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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…)

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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.

The next time you have a members’ meeting, why not try running it according to the principles of “participative democracy”? (details). This approach seeks to encourage input from the largest possible number of people. It is not new — in fact it probably predates “representative democracy” — but it has received a lot of publicity lately because of its use (through sign language) in the “general assemblies” of the Occupy movement. (more…)

Organizing, yes, but for what? Network member, author, organizer, activist, and historian  Richard Moser presents an intriguing summary of the current state of work and unionism in the U.S.. He argues that unions have tended towards an organizational culture which is resistant to change and unaccustomed to democracy. He traces the evolution of this process, mapping it against changes in work and society. Unions must develop a culture of organizing if they are to renew their influence and reconnect with their members. He then presents some recommendations on organizing, exploring the contradictory but creative tensions that animate union activity. These are the challenges faced by those who want to put the movement back into labor. (more…)

The New Unionists of the late 19th century built trade unions as we know them by organizing the proletariat – the working class of the day. Similarly, today’s new unionists are beginning to organize the precariat – workers without security. To say this latter group represents the most rapidly growing sector in society entirely misses the point. The labour force has fundamentally changed. And according to many labour analysts, the real jolt is still to come:

“Most of the full-time jobs lost in this recession won’t come back. Most of the employees laid off in the past year won’t find permanent work. When the statistics catch up to the reality, people will be forced to confront the new normal.” [i] (more…)

sidewikiGoogle’s SideWiki is a great new tool which allows you (yes, you) to add your thoughts to somebody else’s website. Your comments can then be viewed by anybody who has the Google toolbar, ie tens of millions of people, and rising fast. We’ve tested it by adding comments to Wal-Mart, Wikipedia and BBC news pages. There’s also one on this page; you’ll see a little tab symbol top left of the screen if you have the toolbar installed. Although there were a few delays before some of our comments appeared, they all got there in the end. One can just imagine some of the uses this technology will have, particularly where people’s patience has been eroded by spin doctors hiding the truth regarding abuses of corporate social responsibility. In effect, we suddenly have the ability to slip a leaflet into the company’s annual report.

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newgoldrushCombining national case studies and comparative work, “The New Gold Rush: the new multinationals and the commodification of public sector work” examines the transformations involved for capital, labour, trade unions and service delivery in the drive towards public sector privatisation.

Editor Ursula Huws, in her introduction to the book, points out that the new public services industry comprises: “the very operations of our own government – the inner workings of the democratic machine and the services that citizens expect to receive” (p2);  ie health care, education, social security, and environmental protection, as well as all the associated information, communication and facilities support. This has all become a gold mine for capital, open to penetration by multinationals and powerful new corporations. Central to the shift is the transformation of public services into standard replicable commodities, with their labour power effectively ‘recommodified’.

Analysts on the left typically consider privatisation in all its various forms – commercialisation of public organisations, joint ventures, full private ownership – as capital’s gain and labour’s loss. This collection provides plenty of evidence to support that understanding. (more…)

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