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Community organising against the cuts


Spontaneous campaigns have popped up across the country opposing the cuts. You can find lists of them on the TUC website, or contact your local Trades Council.

Already, this year’s intake of TUC Academy Organisers have turned out to one en masse in Oxford, and doubtless the rest of us, dotted all over the country, have been involved in our local campaigns.

In Nottinghamshire, the local Trades Union Council have been instrumental in setting up Notts Save Our Services. The event grew out of a meeting, reported previously on the blog.

By now, the new intake of  TUC Academy organisers will be preparing for their union interviews, and I wish them the best of luck. This will be the most exciting year since the inception of the Academy, and organisers, with their skills and training, will be central to these local campaigns and their success.

When we learn about community organising this is where we need to put it into practice. We need to unite trade unionists, benefits claimants, disabled people, tenants’ associations, students and anyone else affected by the cuts into an effective campaigning body.

Trade unionists are instinctive organisers and excellent campaigners. But we’re not always so good at identifying our allies and involving them. That’s why Notts SOS have been reaching out to groups who would not normally see the trade unions as obvious allies. They won’t come to us, we have to go to them.

Training session a complete success!


I have been working with a group of ULRs in my region to run a training course. The ULRs have run this course for three years now but they have never been confident in taking it further and trying to get more active members in the regions.

I delivered a short “Organising” session where I led a discussion about what a trade union does and the different roles that members can get involved in (and what those roles include). I was extremely pleased that we had great success – at the end of the session we had recruited:
1 x School Contact
2x Union Learning Rep
1x Student Rep
1 x Health & Safety Rep
1 x  Potential new branch secretary

So thats it…. proof that ORGANISING WORKS!

Last Evening at Ruskin


I can’t believe it is already the last evening of our final module at Ruskin College in Oxford.

As a celebration, nearly all of the Organising Academy Trainees, joined by Liz, enjoyed a nice evening of wining, dining and having a good time.

Everyone enjoyed a lovely meal at Cafe Rouge in Oxford with delicacies such as Bangers and Mash, Steak, Duck, Pasta (and more). Although the taste was brilliant, it was probably knowing that we had negotiated a great deal that really kept the smiles going.

The company was just perfect too – we have come though some much together over this year and have built some strong relationships between each other and this evening was just the right way to end our last evening in Oxford.

To end, I will leave you with a lasting photograph of our celebrations!


The Organising Academy Trainees with Liz Blackshaw on the last evening in Oxford

A Hectic Month for Teaching Union Recruitment


As my fellow teaching union colleagues will agree, September is possibly the most hectic month of the year. It is great to see that each year the three main teaching unions, ATL, NASUWT and NUT, are invited to universities and teacher training providers across the country to recruit new student teachers into our unions. Importantly, all three of the unions offer membership to these new teachers for completely nothing - in my opinion this gives a strong sense that we are not interested in giving the ‘hard sell’ to get cash and that the most important thing is that they join a trade union.

In my experience this September, the three teaching unions collaborate during this time to ensure all are represented at each training provider and whoever talks about why the new teachers need to be a member of a trade union emphasises the importance of joining all three of the unions whilst they are free.

Thinking as an Academy Organiser, I find this opens up fantastic opportunities – it basically sets a challenge for us to ensure we do enough work to encourage those students that when it comes to upgrading membership to paying for it they will choose us over other unions. I relish this challenge and am really looking forward to running training and networking events for these members.

Probably the best part of this recruitment period is having the opportunity to talk to (generally) young professionals about trade unionism… in my experience, the majority of new student teachers have never heard of a union and don’t have a clue what we do – those who do sometimes have a blurred vision of “unions, aren’t they just groups of people whinging and going on strike?” The opportunities to start the ‘Organising Talk’ are great and you can even start identifying potential activists and future leaders from the start.

Although it feels like I haven’t stopped this month and that my garage has never seen so many boxes (full of “goody bags” for students), I wouldn’t have changed the experience at all.

Injustice is the Key Driver for Trade Unions to Fight the ConDem Government Cuts


Tracey Bent and myself are Field Organizers for CWU and work as a team. Both of us try to combine our practical organizing with theoretical work, which just means trying to understand what is really happening in our society. As opposed to what vested interest would have you believe.

My driving interest right now concerns the conditions under which people can organise and mobilize in their own collective interest and how this can be promoted in a hostile environment. This year I have been completing an MA on Industrial Relations. I have been looking at John Kelly’s Theory of Mobilisation (1998).   Kelly attempts to explain the process by which a worker moves from being an isolated individual to becoming part of a collective. How and under what conditions does the isolated worker alter course and engage in sustained collective action.

At the heart of Kelly’s theory is a critical discussion of the following question: how are workers’ interests defined, and it is distinctive in Kelly that he relates this definition of interest to perceptions of injustice. There are other factors but perception of injustice is crucial.

Kelly argues that the process of moving from the individual’s sense of injustice to collective action is influenced by representatives and activists (leaders). The role of activists is central. Kelly proposes that activists help workers realise a sense of justified grievance, creating a grounded sense of real social identity, urging and legitimising collective action, against an identifiable agency (employer) in the face of hostile orchestrated criticism.

Kelly’s work provides important ideas and food for thought at this time!  Trade union activists can help to take the lead and play a crucial role in galvanising and mobilising workers by explaining the flagrant injustice of the cuts. They can do so as part of an organised trade union response. We say ‘cuts’. But behind that anodyne term there is simply a massive transfer of wealth from the citizenry to the super-wealthy, who remain free of rational taxation. But the current game of neo-liberal wealth transfer is at a critical stage:  it now includes a co-ordinated invasive attempt to erode social protections in Europe .

Speaking to delegates who attended this years TUC Conference, the central themes of fairness and inequality were top of the agenda. Motion 27 on establishing a High Pay Commission, driven by the CWU and crucially the development of an affiliate coalition to fight the cuts were the conduits to tackle these injustices.  Kelly’s (1998) ‘mobilisation theory’ assists us as we look to galvanise the ‘perceived’ injustice of workers in the UK today into an organised affiliate mobilised response. As the factors for a societal response are present at this moment in time: open political decision making structure, instability of political alignments (Coalition Gvt), availability of political allies and divisions amongst the ruling elite.

 Dave Condliffe, Year 12 Organising Academy Trainee sponsored by CWU.

The role of Trades Councils in resisting the Con Dem cuts

The coalition government have put cuts, not recovery, at the top of their agenda. They are going for civil servants, teachers, police, health services (whatever they say about ring fencing the NHS) and just about anything else that received much needed investment while Labour where in office.

An attack like this requires a united response. Trades Councils across the country are awakening to these new attacks, and their role in resisting them. Last night more than 150 people packed a hall in Nottingham to hear Labour MPs, trade unionists and community campaigners call for united resistance.

On Sunday 19 September 4,000 trade unionists lobbied the Lib Dems in Liverpool. The Liverpool Trades Council organised a march through the city. If you have a Trades Council In your area, get involved and bring some of that Organising Academy magic to these slumbering giants.

A World Without Trade Unions


Fellow organising academy trainee Dave Condliffe recently sent me the link to a really shocking Channel 4 Dispatches programme called Britain’s Secret Slaves (broadcast Monday 30th August 10). 

The programme is about domestic workers brought into this country from abroad to work as slaves for the rich and powerful.  Some of their employers are foreign diplomats who are above the law, but they are by no means all foreign and the range and variation of the employers concerned is striking.

The programme presents example after example of men and women (some trafficked in as children) who have been physically abused, made to sleep on floors and in cupboards and forced to work 20 hours a day for very little or no pay by the mega-wealthy families who employ them across West London.  

This is totally bizarre.   Why would rich people with plenty of money treat human beings with such brutality?  Surely they would be better served as employers by treating their employees well and paying them a decent wage.

That, I guess, is our common reaction – it just doesn’t make any sense to most people in Britain.  It’s weird! Bizarre! Pathological!  But I think there is a deeper truth here which needs expressing.

Most people in Britain only find this behaviour unusual and remarkable because of what we as a nation have learnt to take for granted.  In fact this type of brutal treatment of workers by rich employers is actually the historical norm.  Think of feudal England and early industrial Britain.  It’s a norm altered in our own society by active resistance over generations.  What made the difference in our own case is trade unionism.

But this is not a connection which most people now make.  Trade unions changed our society to achieve a whole range of things to make life roughly bearable (negotiated wages and conditions, the NHS, our state education system, the list is a long one).  The problem is that most people nowadays don’t get this and do not relate these hard won gains to the pressure brought to bear historically by trade unionism.  People do not commonly understand what real pressure means in a social context. 

Now we risk these things being taken away.  We dreamers! Brendan Barber has warned that Britain will become a ‘darker, brutish and more frightening place’ as the government’s so-called austerity measures take effect.  I think this is an understatement.

Whilst not discussed, what this Dispatches programme conveys is the image of a world without trade unions or before trade unions.  It provides a picture of the general tendency of employers without trade unionism. This is what happens where there is no effective permanent organised structure to underwrite a rule of law that protects working people.  This is the world without trade unionism and that’s what you see in this programme.

The programme is available to watch online at 4OD for the next 7 days

I should make clear that attempts are being made to help migrant slave workers in the UK.  Justice 4 Domestic Workers (established 2009) is an organisation of Migrant Workers who work in private houses in the UK. It is supported by Unite the Union and Kalayaan (a charity which provides advice, advocacy and support services in the UK for migrant domestic workers).

PS No sooner had I drafted this blog than Dispatches announced a programme on Trade Unionism to be aired on Monday 27th September at 7.30.  Let’s see what they say.

Tracey Bent, Year 12 Organising Academy Trainee, sponsored by the CWU

Union Organising ‘Against the Grain’


Thanks to the Organising Academy and my experience with the Communication Workers Union, I am obsessed by the extent to which unions have adopted the organising agenda – not just in this country but abroad.

I recently came across a website called “Against the Grain – A Programme about Politics, Society and Ideas” at  This is an online radio programme. It’s produced for Pacifica.  Pacifica is a network of Centre – Left radio stations in the United States. Their most famous production is the amazing “Democracy Now!”  More about this in later blogs. 

Anyway here’s what caught my attention.  On Against the Grain, I listened to an interview with Steve Early.  He’s a Union Organiser and journalist who worked for 27 years as an international representative and organiser for the Communication Workers of America. 

His writings are collected in a book called “Embedded with Organised Labor”.  He’s also got a book out this autumn called “Civil Wars in US Labor” which describes the bitter conflict currently raging in California between the main healthcare workers union in America – SEIU (Service Employees International Union) and a new and very dynamic breakaway union NUHW (National Union of Health Workers). 

This is discussed in the programme.  Many people are totally mystified why a conflict such as this between unions should be happening at this time of crisis.  Steve Early characterises the conflict between these two unions in terms of differences in underlying strategy and policy related to organising and bargaining.  He talks about 2 different and competing visions of unionism – one more bottom up, the other more top down, one more driven by elected rank and file leaders, the other more influenced by the role of full time staff and appointed officials.  He talks about worker involvement, worker participation and the accountability of union leaders to union members at a time of unprecedented attack. But it is the issue of active organizing versus mere recruitment for dues which is the central issue.

The programme isn’t just about the conflict between SEIU and NUHW. Although that is something we should all know about. The programme also discusses:

  • How trade unionism has faired at other times of economic crisis – Early talks about the Great Depression of the 1930s.
  • What trade unionists can do to protect public sector workers who are under attack at this time.
  • Promising directions in organising around non-unionised workers in the private sector.
  • The overlap between environmental concerns and occupational health and safety concerns for workers (referring to workers affected by the recent BP oil disaster)
  • Why the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) is so important to Americans and why hopes for it have been dashed.
  • How trade unions can help workers that are non-unionised and how non-unionised workers should organise themselves at a time of real austerity for workers in general.  Early talks about ‘Workers Centres’ funded by trade unions.

You can listen to the Steve Early interview by going to

Or go to  and search for Steve Early – the program is called Labor Pains, broadcast 23rd June 2010.

There is an earlier interview with Steve Early and one with Cal Winslow which are also still up on the site. I shall be listening to them this week, I hope.

You can listen to Against the Grain on-site or download to keep.

Tracey Bent, Year 12 TUC Academy Trainee, sponsored by CWU

Thanet Love Music Hate Racism Website Now Online


Thanet LMHR website is now online… wow!!! Go to: and preview some of the great acts performing live at East Kent Love Music Hate Racism Festival – including our headliner Lowkey and local acts Spookasonic, The Assembly Worker, Colt 44 and loads more great acts!

Everyone is invted to come and join NUT and Thanet LMHR for East Kent Love Music Hate Racism Festival on Saturdaty September 11th. 

This community coalition was initiated by Thanet NUT - along with a range of political and community organisations and other local trade unions - to address the ongoing issues of racism and Islamophobia, which are a concern for the teachers of Thanet.

The project is helping to engage teachers in a variety of forms of union activity - making the local NUT Association relevant and vibrant through tackling an issue which is widely felt by members in schools locally.  It has proved a particularly successful campaign, as LMHR provides a vast range of means through which teachers can engage with the trade union movement; leafleeting and activism, school based anti-racism assemblies and workshops and arts projects involving students at the festival and in school itself.
As trade unionists, fighting racism and Islamophobia has been, and must remain, one of our top priorities. Islamophobia has, in the last 10 years, become a sometimes acceptable form of racism. The criticism and scrutiny which the Islamic community has had placed upon them has manifested itself in a whole range of ways – calls from mass media newspapers and members of parliament to ban the burkah being just one example. This climate of Islamophobia promoted by politicians and the media for the past decade has provided the arguments and foundations upon which extremists and the far right have been able to grow. This has resulted in the unfortunate increase in support for the British National Party (500, 000 votes at the last General Election) and the English Defence League street thugs, who target Islam and Mosques for their disgraceful displays of racial hatred and violence.
Kent is a key building ground for the EDL – Kent EDL division having lead one of their recent racist protests.
It is in this context that LMHR is all the more important for Thanet and East Kent. Challenging racism provides an important opportunity to demonstrate our committment to the equalities agenda, whilst also developing new union activists who share our commitment to cultural diversity and multiculturalism and take this agenda back into the school environment.
Thanet LMHR will also be organising events after September 11th including a Battle of the Bands Project which is being organised in coalition with NUT snd Margate Dreamlands Project. We are a growing local community campaign which is here to stay and with the support of the trade union movement - we can help eradicate racism and fascism in Kent, for good!

Superb turnout for Save our Schools lobby of Parliament


More than 700 teachers, parents and pupils gathered in London on Monday to protest the cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) project. It was wildly successful, with a rally that filled the overflow room to capacity, followed by a walk to the Department for Education which is, ironically, being refurbished. you can watch a video of the day’s highlights here.

Despite its faults the BSF programme was replacing crumbling school buildings across the country. A parent from Nottingham spoke at the rally of the concrete cancer, sewage leaks and inadequate class rooms that desperately need renovation.

What’s needed is a strategy of community organising. Schools are ideal for this as they have a defined catchment area, pre-existing networks (PTAs) and concern everyone.

If you know of a community campaign for a new school get in touch and we’ll spread the message using this blog.

© Trades Union Congress 2007