dialogThe paper below has been submitted for open discussion by members and friends of the New Unionism Network1. Our conclusions will be presented to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on or before 30th April 2018, in the run up to their centenary ‘Future of Work’ project. In order to join the discussion we suggest you look at this ILO paper first (download). In particular, we are concerned with Chapter 5: The Governance of Work. What do you think? We have a draft reply below and we invite you to share your feedback, thoughts and/or questions. Because many of you work directly with the ILO, at local or global level, our discussion will take place with in an anonymised meeting room here: safe.space/room22.


safespace anonymous email and web forumsBestu oskir from Iceland — the Switzerland of data! That’s where you’ll find safeSpace, an anonymized communication tool created by volunteers from the New Unionism Network. It’s an online facility where workers can discuss issues without fear of being identified, and where they can meet securely with union organizers and/or colleagues from other countries. safeSpace also provides email addresses which have been stripped of any identifying information — a handy tool for whistleblowers and those who want to bring attention to crap they are witnessing. Unlike anything we’ve done before this is a user-pays service, but there wasn’t any way we could get the project off the ground otherwise. We’re sticking to our non-profit roots by offering free accounts to union organizers in a series of ultra-repressive regimes; initially Algeria, the Central African Republic, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Mali, North Korea, Paraguay and Somalia.

The safeSpace system is still in Beta, and we’ve got a few details to iron out, so we’re offering folks a 50% discount until the end of 2017. Financial members of the New Unionism Network will continue to get a discount after that. If you’d like to know more about the project check out the FAQ here.

chain2Following on from discussions with network members last year, we’ve been talking with the good folk at LabourStart about the creation of a new organisation: provisionally named The Fair Work Foundation. This body would aim to address the problem of weak or fraudulent labour standards. It would do so in two ways:

1) Fair Work Certified Standards
The Foundation would evaluate the labour standards conditions and auditing practices of private standards organizations. This would be done with an aim to certifying those that represent effective, good faith attempts to positively encourage and facilitate independent worker organization and collective bargaining.

2) Fair Work: Union Made
The Foundation would establish a new social label to certify that the workers who produce a labelled product or service do so in a unionized workplace where wages and conditions of employment are set via collective bargaining.

While these two initiatives cannot substitute for robust labour law, we believe they could be important as a means of promoting collective industrial relations. We invite all members of the Network to read of this proposal, drafted by member Dr Conor Cradden, and let us know what you think. Better still, let us know if you’d like to be involved in making it happen.



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?


moonRather than modernising the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon has begun to drag it, kicking and screaming, back into the 1980s.  He has spent seven years as an “invisible man” (his own description) but now the Secretary General is starting to make his mark. One can only hope it does not leave a permanent stain.

Ban emerged as front-runner for the General-Secretary position in 2006, “largely thanks to the United States, which was looking for an especially bland candidate after knocking heads so often with Kofi Annan over the Iraq war”.(1)

In keeping with this expectation, Ban likes to boast that in Korea he is known as the “slippery eel” because it is impossible to hold onto anything he says. It is little wonder, then, that those who wanted progressive change in the UN soon became exasperated. In fact, there have been calls for his resignation since 2009. This is what Foreign Policy magazine had to say:

“…at a time when global leadership is urgently needed, when climate change and international terrorism and the biggest financial crisis in 60 years might seem to require some—any!—response, the former South Korean foreign minister has instead been trotting the globe collecting honorary degrees, issuing utterly forgettable statements, and generally frittering away any influence he might command.”(2)

More recently, Ban has become visible. Unfortunately, his true colours are not a pretty sight. In fact, his recent bureaucratic manouevres are an open betrayal of the organisation’s founding ideals. (more…)

by Dr Conor Cradden


One of the less remarked-upon annual publications of the ILO is the report of the director general to the International Labour Conference, which appears on the ILO website sometime around May each year in the run-up to the International Labour Conference. This year’s report deserves rather more attention than it normally gets, not least because it’s the first time Guy Ryder, in post as DG since October 2012, has set out his stall so publicly. The report demonstrates that unlike his predecessor, Chilean diplomat Juan Somavia, the British former trade union leader has an acute sense of what industrial relations ought to be about. It’s also clear that he is willing to go out on a limb to promote a conception of decent work that centres on the on-going substantive relationship between workers and employers rather than on some technocratic ‘business case’ approach to standards compliance. In an occasionally strongly-worded report – or at least, as strongly-worded as these types of document ever get – Ryder puts on the record the need for the ILO to address a series of issues that it has gone out of its way to avoid over the last twenty years or so and calls to order those within the organization who seem determined to ensure that it can’t fulfil its mandate. (more…)

by Conor Cradden*

Anyone who has a passing acquaintance with economics will be familiar with the free rider problem. Free riders are economic actors who avoid paying for public goods because these goods are ‘non-excludable’ — their benefits are available to anyone, regardless of whether they have contributed to the cost of providing them. For trade unions, the free rider problem takes the form of non-membership in unionized workplaces.

Even though collective agreements generally cover all the workers in a particular category, membership is almost never 100%. Hence, workers who are not union members get a ‘free ride’. They benefit from the union’s bargaining power without paying for it.

Logically, there are two ways in which unions can try to solve the free rider problem. They can choose a regulatory solution, which is to say that they can aim to make it obligatory for everyone who benefits from union services to contribute to the cost of providing them, just as all citizens are obliged to pay taxes. Alternatively, unions can adopt a market solution: they can aim to convince workers that certain important benefits of union membership are excludable; that there are social or financial goods and services which are only available to union members and which are worth paying for. In this way unions can be sure that a high proportion of workers will join of their own free will. Putting this distinction in less academic terms, what it comes down to is that unions can either try to make non-members join, or they can try to persuade them to join.


Richard Leitch reviews ‘Clean Clothes: a Global Movement to end Sweatshop‘ by Liesbeth Sluiter, Pluto Press 2009.

The garment industry is well known for its globally organised production system. This book traces the development of an equally global opposition network, the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC). It’s a campaign that has pushed the industry to clean up its labour practices in the last two decades: a coalition of NGOs, trade unions and consumer groups, which has grown from European beginnings to include about 250 member organisations.

In an era when national regulation and national trade union powers are in decline, CCC has tracked the global expansion of the garment industry and developed a range of strategies to improve labour practices in its expansive supply chains, where the logics of cost-cutting, ‘murderous competition’ and perpetually cheap clothing hold sway. Liesbeth Sluiter’s book offers a valuable history of the CCC, set against the changing context of garment production. It also provides a detailed consideration of its campaigning tactics (BTW thanks to Ashling Seely of the ITGLWF for help in putting this review together). (more…)

rightsTo what extent does the struggle for workplace democracy overlap with the struggle for human rights? In this interview we speak with Roy Adams*, one of the world’s leading figures in the field of labour rights, former professor of industrial relations, founding member and chair of the Society for the Promotion of Human Rights in Employment, and member of the International Labour Rights Commission.

1] How do you see the outlook for workers and their unions today? Do you think the current crisis will have a major impact?

My concern has always been with the broad phenomenon of labour rights as human rights. It’s a concern that was relevant prior to the current crisis, and will be relevant long after the crisis is no more than a memory. In short,

*  Labour rights are human rights
* Human rights are universal and indivisible
* Human rights are non-hierarchical – each is equally sacred and deserves to be treated with equal reverence
* Collective bargaining is a human right
* The right to refrain from bargaining is as bogus as the right to enslave oneself, or the right of minorities to freely choose a racist society
* We need to be concerned about the rights not only of workers in countries with poorly developed democratic political systems but also about the rights of workers in countries that are widely acclaimed to be advanced political democracies such as Canada, the US and Britain where labour rights violations are all too common. (more…)

logo_canada-courtIn 2007 the Canadian Supreme Court affirmed the human rights status of collective bargaining; moving it, in the Canadian context, from a statutory right to a human right. In order to put that decision into perspective,  network member Roy Adams traces the emergence and general characteristics of the modern international human rights regime, and then reviews the recent evolution and major aspects of collective bargaining as a human right. In this article from Just Labour: A Canadian Journal of Work and Society, Adams also suggests how to bring Canadian practice into alignment with international standards.  Download article.