain power and transform America” (IG Publishing, 2011).

We contacted Joe after reading this book, which looks primarily at the situation in the U.S.A., and asked him what lessons other countries might take from his research. In short, he believes that we need to build a new unionism — one which is based on global solidarity and is willing and able to contest management decisions and, if necessary, stop production.
(more…)

Here’s one to watch. Down in New Zealand, a country with an unusually cohesive (though struggling) union movement, affiliates of the national union federation have launched an innovative thing called “Together“. We’re calling it a thing because it doesn’t really fit into any of the usual drawers. It’s not a union, not an NGO, not an organisation, not a network, not an association, club, sect, faction, fraction, tendency or movement. What it is, above all else, is a potential solution to several of the quandaries that unions have been trying to solve for at least 10 years. (more…)

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