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.

Monday, 21 December 2015

After the election of Jeremy Corbyn – Where next for the Labour Party?

The election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party so shortly after the defeat in the general elections of May 2015 came for many as a surprise. The electoral campaign had not been too far to the left, as Blairites tried to claim immediately after the elections. Party members' and supporters' verdict was that it had not been left and anti-austerity enough. In this post, I will reflect on the chances of Jeremy Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell of bringing about significant change in Britain.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Is migration from Central and Eastern Europe really an opportunity for trade unions to demand higher wages? Evidence from the Romanian health sector.

The social failures of the eastward enlargement of the European Union can hardly be ignored anymore. Instead of becoming part of welfare capitalism, Central and Eastern European workers’ hopes in a better life were betrayed and social rights have been undermined. In turn, workers, left without industrial and political channels to voice their social concerns, have reacted by leaving their countries en masse (Meardi 2012). Nevertheless, several industrial relations scholars predicted that the balance of class power would soon shift again in workers’ favour, due to the labour shortages in sending countries caused by “workers voting with their feet” (ibid.). Some scholars even saw in the massif exit of CEE workers an opportunity for CEE unions to win higher wages (Kaminska and Kahancová, 2011). By focusing on the distributional aspect of wage policies adopted by two competing Romanian trade unions in the healthcare sector, a recent study by Sabina Stan and Roland Erne published by the European Journal of Industrial Relations challenges the assumption of a virtuous link between migration, labour shortages and collective wage increases. 

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions at 20: Still strong, still fighting!

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) was established on 11 November 1995. From 11 to 14 November, I participated in the KCTU’s 20 year anniversary International Seminar on ‘Global Workers’ Struggle against Labour Rights Deterioration in the Era of Crisis’ in Seoul/South Korea. The seminar did not only include two days of discussions, but also the official anniversary ceremony, an excursion to the Park of Worker Martyrs as well as participation in the large demonstration against labour market restructuring on 14 November. In this blog post, I will reflect on workers’ struggle against restructuring in South Korea and its connections with global developments.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Why has the European labor movement largely failed to politicize the EU’s new economic governance regime?

The creation of the new European governance regime requires an explanation. In contrast to the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the EU’s business and political leaders rejected until very recently the need for any coordination in the field of industrial relations at EU level (Leonard et al., 2007); arguably because self-regulating market forces would automatically lead to the desired downward adjustment in wages and workers’ rights across Europe. In November 2011, however, the European Parliament and the Council adopted the so-called Six-Pack of six EU laws on European economic governance. This new European governance regime empowers the European Commission to give detailed policy prescriptions to national governments and to sanction member states. In this post, Roland Erne introduces his recorded lecture explaining why the European labor movement largely failed to politicize the EU’s new regime of economic governance.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Southern Insurgency?

Are we experiencing new dynamics of revolutionary change coming from the Global South? In his fascinating new book Southern Insurgency: The Coming of the Global Working Class (Pluto Press, 2015) Immanuel Ness looks more closely at the labour movements in India, China and South Africa and their potential of resistance to exploitation. In this post, I will give a brief glimpse at the book based on a presentation given by Ness at the Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham/UK on 5 November.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

“Sic Vos Non Vobis” (For You, But Not Yours): The Struggle for Public Water in Italy.

Resistance against water privatisation is one of the success stories in the struggle against neo-liberal globalisation. And where privatisation has already taken place, there is a tendency towards re-municipalisation (see Lobina, Kishimoto and Petitjean 2014). It has become clear that the private sector can simply not deliver on its promises of higher quality, lower consumer charges and universal access. In my recently published, openly accessible article “Sic Vos Non Vobis” (For You, But Not Yours): TheStruggle for Public Water in Italy in Monthly Review, I analyse the dynamics underlying the successful mobilisation for a referendum against water privatisation in Italy in 2011. It is based on a series of interviews with members of the Italian water movement between 25 March and 8 April 2014.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Working for an Alternative Economic Policy in Europe: the EuroMemo Group meeting in Roskilde.

Further austerity imposed, democracy attacked – the third bailout of Greece in July 2015 has demonstrated the brutal face of neo-liberalism in Europe. Refugees in need at the doors of Europe and the governments of the European Union (EU) member states are squabbling over the allocation of small numbers of refugees across the EU, numbers which the comparatively wealthy EU should easily be able to accommodate. These events provided the dramatic background to this year’s EuroMemo Group’s conference Addressing Europe’s Multiple Crises: An agenda for economic transformation, solidarity and democracy, held at Roskilde University/Denmark, 24 to 26 September. In this blog post, I will make some personal observations.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Alternatives to privatising public services!

‘What we are for is equally important as what we are against’, declared Dexter Whitfield in his presentation ‘Capitalist dynamics reconfiguring the state: alternatives to privatising public services’ to a packed audience at Nottingham University on Wednesday, 16 September. Hence, when contesting privatisation of public services, it is not enough simply to resist these processes. It is also necessary to put forward concrete alternatives of how to organise and deliver these services differently from within the public sector. In this post, I will summarise some of the key points of the presentation, which was jointly organised by the Bertrand Russel Peace Foundation, the local University and College Union association and the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Resisting Privatisation: Assessing the impact of the ECI 'Water is a Human Right'.

The first European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) on ‘Water and Sanitation are a Human Right’ was an enormous success. Between May 2012 and September 2013, an alliance of trade unions, social movements and NGOs succeeded in collecting close to 1.9 million signatures across the European Union (EU), thereby reaching the required quota in 13 EU member states (see Against the grain: The European Citizens’ Initiative on ‘Water is a Human Right’). In this post, I want to evaluate the outcomes, the concrete impact this campaign has had on EU policy-making drawing on interviews with key activists as well as documentary research from November 2014 to July 2015.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Against the grain: The European Citizens’ Initiative on ‘Water is a Human Right’.

Between May 2012 and September 2013, close to 1.9 million signatures were collected throughout the European Union (EU) and formally submitted to the Commission for the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) on ‘Water and Sanitation are a Human Right’. While impressive in itself, it is not only the large number of signatures, which is a sign of success. The ECI, based on a broad alliance of trade unions and social movements, was successful at a time, when austerity policies were enforced across the EU. It, therefore, went completely against the grain and in opposition to dominant forces pushing for further neo-liberal restructuring. In this blog post, I will discuss the main factors underlying this success: (1) the long history of water struggles; (2) the unique quality of water; and (3) the broad alliance of participating actors.  

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Analysing Global Capitalism: the centrality of class.

The recently published collection of essays by Hugo Radice on Global Capitalism (Routledge, 2015) represents impressive global political economy scholarship across three decades from the 1980s to 2011. Radice makes two key contributions. First, he successfully re-asserts the importance of focusing on class and class struggle in analysing the global political economy. Second, he provides insightful criticism of ‘progressive nationalism’, which is highly relevant for the upcoming debate over UK membership in the European Union (EU).

Monday, 31 August 2015

Labour and Transnational Action in Times of Crisis

From August 2013 to June 2014, the trasnational labour project group came together in Oslo to work on the project Globalization and the possibility of transnational actors: the case of trade unions. One of the key publications resulting from the project, the edited volume Labour and Transnational Action in Times of Crisis, has just been published by Rowman & Littlefield International. In this post, I want to draw out briefly the two main common themes underlying the various contributions as well as highlight a number of key findings.

Friday, 14 August 2015

The Next Revolution – Questions to Murray Bookchin.

Over the last weeks, the Marxism Reading Group (MRG) of the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice (CSSGJ) at Nottingham University has read the book The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy (London: Verso, 2015) by Murray Bookchin. In this post, six members of the group critically assess different aspects of the book in their questions to Murray Bookchin.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Food sovereignty and Fair Trade: a link between alternatives to the neo-liberal food regime.

The multiple global economic, financial, food and ecological crises are deepening. And yet, neo-liberal capitalism continues to reign supreme. Every crisis is responded to by further marketization and commodification. ‘Free’ trade is deepened in negotiations of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). In this post, Jacklyn Cock and I suggest that the links between the concepts of ‘food sovereignty’ and ‘fair trade’ could promote connections between labour and community struggles and foster labour solidarity at both the transnational and local levels. Both concepts present challenges to the neo-liberal food regime.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Greece, the Eurozone crisis and the end of European solidarity?

Image by Wikimedia Commons
After five years of imposed austerity, the Greek economy is on its knees. GDP has declined by 25 per cent, unemployment is at 26 per cent with youth unemployment above 50 per cent. And yet, all the EU has got on offer for Greece is yet more austerity in exchange for a third bailout agreement (BBC, 13 July 2015). Pension reform will be part of the deal agreed at the marathon meeting of eurozone leaders on July 12, as is further privatisation and labour market liberalisation. EU agents will be given oversight of Greek government spending, including a new independent fund that will monetise €50bn in state assets to repay debts.

There is no sign of European solidarity in this deal. It is a punishment handed down to Greece for daring to say no to austerity. The EU was established on the principles of cooperation and mutual support – and many are now wondering what has happened to those aspirations. But solidarity fell by the wayside some time ago in Europe. This is just the most recent example of how European integration today is about profit maximisation for capital – not about cooperation between European people.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Axis of Evil or Access to Diesel? Reflections on the Iraq war.

Photo by Mark Rain
Did the Iraq war simply reflect the unitary decision by the U.S. state to assert its interests in the global political economy or was it the result of co-operation by a group of allied capitalist countries to secure access to oil in the Middle East? Alternatively, did the use of military force reflect the interests of an emerging transnational state? My latest article with Adam Morton, entitled ‘Axis of Evil or Access to Diesel? Spaces of New Imperialism and the Iraq War’ is now published in the journal Historical Materialism and attempts to address these questions.

We analyse the relationship between geopolitical and capitalist dynamics underlying the decision to go to war. Importantly, we argue that only through a focus on the internal relation between geopolitical and global capitalist dynamics can we begin to comprehend the way the Iraq War contributed to the continuation of capitalist accumulation through what we refer to as a strategy of bomb and build.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Class struggle in times of crisis: conceptualising agency of resistance.

While movements of resistance against neo-liberal globalization have increasingly become subject of analysis, there is little agreement on how to conceptualize such agency. In my recent article Class struggle in times of crisis: conceptualising agency of resistance, published in the on-line, open access academic journal Spectrum: Journal of Global Studies, I argue that a historical materialist analysis is necessary to capture the historical specificity of capitalism (see also Analysing exploitation and resistance). Nevertheless, a focus on class struggle does not imply a reductionist, economic determinist account. In order to include divisions along ethnicity and gender into analyses of class struggle, I suggest four concrete ways of how to conceptualise expanded forms of class struggle beyond the work place, including (1) Robert Cox’s focus on non-established, informal labour; (2) Harry Cleaver’s emphasis on the ‘social factory’; (3) Kees van der Pijl’s analysis of the extension of exploitation into the sphere of social reproduction; and (4) Chandra Talpade Mohanty’s grounding of analysis in the experience of the most exploited female workers in the Global South.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Going Beyond Academia: The Challenges of Engaged Research.

What is engaged research? How can it be made acceptable within academia and be useful for social movements? What is the relationship between engaged researchers and activists? Over 50 scholar-activists gathered at the University of Nottingham for the workshop on Going Beyond Academia, hosted by the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice (CSSGJ) to discuss these issues and related themes. In this blog post, I will make some personal observations on some of the themes discussed at this fascinating and extremely productive workshop.

Friday, 5 June 2015

The Future of the Left – Where next for Britain’s labour movement?

‘The Conservatives are not invincible – splits over the forthcoming EU referendum and their small majority in parliament are only two signs of their weakness. Together, the Left can stem the tide of austerity’, these were the words of the TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady. In front of a full lecture theatre with 300 people, she delivered the first Ken Coates memorial lecture, organised by the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation and co-hosted by the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice (CSSGJ) and the local University and College Union (UCU) association. In this post, I will draw out some of her key points.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Austerity and Resistance – Greece in the Eurozone crisis.

Concerns over Greece’s ability to pay back its debt continue unabated, with another crisis meeting of Eurozone finance ministers having taken place in Brussels on Monday, 11 May. While the media focuses on Greece’s ability to meet the conditions by the European Union, in this post Jamie Jordan and I have another look at some of the key underlying dynamics of the crisis.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Organising the Unorganisable? Voices from the Bottom Up.

As a result of neo-liberal restructuring, the informalisation of work in the global economy has been intensified. While precarious forms of labour have always been predominant in the Global South, they have increasingly also spread into the Global North. As a result, trade unions are under pressure, as it is much more difficult to organise a workforce in temporary, vulnerable and constantly changing employment relations. And yet, there are also examples of successful organising campaigns by precarious workers. In this blog post, I will discuss some of the key themes, which were discussed at the excellent workshop Organising the Unorganisable, brought together by Maurizio Atzeni and held at Loughborough University on 23 and 24 April 2014.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Challenging Corporate Capital: Creating an Alternative to Neo-Liberalism.

From 25 to 27 March 2015, the second meeting of the Futures Commission, hosted by the Chris Hani Institute, was held in Cape Town/South Africa. The Futures Commission had initially been set up in a first meeting in Johannesburg/South Africa in June 2013 as the result of an initiative by the Southern Initiative on Globalisation and Trade Union Rights (SIGTUR) (see SIGTUR’s Futures Commission). The Futures Commission, consisting of left academics and trade union representatives from SIGTUR affiliates and supported by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, was entrusted with the task to develop alternatives to neo-liberalism. At its Congress in Perth/Australia in December 2013 (see SIGTUR’s tenth Congress), SIGTUR identified four key themes as common challenges for all SIGTUR affiliates: (1) the growing power of transnational corporations (TNCs) especially expressed in a new round of free trade negotiations such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement; (2) the loss of government revenue due to tax avoidance in tax havens; (3) the restructuring and privatisation pressures on the public sector; as well as (4) the problem of climate change and the related need for a just transition to a post-carbon based economy. At its meeting in Cape Town, the Futures Commission focused on proposals in all four key areas. In this blog post, I will report on these discussions.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

The power of Transnational Corporations and the quest for tax justice!

On Monday, 16 March Naomi Fowler from the Tax Justice Network gave a presentation at Nottingham University as part of the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice’s (CSSGJ) seminar series. Formed in 2003, the Tax Justice Network includes many former employees in the financial industry amongst its activists and the monthly Taxcast is one of the key ways of influencing political debate.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Big business and US free trade policy: Corporations in Control!

Two far-reaching free trade agreements are currently being negotiated, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) (see The People against Capital: Stop-TTIP!). Nevertheless, while these negotiations take place in secrecy behind closed doors and outside democratic accountability, representatives of big corporations have close access to decision-makers. In this guest post, Marty Hart-Landsberg outlines the privileged influence big business enjoys on US trade policy.

Friday, 13 March 2015

United Voices of the World: The Struggle for Justice for Cleaners.

While London is one of the most glamorous and expensive cities in the world, the workers who keep the British capital clean are often overlooked and disregarded. They are paid so lowly that they can often barely survive. And yet, cleaners are fighting back. In a seminar organised by the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice (CSSGJ) at Nottingham University, Albero, Percy and Petros from the independent union United Voices of the World reported from their successful struggles to ensure the payment of the living wage at the Barbican as well as Sotheby's Auction house in London. In this post, I will report on some of the key aspects of their struggles.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The End of Cheap Labour in China?

China’s developmental strategy has been based on cheap labour, foreign direct investment (FDI) and the assembling of pre-fabricated parts for export to North American and European markets. This export-oriented growth strategy in low value added production sectors has, however, come under pressure as a result of the global economic crisis and a decline in global demand. In his presentation at Nottingham University on 17 February, jointly hosted by the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies and the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice, Florian Butollo from Jena University in Germany investigated whether China’s attempts at industrial upgrading in response to the crisis have also resulted in ‘social upgrading’ for its workforce. 

Monday, 2 February 2015

The Great Pension Robbery – UCU unravelling!

Only three years after closing the final salary pension scheme of USS for new members of staff in pre-1992 Higher Education (HE) institutions in the UK, the employers returned to the table with new demands. This time they asked for cuts to staff members’ pensions of around 27 per cent. Initially, the University and College Union (UCU) responded forcefully and carried out a ballot for industrial action: 78% of union members who participated voted for strike action and 87% voted for action short of a strike. The turnout of 45% was the highest in a national higher education ballot since UCU was formed in 2006. And yet, in January 2015 UCU settled for a negotiated deal, which was only marginally better for members than the initial proposals by the employers. Instead of 27 per cent of cuts, many members will now face cuts of somewhere between 20 and 24 per cent. How could this happen? In this blog post, I will provide a critical assessment of this struggle, drawing also on my own experience as a member of the Higher Education Committee (HEC), where the crucial decisions were taken within UCU.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Greece at the ballot box – How should the European left show solidarity?

On Sunday, 25 January the Greek people are voting for a new parliament. According to opinion polls, this time the left party Syriza may win the elections (BBC, 22 January 2015). In view of the heavy pressure put on Greece by financial markets, the European Commission as well as European Central Bank, people of the European left are calling for solidarity. Support is needed especially should Syriza form the next government and demand from the European Union (EU) a re-negotiation of the terms of its bailout package. In this blog post, I will reflect on what form these solidarity actions may take.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Chinese labour in the global economy – What do we know?

From October 2011 to September 2014, we worked on the project Chinese labour in the global economy, supported by an ESRC research grant (RES-062-23-2777, £275k). Throughout this period, Chun-Yi Lee carried out a number of field research trips to China in order to interview workers, labour academics and representatives of informal labour NGOs. We organised a related panel at the World Congress of the International Sociological Association in Yokohama/Japan in July 2014 and held an international workshop at Nottingham University in September 2014. In this post, we provide an overview of the main findings of the project.