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Union policy research in the 21st century

Archive for the ‘Labour movement stuff’ Category

Election 2010: use your vote

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Will Straw at Left Foot Forward has a fair review of the campaign. And his conclusion is impossible to ignore:

One thing is abundantly clear: whatever you do today, vote.

Not turning out to vote means that the votes of extremists count double. Committed extremists are certain to vote – don’t give them your vote too.

And from a trade union perspective, to add a section missing from Will’s round-up, honourable mentions to the Green Party manifesto (pp. 9-11) – but, of the major parties, only one is likely to have included this in their manifesto:

Modern trade unions are an important part of our society and economy, providing protection and advice for employees, and working for equality and greater fairness in the workplace. We welcome their positive role in encouraging partnership and productivity.


Written by Calvin

06/05/2010 at 12:57 pm

May Day 2010

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Greetings on labour’s day of remembrance, solidarity, celebration and re-dedication.

Here’s three things that remind me of why May Day remains important to the international labour movement, and of what solidarity means in the new decade of the 21st century if it is to be more than just a slogan:

1. At home: the last weekend of campaigning before the general election and the next big effort to ensure the BNP doesn’t gain a seat in parliament on Thursday. Of course, HOPE not hate is actively campaigning in key target areas and its organisers still need your support. Solidarity means uniting against the fascists.

2. Internationally: the draft text of the EU’s Free Trade Agreement with Colombia has been dissected by the TUC. Solidarity means freedom of association, and free from the fear of death squads for standing up for the rights of ordinary people – yet the proposed FTA brushes this under the carpet.

3. In Europe: At the European Trade Union Confederation, John Monks’s May Day message was based on the need to stand shoulder to shoulder with Greek workers to demand social justice and that the EU act decisively to stabilise the situation. Building the European project demands strength, not vacillation; perspective, not short-termism. Solidarity means having the dream and the vision for a brighter, alternative future – and the courage to express what that is when the practical situation demands it.

A May Day worth celebrating: and achievements to be won to demonstrate in practice what solidarity means.

[6 May edit: the TUC has reported events from May Day celebrations around the world here.]

Written by Calvin

01/05/2010 at 9:00 am

Young Fast Optoelectronics

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One of LabourStart’s current campaigns concerns workers at Young Fast Optoelectronics, a Taiwanese manufacturer of touch panel screens whose customers include Samsung, LG, HTC (which supplies phones to Vodafone in the UK) and Google. Following a concerted union organising drive at the factory in the face of poor working conditions, which led to the establishment of the union in December 2009, management at the plant has sacked five union officers and more than ten active union members.

LabourStart is organising an e-mail campaign in support of the union and the sacked workers, and calling for the improvement of working conditions at the plant, which you can join either from the LabourStart homepage, or else directly here.

It’s a telecoms industry plant, and these workers need to know that they’re not alone. Please do what you can to support them.

Written by Calvin

23/04/2010 at 6:00 pm

Solidarity – Anna Walentynowicz

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One of those to die in the crash of the Polish airplane taking senior Polish officials to commemorate the victims of the Katyn massacre at the weekend was Anna Walentynowicz, veteran of the struggles to establish what became Solidarność – and independent trade unionism – in Poland.

John has a well-put tribute here, and John’s Labour blog features a link to a blog post giving some more of the history of the ‘woman of iron’.

Written by Calvin

12/04/2010 at 12:39 pm

Future pensions: the view from the NAPF mountain

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A state pension worth around 1/3rd of average earnings to provide a robust floor of benefits, supplemented by a workplace pension built around auto-enrolment and mandatory contributions, the whole supervised by a new regulatory settlement based on a standing Retirement Savings Commission analogous to the existing Low Pay Commission.

That’s the vision of the National Association of Pension Funds, the industry body representing scheme sponsors, in Fit For the Future, a new report on pensions published yesterday (press release; full report). Praised by the TUC as offering ‘serious and constructive proposals for the future of pensions‘ there’s a lot in the report to commend, as well as some items for debate.

It’s hard to disagree with the NAPF’s view of the pensions landscape: workplace saving has fallen dramatically both in terms of numbers and in terms of the value to ordinary workers of the pensions generated there. Rightly, the NAPF doesn’t spend too long analysing how this situation has come to pass, but is oriented more towards what can be done to stop the decline and get the principle of workplace saving back on track.

There are many factors which help to account for why this situation has come to pass, as these pages have already argued; though it would be perhaps rather churlish in this context to remind that decisions to close schemes appear to stem largely from the unsympathetic and ruthless cost-cutting actions of scheme sponsors themselves. The Connect Sector of Prospect has some experience of negotiating alternatives where employers are looking to move away from defined benefit provision; outside this experience, that employers have tended not to stop anywhere in the middle of the pensions continuum but have leapt straight from defined benefit to defined contribution is less of a reflection of the lack of risk-sharing alternatives, as the NAPF directly suggests, than of the realities of employment relations in the 1990s: employers have done so because they can; and because the will to do something more creative (but evidently more costly) has not, except in a few, admirable cases, been found.

Despite the acknowledgement that ‘workplace pensions remain central to providing people with an adequate
retirement income’ and that workplace provision is ‘at the heart of good pension provision’, the central role in the NAPF’s vision is occupied not by workplace saving, but by a beefed-up state pension scheme – perhaps rather surprisingly, for an organisation representing (workplace-based) scheme sponsors, but perhaps a reflection that what has been lost will be hard to replace other than by slow incremental steps, starting from the 2012 reforms. Even within the context of workplace savings, the primary place in the NAPF programme is taken by a suggestion for a maximum of twenty ‘super trusts’ whose role would be to offer members of small schemes the low charges facilitated by the benefits of scale – a worthwhile, and supportable, idea alongside the NEST but whose contribution to revitalising workplace provision might well turn out to be less than dynamic.

Other suggestions from within the workplace savings context include offering ‘core’, unindexed pensions to scheme members only (it seems to me that indexation is an under-appreciated pensions benefit; while a focus on the scheme member only might be supported when retirement is far away, but deeply regretted once into retirement since ensuring loved ones are provided after your own death becomes much more important the closer you get to that point); improved mandatory contributions to the NEST (definitely supportable); better advice to accounting standards bodies on accounting for pensions (likewise); and a new statutory objective for the Pensions Regulator to promote good pensions provision (clearly a good idea).

So, there are some worthwhile things to explore in this document and the NAPF is to be congratulated for putting it out. It would be a shame if its publication at this point in the electoral cycle led to its many good ideas being lost to public debate. Nevertheless, in the meantime, I’m reminded once again that quality pensions expanded and became more beneficial at a time of labour strength; their contraction at a time of labour weakness simply proves that advances in benefits have to be won by collective action and are not given away by employers for free.

BA and the online newspaper ethos

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One of the more interesting features of the newspaper industry is its long-standing use as a bulletin board: from quirky, ‘disgusted of Tonbridge Wells’-type letters to letters to The Thunderer and to other newspaper editors setting the world to rights or getting something on record, whether from the establishment, interested individuals and opinion formers. Letters usually had the resonance of importance and their publication in print frequently added weight to the arguments expressed, not least to the usual readerships of the newspapers concerned, whose leanings and approaches are well-known. Given this, their role in changing views might have been pretty limited – preaching to the converted is never going to change the world – but at least they had a role in commencing debate at some level. And you could open your favourite newspaper knowing that it wasn’t going to turn you a nasty shade of apopletic red.

Which is why I turned to yesterday’s letter to the Guardian by 95 leading academics criticising the behaviour of British Airways in its dispute with Unite with some interest. At the last count, there were 495 comments on the story and, at the (early) point at which I stopped reading them, a large percentage of people were using the piece to hang anti-Unite, frequently anti-trade union views, regardless of the debate which the academics had sought to start about BA’s actions.

Clearly, not so many typical readers of The Guardian among them. The question is, I guess, why – why would you hang around on a newspaper site, to the leanings of which you are not instinctively sympathetic, just to have a go? Well, because you can, probably: Web 2.0, where your opinions are not only desired but an integral part of the experience, has some things to answer for. Dialling The Times today re-directs you to a page (no doubt in the short-term) inviting you not just to read the thing but to ‘listen to it, watch it, shape it, be part of it‘, as part of its charging-based re-vamp, but the outcome in practice is frequently the facilitation of opportunities for wind-up merchants and trolls of all types.

I really don’t want to open the online version of The Guardian and be assaulted by a range of closed-minded views straight from the pages of the Daily Mail. If I want that, I’ll open the Mail. I’m as happy to engage in debate as the person stood next to me – and I’m not frightened of views opposed to mine. But what I do want is the sensible and rational, not the mindless. And I want it focused, not random. And I want debate, not diatribes. OK, no-one’s forcing me to read this stuff (and indeed I didn’t get very far with it, thus – at some level – wasting the time of all those whose views I didn’t trouble myself with, natch) but Web 2.0 does have the power to extend debate and that power is dissipated when debates are dominated by those whose purpose is not to engage but to flame. And that’s evidently a lost opportunity.

The answer – more active moderation, perhaps. That might be asking a lot for popular newspaper sites but, at the same time, if the benefits of Web 2.0 are to be realised, perhaps that lies in fewer articles and better moderation. A sort of approach based on ‘never mind the width, feel the quality’. It has to be possible. Alternatively, perhaps one of the benefits of charging for online access is not just support for journalistic quality, as these pages have argued before, but also a re-focusing of the debate engendered within such sites by making them less open to passing trolls.

As regards the academics’ letter: they’ve got more than a point about some of the actions of BA in this dispute and, from the perspective of this particular academic manqué, I like the phrasing of their approach around the issue of the ‘representation gap in UK employment relations’. Such a gap clearly does exist in all too many workplaces up and down the country. From the point of view of this debate, Keith Ewing has taken this on in today’s The Guardian in arguing that there is a human right to engage in strike action. The current laws of this country do not provide a right to strike, but industrial action is never undertaken lightly and remains a legitimate weapon to use against an intransigent employer. The increasingly hardline, right-wing approach to the taking of industrial action over the last twenty years is one that continues to divide this country from our European neighbours and the quality of our democracy is all the poorer for it.

Written by Calvin

26/03/2010 at 5:02 pm

Just another cog in the machine…

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John Wood‘s short film about the union role in modern workplaces, has been nominated in LabourStart’s inaugural ‘Labour Video of the Year’. You can view all six videos nominated, and vote for the one of your choice, here.

Written by Calvin

09/03/2010 at 7:27 pm

Posted in Labour movement stuff

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