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Precarious couriers are leading the struggle against platform capitalism

Deliveroo, Foodora, Giovo. The success of these companies depends on the exploitation of an invisible precariat. Now, against all expectations these workers are mobilizing across borders to claim their rights.

A strike by Deliveroo workers London in the summer of 2016 was the first sign that food delivery platform workers were capable of mass collective action. The strike spread from Deliveroo to UberEats, and then around the UK. A year on, that struggle has spread transnationally. Food delivery platform workers have now been on strike in over ten cities across the UK, Italy, France, Spain and Germany.

Their struggles have both won victories and faced serious setbacks, but the fact remains that a transnational movement of precarious labour has emerged from what appeared to be the most unlikely of circumstances. Workers who were supposed to be weak and powerless have spread their antagonism with capital across borders in militant, unmediated action. This transnational circulation of struggle provides an example of how the changing composition of the working class can provide new opportunities, even as it demolishes old certainties.


Radical Leisure

In his classic 1967 article “Time, Work-Discipline and Industrial Capitalism,” E. P. Thompson described English workers’ everyday struggles against the capitalist regimentation of life. Workers of many sorts resisted the very designation of time as the proxy for work, and time measurement as the measure of labor; people still held onto earlier, alternative ideas of work, time, and leisure. In studying pre-capitalist societies around the world, Marshall Sahlins and later anthropologists have documented other cultures’ similar prioritization of a richness of social interaction over that of material goods. In what Sahlins called the “original affluent society,” affluence was measured by leisure rather than by the accumulation of wealth.

The union movement pushed for reduced hours until the apparent failure of the campaigns in Australia for a 35 hour week. This happened as the”neo-liberal” order reasserted itself via the oil crisis and what those on power called the crisis of democracy (ie there was just too much of it going on for them to be able peacefully accumulate anymore!)

PKIU More leisure ours yacht

Eva Swindler in Monthly Review last year asked “why did organized labor stop fighting for shorter hours? No one seems to know. Clearly this choice coincided with other deeply conservative union developments, including purges of leftists from the ranks. A desire for free time was even painted as an effeminate demand of the weak and women. Whatever the causes, however, it is clear that since organized labor ceased its push for shorter hours, work hours leveled off and then began lengthening, despite ever-increasing worker productivity. If work time is to be reduced again, history shows that it is workers themselves who will have to accomplish this.

Too much identity politics and very little class politics?

Scandinavian countries have been a shining light for worker and social rights, but the evidence is that globalism has undermined equity and workers rights. Asbjørn Wahl  looks at what has happened and what are some paths forward.

In our European surroundings, the level of unionization has almost halved over the last 30 years, and labour rights, labour laws and collective agreements have systematically deteriorated and/or been completely abolished. Most things are worse than here in Norway, but that does not mean that we are unaffected by this development. Much is going in the wrong direction here, too, even if it unfolds more slowly than in most of the rest of Europe. There is no doubt that Norway is still on the upper deck of the global welfare ship, but much indicates that it is the upper deck of Titanic.

In short, we can summarize that the inequalities in society are increasing also with us, and more authoritarian relations are emerging at the workplaces, including through an Americanization of organizational and management models, as the public Work Research Institute has so well documented. Wage growth for those at the bottom of the ladder has stagnated.

A newsletter published by the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) summarized this development quite well in a recent article, based on a new report from the independent research institute Fafo:

“If the trends continue as they are today, Norway will soon have as great inequalities as Germany and Great Britain. A new Fafo report shows that Norway is no longer a country of low inequalities. Norway is changing rapidly, and the lowest paid are the losers. Wages of the lowest paid in the private sector has virtually stood still since 2008 (…) fewer and fewer of those with the lowest wages have a collective agreement” (11/09/2016).

Bharat Bandh: Millions face-down Modi’s labour agenda

A massive, nationwide strike caused major disruption to India’s economy on 2 September, popularised as Bharat Bandh (literally ‘India closed’ in Hindi/Sanskrit). Some unions have claimed this was the largest general strike in history, with up to 150 million workers involved and costs to business of around $US 2.7 billion.


A significant feature of these strikes was the involvement of thousands of temporary workers, very few of whom have representation or support from trade unions. Another important strike took place recently in Bengaluru (Bangalore) where up to 400,000 workers emptied the city’s garments factories and flooded the streets in response to government changes to state pensions (the Provident Fund or PF). Key features of this strike included its primarily ‘wildcat’ character—local CTUOs were taken by surprise, despite having organised their own, much smaller response to the changes—and that the strikers were overwhelmingly women. This massive protest succeeded in deferring the Modi government’s plans.

Given that women tend to work outside the male-dominated structures of most trade unions, another highly significant development occurred in the tea plantations of Munnar in Kerala in September 2015, when female plantation workers established a new women migrant-led  union—Pembila Urumai (‘Unity of Women’ in Tamil)—to break with male-dominated unions that had virtually ignored their interests.


Korean Workers Launch Major Wave of Strikes, Winning International Support

Over the past few weeks, thousands of South Korean transport workers have gone on strike to protest against government “reform” proposals that would make it easier for employers to fire workers, weaken seniority protections won through collective bargaining and privatize some state-owned industries.strike_1_850_531

The strikes, and the South Korean government’s fierce crackdown on labor, have generated an unprecedented response from global unions over what they see as clear-cut violations of workers’ rights to freedom of association.

Tim Shorrock reports

Are women and care professions leading a new type of union politics?

Recent effective election campaigns by nurses and teachers may point the way to new industrial campaigning on issues that is led by women and will shift beyond the traditional union-Labor party dynamic. Ben Spies-Butcher on

Political Unionism in the 21st Century: Women, care and social democracy

The rise of neoliberalism has seen unions struggle internationally, especially in the English speaking world. Yet, the experience in Australia was unique. During the 1980s and early 1990s a Labor Government oversaw market reform in close coalition with the union movement via a formal Accord. Industrially amalgamations coincided with substantial declines in union membership density. But the political centralisation necessitated by the Accord opened new strategies.


Buchanan and colleagues credit greater centralisation in the organisation of the labour movement with its enhanced ability to organise politically — a capacity exemplified by the Your Rights at Work campaign developed to oppose the radical labour market regulation policy, WorkChoices. In 2005, the union campaign mobilised thousands of workers up until the 2007 federal election. Subsequent analysis suggests it had a tangible impact on the election result, helping to elect a Labor Government that then moderated industrial relations laws.

There are clearly dangers for unions in shifting too far from industrial to political strategies. Yet, closer examination suggests opportunities to combine political and industrial strategies as the composition of union membership and structure of the economy change

Mass Strikes in the Global Crisis

Despite the fact that there have been spectacular strikes in many parts of the world since the inception of the global economic crisis in 2007-8, the news media and the academic public have focused their attention on street demonstrations and occupations of squares. In the view of myself and Jörg Nowak, the negligence of strikes in accounts and analyses of the current cycle of protest is the flipside of a focus on middle-class mobilisations, which betrays the class bias of journalists and scholars alike.


Moving beyond the silence on conflicts around work, we are charting, in a special issue of the journal Workers of the World, the manifold forms of strikes that are occurring around the globe in a conjuncture of crisis. We contend that even if there is no evidence for an increase in strikes on a global scale, there are novel economic and political dynamics triggered by them that merit our attention. MORE HERE from Alexander Gallas