The purpose of this blog is to provide analytical commentary on formal and informal labour organisations and their attempts to resist ever more brutal forms of exploitation in today’s neo-liberal, global capitalism.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

We make our own history – A call to action!

‘As we become political subjects on our own behalf, recognise ourselves in each other and see the connections between our different movements, we come closer to being able not only to articulate the hope of “another world”, but also to bring it about’ (P.209). With these words, Laurence Cox and Alf Gunvald Nilsen conclude their latest book We make our own history: Marxism and Social Movements in the Twilight of Neoliberalism (Pluto Press, 2014). In this blog post, I will provide a critical appraisal of this important book. 

Monday, 15 December 2014

Belgium’s “hot autumn”: opportunities and challenges.

Belgium is going through a “hot autumn” with a series of protests and strikes. In this guest post Sacha Dierckx briefly introduces the causes and features of this series of social protests, the opportunities that it brings, and the risks involved.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The People against Capital: Stop-TTIP!

The conflict over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a struggle between different blocs, argued John Hilary, Executive Director of the NGO War on Want and Honorary Professor at Nottingham University, in a presentation at the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice (CSSGJ) on Monday, 24 November. This not, however, between Europe and the USA or Europe together with the USA against Asia, but between capital on the one hand, and labour, the environment and the people on the other. In this blog post, I will discuss key points of John Hilary’s presentation covering the contents of TTIP, its dangers as well as the mounting resistance against it.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Forget a ‘fair wage for a fair day’s work’?

Struggles between trade unions and employers are first and foremost about wages. What constitutes a ‘fair wage for a fair day’s work’? Indeed, one of trade unions’ biggest success has been to obtain higher wage levels by organising workers into a collective social force, ready to go on strike together if needed. Calls for an increase in the official minimum wage or a living wage are equally over concerns of what constitutes proper remuneration for particular services of labour offered. In this post, I will critically examine the potential of struggles for higher wages for broader changes to inequality and injustice in society.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Struggle for Public Water in Italy

On 9 October, I gave the paper ‘Sic Vos Non Vobis’ – ‘For You, But Not Yours’: The struggle for public water in Italy at the Department of Political Economy, University of Sydney . The paper is about the Italian Water Movements Forum (Forum), a broad alliance of trade unions, social movements, development NGOs and environmental groups, and its successful mobilisation for a referendum against the privatisation of water in June 2011 (see also Road to Victory). Trade unions and other social movements find it often difficult to co-operate due to their different histories and institutional structures, as argued in an article on the European Social Forum. In this blog post, I will analyse how the Italian Water Movements Forum was able to bring together such a wide range of different groups into a successful campaign.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Transnational solidarity? The European working class in the Eurozone crisis.

European labour movements are under severe pressure as a result of the global financial and Eurozone crises, which have been used by capital to attack unions and workers’ rights. In our recently published essay in the Socialist Register 2015, Roland Erne and I assess the response of European labour movements to this attack and discuss to what extent relations of transnational solidarity have been established in this process. As Germany plays a central role in the European political economy, particular attention is placed on the role of German trade unions. In this blog post, we draw out some key points of our argument.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The global financial crisis and service provision: The public sector in difficult times.

Public sector restructuring is generally justified with reference to the need to save money in view of large public debt resulting from the global financial crisis. In this post, I want to investigate this claim and unravel the real motivations behind current attacks on the public sector.

National Demo against Sussex University Privatisation - Serena Cheung

Friday, 26 September 2014

The new faultline between networks and hierarchies in China: Where is class struggle?

As part of the Workshop on Chinese Labour in the Global Economy, Paul Mason, the Economics Editor of Channel4News, gave a highly stimulating and thought provoking public lecture at Nottingham University on 12 September 2014. The focus of his talk ‘Digital rebels, analogue slaves? China’s workforce in the 21st century’ was on the information technology (IT) revolution and its implications for workers’ unrest in China. Provocatively, his main claim was that the main conflict is no longer between capital and labour, but between networks and hierarchies (see also Mason, Comment is free, 14/09/2014). In this blog post, I will critically evaluate this claim.

Monday, 22 September 2014

The Enduring Relevance of Rosa Luxemburg

The work of Rosa Luxemburg has received renewed attention in recent years. To celebrate the centenary anniversary of her seminal book The Accumulation of Capital in 2013, a collective of colleagues from within the Marxism Reading Group of the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice (CSSGJ) at Nottingham University has written the article ‘The Enduring Relevance of Rosa Luxemburg’s The Accumulation of Capital’, which has now been published online by the Journal of International Relations and Development. In this blog post, I will present some of the key findings of the article.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Chinese workers in the grip of global capitalism: What possibilities for resistance?

The workshop on Chinese Labour in the Global Economy, concluding a large ESRC research grant project, was held on 11 and 12 September 2014 at Nottingham University, co-hosted by the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Studies (CSSGJ) and the Centre for Contemporary Chinese Politics (CCCP). The purpose of the workshop was not only to understand better the situation in China, but also an aspiration of contributing to the improvement of workers’ conditions. Hence, both academics as well as activists had been invited. In this blog post, I will assess some of the key themes discussed during the workshop.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The importance of Piketty: What perspective from the Left?

Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Harvard University Press, 2014) has received widespread attention within academia, the media, amongst the Left and across the general public. His criticism of increasing inequality has made him an attractive read for everyone concerned about the devastating results of global capitalism. In this blog post, I will critically reflect on the implications of this attention for the Left.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Unravelling Capitalist Globalization

Despite the prolonged global economic crisis since 2007/2008, neo-liberal economic thought and practice continue to reign supreme. In his important book Capitalist Globalization: Consequences, Resistance and Alternatives (Monthly Review Press, 2013), Martin Hart-Landsberg makes a number of key interventions unravelling the myth of neo-liberalism as well as the dynamics underlying capitalist accumulation.

Monday, 28 July 2014

The struggle against water privatisation: Victory for Greek union and social movements.

Proposals to privatise the water company in Thessaloniki/Greece were overwhelmingly rejected in a referendum on 18 May 2014 with 98 per cent of votes against. In this guest post, his third contribution focusing on the privatisation of water, EPSU's Jan Willem Goudriaan gives an update of the struggle of Greek workers against the austerity policies imposed upon them.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Exploited for a good cause? Campaigning against unpaid internships in the UK charity sector.

Unpaid internships in businesses are considered by many to be unfair. However, what if this unpaid work, takes place in a non-profit organisation purporting to fight poverty and human rights abuses? As an intern for such a charity, Vera Weghmann campaigned for workers’ rights, especially union recognition and fair pay, while she was expected to work for free! Despite her great admiration for this charity she and her fellow interns decided to campaign against this injustice. After six months they had successfully managed to stop the charity’s use of unpaid internships. In this guest post, Vera Weghmann tells her story:

Monday, 21 July 2014

Hope for Change? Critical reflections on the potential of a renewed Labour government.

With the 2015 general elections on the horizon, there is again a sense of optimism amongst left, progressive forces in the UK in view of a possible victory by the Labour Party next year. After years of one austerity budget after another, brutal cuts to public spending, job losses across the economy and intensified privatisation of the public sector, removing the current ConDem government has become ever more urgent. Nevertheless, what can we actually expect from a Labour government? In this blog post, I will critically reflect on this issue discussing two recent events, Len McCluskey’s, the general secretary of the large trade union Unite, almost unconditional support for Labour in the elections (BBC, 30 June 2014) and the Labour Party’s unwillingness to endorse and support the strike by public sector workers on 10 July 2014 (OTS News, 9 July 2014; Labour List, 8 July 2014).  

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Form over Contents or the misguided discussions over the new President of the EU Commission.

David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, was defeated in Brussels over his attempt to block the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as the next President of the European Commission, and yet celebrated at home in the UK for making a stand against the appointment of a federalist at the helm of the Commission (BBC, 30 June 2014). In this blog post, I will argue that these discussions between federalists, striving towards a more strongly integrated Europe, and nationalists, attempting to protect national sovereignty, are fruitless and misguided in view of the EU’s current economic and social problems. They privilege the form of integration over its contents, thereby blocking more substantial questions of how the European political economy should be organised.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Catholics in the Italian water movement!

Last week the Italian Water Movements Forum (Forum) celebrated the anniversary of the victory in the 2011 referenda against water privatisation by giving great emphasis to news coming from Chile: the halt by the Chilean government to the Hydro Aysen hydropower project. The project consists of five big dams to be built along two rivers in the Patagonia region by an international consortium led by the Italian government owned company Enel. This emphasis on foreign policy issues does not arise from the fact that in contemporary Italy there has been nothing to celebrate after and beyond the 2011 referendum. On the contrary “la lotta continua” and is still very active both at national and local level, with the struggle for “water as human right and commons” becoming a paradigmatic battle for democracy and against the commodification of human life, inspiring also other social mobilisations around the commons. In this guest post, Emanuele Fantini discusses the struggles of the Italian water movement with a particular emphasis on the role played by Catholic groups.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Analysing exploitation and resistance: the centrality of class struggle.

In my recent article ‘Transnational Labour Solidarity in (the) Crisis’, published in the Global LabourJournal and freely downloadable here, I assert three key claims: (1) the importance of a historical materialist approach to the analysis of exploitation and resistance; (2) the significance of understanding the structuring conditions of global capitalism; and (3) the centrality of class struggle defined broadly. In this post, I will provide an overview of the main claims. This article is my conceptual contribution to the Transnational Labour Project at the Centre for Advanced Study in Oslo/Norway.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Resisting austerity in Greece: The Thessaloniki water referendum.

In this guest post, written on request, Jan Willem Goudriaan, Deputy General Secretary of the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), updates the experience with the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) on the Human Right to Water. Based on a discussion of the struggles over water privatisation in Thessaloniki/Greece, he assesses how the ECI has been linked with local struggles and demands for an alternative Europe (for the earlier post see European Citizens’ Initiative on Water and the alternative to Austerity Europe).

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The perpetuum mobile of privatisation

Privatisation is a truly fantastic thing. Privatising public services would result in four benign consequences, we are told: (1) the production of services becomes more efficient and, therefore, cheaper; (2) the quality of the services is improved; (3) the cost of services for the consumer is reduced; and (4) companies providing these services can still make a profit. And this all as a result of private services being subject to the competitive pressures of the free market. Like a perpetuum mobile, a hypothetical machine which continues to function once activated, privatization would have an inevitable and continuing positive impact once implemented. In this post, I will critically evaluate these claims against the background of my research on the Italian water movement against privatisation (see Road to Victory and La lotta continua) and discuss why it is that this discourse continues to enjoy such widespread acceptance, although it is empirically so obviously wrong.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Fighting against water privatisation in Italy: La lotta continua!

Victory in the 2011 referendum against water privatisation had been emphatic. More than 57 per cent of the Italian electorate cast their vote and both questions related to water had been approved by a majority of more than 95 per cent (see Road to Victory). And yet, those who expected that these decisions, legally binding according to the Italian Constitution, would now be implemented, were disappointed. Based on my interviews with leading activists of the Italian water movement, in this post I will assess the situation since the referendum in 2011.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Fighting against water privatisation in Italy: Road to Victory!

Against the background of the global and Eurozone financial crises as well as austerity sweeping across Europe, the pressure on privatising public services is immense. The story of the Italian water movement, a broad alliance of social movements and trade unions, which successfully mobilized for a referendum against the privatization of water in June 2011, is a story of hope for alliances involved in resisting privatization elsewhere. From 25 March to 8 April, I conducted a series of interviews with members of this movement. In this post, I will report on the emergence and ultimate success of this movement in the referendum.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Marxism, Social Movements and resistance to capitalist exploitation!

In the Theses On Feuerbach, Marx famously wrote that ‘the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it’ (Marx 1845). In their edited volume Marxism and Social Movements, Colin Barker, Laurence Cox, John Krinsky and Alf Gunvald Nilsen have lived up to this demand in that the contributions are directly informed by, and related to, concrete struggles. The collection of essays succeeds at not only assisting us in understanding, in interpreting the role of social movements in current struggles. It also helps us to reflect on strategies of resistance in order to improve them.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Trade Union Solidarity and Free Trade: The case of COSATU.

Do trade unions matter in the Twenty-First Century? How are they responding to ongoing processes of neoliberal restructuring? In particular, what obstacles do they face in developing transnational solidarity against the rise of free trade? What is clear is that national labour movements in different parts of the world have, at times, responded differently to the deepening of trade liberalisation in recent years. This is because the immediate impact they face differs depending on their place within the structure of the global economy. In his new academic article ‘The Congress of South African Trade Unions and Free Trade: Obstacles to Transnational Solidarity’, which is part of a special issue on Free Trade and Transnational Labour, Stephen Hurt explores these questions through a study of how the biggest trade union federation in South Africa – the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) – has reacted to both multilateral and bilateral trade liberalisation. 

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Another trade policy is possible! The proposals by the Alternative Trade Mandate.

Trade policy has been one of the great battle grounds for progressive movements around the globe. Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage, as elegant in principle as it can be dangerous in practice, has underpinned the spread of global neo-liberal ideology over the last century. Free Trade is now established as an unquestionable ‘good’ in the world and any attempt to question the wisdom of ever more open borders and ever fewer barriers to the rapid movement of goods and capital is seen in mainstream circles as nothing short of heresy. The few informed voices (such as that of the inestimable Ha Joon Chang) that have been raised to question the idea that ever freer trade is the fast track route to success for developing countries have been simply ignored. In this guest post, Toby Quantrill discusses the Alternative Trade Mandate and its efforts of putting forward proposals for an alternative European trade policy to the neo-liberal ‘free trade’ model, which is currently also dominating the EU.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Renzi’s Reforms, Italian Trade Unions and the EU!

In a previous post in December 2013 (see The Election of Matteo Renzi and the Future of Italian Trade Unions) Darragh Golden discussed the potential for conflict between the newly elected leader of the Partito Democratico, Matteo Renzi and the Italian trade unions. Upon election Renzi stated that he was not interested in immediately ousting the sitting Prime Minister, Enrico Letta; however, that is exactly what he did and in doing so Renzi became Italy’s youngest Prime Minister to date (and the third successive unelected leader!). There is a danger, however, that Renzi might fall on his own sword, so to speak; as having brought pressure to bear on his predecessor precisely because of the slow pace of reforms, Renzi must now deliver. The expectations are high, and in a country which is notorious for political arbitrage and exasperatingly slow, or piecemeal, outcomes, the starkness of the challenge appears immense.  As stated in the previous post, the relationship between Renzi and the unions is ambiguous, and if the rhetorical taunts traded between Renzi and the unions are anything to go by, it is only a question of time before the two parties find themselves at loggerheads. In this guest post, Darragh Golden will assess the reform programme of Renzi and gauge the unions’ reaction thereto. This will be done bearing in mind the broader European context.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Unions across borders

The global wage earning class today may be estimated to 2.5 to 3 billion. Among these 5 to 7.6 per cent are unionized. In a core capitalist like the USA the share has shrunk from 30 per cent in 1960 to 11.8 per cent in 2009, in Germany from 34.7 per cent to 18.6 per cent. Strike activity and support for the historical working class parties have also gone down. In this guest post, Knut Kjeldstadli from the Transnational Labour Project in Oslo reflects on the possibilities of establishing solidarity across borders.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Bob Crow, General Secretary of the RMT!

The untimely death of Bob Crow, General Secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT) is sad news for the British labour movement. In this blog post, I will reflect on some aspects of his legacy.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

How to explain the Swiss vote against the Free Movement of Workers

On 8 February 2009, almost 60 percent of Swiss voters supported the extension of the bilateral EU-Switzerland agreement on the free movement of workers to workers from Romania and Bulgaria. In this guest post, Roland Erne argues that this clear endorsement of the free movement of Romanian and Bulgarian workers in the Swiss labour market is noteworthy because the Swiss People Party (SVP) at the time conducted an overtly xenophobic campaign against it, depicting Romanian and Bulgarian workers as black ravens that were pecking on a map of Switzerland. Whereas xenophobic inclinations may be a recurrent feature of humanity, xenophobia can hardly explain the sudden shift of Swiss voters against the free movement of all EU workers in the referendum of 9 February 2014; notably after a referendum campaign in which the SVP – for once – avoided the use of xenophobic stereotypes on its major campaign poster.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Labour and transnational action in times of crisis!

With the repercussions of the economic crisis still reverberating through the global system, what are the possibilities of labour movements to form relationships of transnational solidarity in resistance to the exploitative and destructive dynamics of global capitalism? This question was at the heart of the two-day international workshop Labour and transnational action in times of crisis: from case studies to theory, organised by the Transnational Labour project in Oslo on 27 and 28 February 2014. In this post, I will discuss some of the key themes, which emerged from the various presentations and debates.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

When Markets Meet Central Planning.... Or How Russellton became Poppleton

Higher education in England is being subjected to sustained marketisation with undergraduate degrees in arts, humanities and social sciences now financed by student fees and the numbers cap set to be lifted after 2015 (likely to be followed by the fees cap). Just as the introduction of this market is centrally planned by Government, so University management is increasingly centralised and its decisions implemented via key performance indicators that purport to act as market proxies. In this guest post, John Holmwood discusses how at the University of Russelton - pre-1992 older sibling to the post-1992 University of Poppleton - this brave new world is currently being pursued via a central workload plan.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

The ‘wonderful freedom’ of neo-liberalism!

We are living in truly wonderful times. Finally, we can choose freely our personal lifestyles without having to fear being excluded from general society. Gender, different ethnic backgrounds, different identities no longer matter in our neo-liberal society. Everybody has the opportunity through the quality of his/her work to achieve their full potential and creative capacity. We can be homosexual or heterosexual, this does no longer matter in the public sphere. Same sex marriages are increasingly a standard possibility, same sex couples can have children together. Life is full of choices, which schools do we send our children to, state, religious or private, whatever choice we make, it is possible. In which hospital do I want to be treated? Everything is about consumer choice. Are we not living in truly wonderful times? And yet, while the possibility of these different lifestyles is clearly a positive step forward, at closer sight more sinister dynamics come to the fore.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Uneven development, unequal exchange and free trade: what implications for labour?

The notion of uneven and combined development has attracted increased academic and activist attention. The concept of unequal exchange, in turn, has been established for some time. What has not been analysed is how these sets of capitalist dynamics intersect. In a new article in the journal Globalizations, entitled ‘Uneven and combined development and unequal exchange: the second wind of neoliberal ‘free trade’?’, Adam David Morton and I analyse the way in which current neoliberal ‘free trade’ policies are related to these fundamental capitalist dynamics, deepening further processes of uneven and combined development as well as unequal exchange. We also highlight the implications for labour as a result of the widening uneven and combined development of neoliberalism.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Globalisation and Resistance: critical engagements with neo-liberalism.

The global economic crisis continues almost unabated and yet neo-liberalism still reigns supreme. In this blog post, I bring together a range of book reviews, which all challenge neo-liberal economics, point to its devastating effects on people’s lives as well as reflect on alternatives. Together, this set of reviews intends to provide a useful critical resource for discussions against the currently dominant economic thinking.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Amazon workers' long-running war on wages and working conditions!

Workers in Germany are currently locked into a bitter struggle with the online retailer Amazon. In this guest post, Halvor Fjermeros reports back from his trip to Germany in November last year, when he met with workers to find out the reasons for this dispute. Importantly, he makes clear that it is not only low wages, but also poor working conditions which are at the heart of workers’ grievances with Amazon.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Exploitation in the Global South and North: lessons from the aluminium industry.

The production of aluminium is based on the destruction of the environment and exploitation of workers in the Global South and North alike, reported Frank Meyer, the Director of ARBARK, the Archive and Library of the Norwegian labour movement, to the transnational labour project at the Centre for Advanced Study in Oslo. In this blog post, I will provide an overview of Frank Meyer’s key points in relation to his comparative case study of Porto Trombetas in Brazil and Årdal in Norway and reflect on the possible involvement of trade unions in resisting exploitation in the aluminium industry.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Geopolitics of Global Capitalism and the Transnational State

With all of the kerfuffle in the UK academic world about open access journals−meaning without legal or financial barriers to gain access to publically-funded academic work−and the fudge underway to resolve this in the interests of publishers, Adam David Morton and I are delighted to announce a new article of ours now available in the Journal of Australian Political Economy (JAPE). This journal publishes peer-reviewed articles and is fully open access. The latest issue includes the annual E. L. Wheelwright Lecture by Susan George, articles on urban political economy, and our joint article on recasting contemporary geopolitics, territorial processes of capitalist accumulation, and spaces of imperialist rivalry. Our article is entitled ‘The will-o’-the-wisp of the transnational state’ and can be freely accessed here.

Monday, 13 January 2014

NUMSA asserting its independence: showing the way for unions in Europe?

When I attended the Futures Commission of SIGTUR in Johannesburg/South Africa, Nelson Mandela was already seriously ill in hospital (see SIGTUR’s Futures Commission and the search for alternatives in and beyond capitalism!). Nonetheless, first voices of criticism were voiced by South African representatives at the Commission meeting, arguing that Mandela had given in too easily to demands by the white capitalist class. At the same time, his figure as the father of the new South Africa prevented a more in-depth discussion of his socio-economic legacy. As he has now passed away, could this be the moment for a more serious discussion about South Africa’s socio-economic future? The Declaration by the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) adopted at its special national congress, 17 to 20 December 2013, seems to suggest this. In this blog post, I will discuss NUMSA’s Declaration and reflect on its implications for European trade unions.