Author Archives: Gregor Gall

About Gregor Gall

Gregor Gall is Professor of Industrial Relations at the University of Bradford. He is Director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation and wrote the report mentioned above. Prof Gall was previously Professor of Industrial Relations, University of Stirling and Research Professor of Industrial Relations and Director of the Centre for Research in Employment Studies, University of Hertfordshire. He is also Visiting Lecturer, International Labour & Trade Union Studies, Ruskin College, Oxford, and Visiting Lecturer, Labor Education Program, School of Labor and Employment Relations, University of Illinois, Urbana.

Bob Crow, RMT union leader: eight lessons from his life and legacy

Bob Crow

© 2012 Jarle Vines / Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Bob Crow, the former RMT rail and transport union general secretary, died at the tragically young age of 52 three years ago this week. He was without doubt the most high profile union leader of his generation – and that was despite the union he led being one of the smallest. The reasons for this apparent contradiction are to be found in the troika of his personality, politics and power of his members. Here the whole became more than the sum of the parts.

Students and scholars of employment, industrial and labour relations can gain valuable insights into the issues of power, ideology and material interests in work and employment by examining the lessons of his life and legacy.

Here are just a few of the lessons from my biography of Crow called Bob Crow – socialist, leader, fighter which is published this week by Manchester University Press, priced £20.

  1. The job of being a union leader – at whatever level – is to impart collective confidence and certainty in members – the confidence to fight and the certainty that the battles can be won. This is to engage in transformational leadership, where members collectively become more than they thought they could or would be.
  2. There is the need to understand how leaders develop socially and politically. Some skills and traits can be taught but others cannot and are generated organically. Classroom lessons and mentoring cannot substitute for being battle hardened.
  3. Identify where the weak links in your opponents’ chains are and target them ruthlessly. So knowing the ‘where’, the ‘when’ and the ‘how’ become critical in order to develop the leverage to advance and protect members’ interests.
  4. Understand that strikes need to have both an economic and political force to them. Hurting employers ‘in the pocket’ is important but some will resist no matter the cost so political pressure must also be applied in order to reduce the psychological barrier to capitulating.
  5. Innovate so that old tactics are refreshed and become more powerful. For example, a 24 hour strike held over two days (12 noon to 12 noon) causes more disruption than a simple midnight to midnight strike.
  6. Be prepared to work with others but always be ready to rely on your own members and don’t let others in the union movement hold you back from pushing ahead. But don’t push any head too far that your union becomes isolated from others.
  7. Unions that stand up and collectively fight and win for their members – especially through their members’ own actions – are a very attractive proposition. This then becomes a good recruiting sergeant, leading to a virtuous circle where a stronger union recruits more members, and when mobilised, attracts more members.

And, lastly, if you say you are going to fight, you must be prepared to fight if your opponent tries to call your bluff. Only march your troops up to the top of the hill if you are prepared to march them down the other side to confront the enemy.

These and many more lessons are contained in the biography itself.

Gregor Gall, professor of industrial relations at the University of Bradford

Support International Workers’ Day in age of rampant, supercharged capitalism

The first of May every year is universally known as May Day and May Day is most commonly identified as International Workers’ Day. Three hundred and sixty four days a year are those dominated by capital given we live in a capitalist society so to have a day for labour and labourers is, at least, a token acknowledgment that, according to Karl Marx, workers do, in fact, create all the wealth in society.

The battle between capital (employers) and labour (workers) over how to distribute the wealth made by capitalists when they put workers to work as well as the conditions under which workers work for the capitalists has been an unceasing one since capitalism first emerged in the early nineteenth century.

This battle has taken many forms, giving rise to the ideologies of social democracy, socialism, communism and anarchism. However, all of these ideologies have been in retreat for more than 40 years as a rampant form of super-charged capitalism, called neo-liberalism, has dominated the economic, political and social landscapes of the globe. Britain is one of the countries that has experienced and continues to experience one of the most far-reaching experiments in neo-liberalism, the notion that the unregulated market is the best means of organising economy and society.

Yet the battle by capital to dominate and control labour has not been fully won. Emerging from the contemporary and historical experiences of workers’ struggles, the Jimmy Reid Foundation has recently published a vision for economic and industrial democracy where strategies and tactics for workers re-gaining control over the workplaces they work in and the work they engage in. Jimmy Reid was a communist and the leader of the successful mass struggle of shipyard workers’ in Scotland to save their jobs by establishing a novel work-in between 1972 and 1973.

Jimmy Reid speaking at a rally

Jimmy Reid speaking at a rally

Called ‘Rights and Respect: a vision for democracy in the workplace’, the vision comprises proposals on workplace and sectoral collective bargaining, right to take industrial action, co-determination, encroachment, public ownership, worker cooperatives and tripartism. It then discusses how these can be achieved.

These proposals are all the more pertinent as the present Westminster government’s Trade Union Bill will shortly become law. The Bill will undermine workers’ rights and enhance the power and control of managers and employers. But even without it, workers in their workplaces still continue to experience a fundamental lack of democracy and control at work. Currently, Scotland and Britain are in the bottom half of the European league table for democracy at work.

The right to sectoral bargaining is worth highlighting in particular as a means to stop the ‘race to the bottom’ by taking out wages and conditions as a factor of competition between companies in the same sector. A form of co-determination is also worth highlighting so that workers can have their own representatives on the board of directors of the organisations they employ them.

In themselves the various proposals put forward are not new but what is new is using them together as a joined up, strategic means to solve a much longer standing issue of disempowerment and disenfranchisement in the workplace. Some of the proposals would provide for workers the greater ability to advance and defend their interests at work on immediate and day-to-day issues in the workplace – on such issues not just as pay but also the organisation of work – while others would allow workers to influence the decision making process within employing organisations and at the level of the economy. Without the latter, any advances in the former could be undermined.

It is fitting on May Day, International Workers’ Day, to draw attention to these proposals so that there is the hope that in the not too distant future there will be more than just one day a year that is given over to acknowledging and celebrating workers and the wealth they create.

The full report is available at http://reidfoundation.org/2016/02/democracy-at-work-launch-of-jrf-report-on-economic-and-industrial-democracy/

The push to unionise the sex industry

Gregor GallI began studying the unionisation of sex workers in 2002 when the media in Britain was awash with stories about the formation of the London-based International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW). It turned out that the IUSW was not a (labour) union and wasn’t very international either. Both were aspirations that were not to be realised. That did not put me off from starting to research whether actual unions did exist in Britain and elsewhere.

The results of this research have led to me publishing a number of papers in peer-reviewed journals, a couple of books chapters, and three books (published in 2006, 2012 and 2016). The latest of this is Sex Worker Unionisation: Global Developments, Challenges and Possibilities.

The book examines the issues of power, material interests and ideology where sex workers – principally exotic dancers, porn actors and prostitutes – have become one of the newer and more unusual groups of workers in recent years to seek the protection of unions. Unionising sex workers typifies many of the sharpest challenges for labour unionism, namely, organising self-employed workers with no regular or fixed place of work, high levels of turnover and, effectively, zero hour contracts – as well as all within greatly expanding labour markets due to migration. However, unlike any other workers, sex workers also face moral opprobrium from within and without the labour union movement as a result if the work they do so there is an additional hurdle to be overcome in the process of unionisation.

Yet despite these challenges sex worker activists have succeeded in persuading fellow workers to unionise (either through joining existing unions or creating new ones) in the thirty countries I studied.

The spurs to unionisation have been the realisation that despite surface appearances sex work is work much like any other work and that sex workers as workers need and want rights at work. This is because sex workers have problems in common with other workers such as lack of holiday pay, fines for bogus infractions at work, being compelled to do unpaid overtime, bullying by managers, being forced to work long hours without breaks etcetera. And there are also some different problems which most workers don’t have to face like having to pay fees to work and purchasing work items from their bosses. From both, a sense of injustice and an array of grievances have developed.

Added to discontent over these issues is that sex workers have wanted to add a political voice to their new-found economic voice. Consequently, sex workers have used unionisation to articulate their voice in the public arena over the issue of the legal reform of the position of sex work.

But unionisation has been no easy task. The numbers involved have been small, progress limited in making substantive gains and many organisations have folded. Notable highlights have been collective bargaining over contracts for terms and conditions of work (remuneration, working hours, grievance and discipline procedures and so on), as well as individual and wider political representation. Formal collective bargaining has taken place in Australia, Britain, Germany and the United States while individual representation has also taken place through internal grievance and disciplinary and external legal processes in many more countries. Political representation has involved campaigning and lobbying on reforming the legal regulation of sex work. Informal bargaining, assisted by legal recourse, has also taken place, especially with regard to fees levied to work for exotic dancers and their campaign to be accorded employed status in the United States.

After initial successes, energy levels has waned, organisational development stalled and many sex worker unions have folded or attempts by existing unions to organise sex workers have been wound up. Along the way there have been some almighty and bitter internal disputes amongst sex workers over whether managers should be members and which groups of sex workers should be prioritised over others.

Yet despite these internal and external problems when one organisation has folded another has emerged to take its place and carry on the battle for representation. This demonstrates the continuing demand for collective interest representation and the willingness of the activists to step up to the plate to provide that representation.

And, it is here that the notion of occupational unionism may have some particular purchase. Unions which organise at the level of the occupation, rather than the workplace, seek to establish a floor of terms and conditions with capital (owners, operators) across and throughout workplaces because the work their members do is peripatetic and of a short duration. Sex workers in brothels and lapdancing clubs approximate more closely to this situation that any other.

Of course, occupational labour unionism has to be based on there being an occupation and one which has elements of a profession to it (such as some degree of regulation to entry to the occupation and of behaviour within the occupation). Seeking to establish occupational rights and status is no easy feat and may take a long time to do. But given that the industry structure and conditions of both brothels and lapdancing are unlikely to be subject to significant changes, the suggestion has much merit to it.

For more information or to order a copy of Sex Worker Unionisation: Global Developments, Challenges and Possibilities (ISBN 9781137320131, pp240, 2016) by Gregor Gall , published by Palgrave, go to http://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9781137320131