Labour movement

1 February 2023Feature

A window poster for 1 February

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1 February 2023Comment

Thirteen things I've learned visiting picket lines

For the last few months, I’ve been getting up early to join striking nurses as well as postal, BT, rail and ambulance workers on their picket lines in Hastings. Here are some of the things I’ve learned:

1) Claps don’t pay the bills

These groups are all essential workers. And now is the moment that they really need our support.

They are all being asked to take real-term pay cuts, at the same time as corporations are paying out vast sums to shareholders (or even – as in…

1 February 2023Comment

It's time to fight for the NHS, says Rebecca Elson-Watkins

You know what I would really enjoy, readers? I would enjoy being able to write a column that doesn’t involve having to have a rant about Tory policy in one way, shape, or form. Alas, today is not the day for that.

Since PN last went to press, ambulance workers and nurses have been on strike, with further dates coming. Junior doctors are voting on whether to strike. Postal, railway and bus workers have all withdrawn their labour, again with further dates coming. The…

1 February 2023Feature

Strike-breaking: using the armed forces to undermine workers’ rights

The UK is in the midst of industrial action on a scale not seen since the 1970s. With key public sector workers walking out over below-inflation pay offers, the government have asked the military to plug the gap. Drafting in the armed forces may keep some basic services running but it is also designed to weaken the power of unions. With the government threatening new anti-strike legislation, we should remember how military confrontation with strikers was the weapon of choice until the Second…

1 December 2022Comment

Thirteen things I've learned visiting picket lines

For the last few months, I’ve been getting up early to join striking postal, rail and BT workers on their picket lines in Hastings. Here are some of the things I’ve learned:

1) Claps don’t pay the bills

Like the nurses, who will be striking this December, all these groups are essential workers. And now is the moment that they really need our support.

They are all being asked to take real-term pay cuts, at the same time as corporations are paying out vast sums to…

1 August 2022News

RMT leader calls for general strike if new PM pursues anti-union plans

There should be a general strike if Tory MP Liz Truss becomes prime minister on 5 September and pursues the harsh anti-union policies she has announced recently.

That’s the view of Mick Lynch, secretary general of the RMT rail union, who says: ‘Truss is proposing to make effective trade unionism illegal in Britain and to rob working people of a key democratic right. If these proposals become law, there will be the biggest resistance mounted by the entire trade union movement,…

1 October 2019Review

New Internationalist, 2019; £11.99; 112pp

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the last 10 months, there’s a strong chance you’re aware that this year marks the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo massacre.

On 16 August 1819, an estimated 40–50,000 people assembled peacefully on St Peter’s Field in Manchester to hear the well-known reformer Henry Hunt speak on ‘the most LEGAL and EFFECTUAL means of obtaining a reform in the Common House of Parliament’.

The crowd was attacked, first by the Manchester and…

1 June 2019News

Italian dock workers and French human rights groups take anti-war action

Saudi arms ship Bahri Yanbu was deterred from loading weapons in France and Italy in May, after taking on six containers of Belgian arms in Antwerp on 3 May. (The ship also stopped in London’s Tilbury Docks on 7 May, but it is not known what was loaded.)

Yemen is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, with 12 million people on the verge of starvation. Britain sold almost a fifth of Saudi Arabia’s weapons imports between 2013–2018, while France sold four percent of them,…

1 June 2019Review

Lawrence & Wishart, 2018; 226pp; £18

In August 1976, women employed at the Grunwick photo processing plant in north west London walked out on strike. 30 years later, in 2006, women employees at Gate Gourmet, a factory that prepared in-flight meals for British Airways, also walked out.

This book describes how these two groups of women were led to take industrial action – and their subsequent betrayal by the trade unions. Their stories are set against an academic account of migrant settlement, work and family life in the…

1 August 2018Review

Accent Press, 2018; 368 pp; £15.99

Achieving 40 percent of the vote – a record-breaking 10 percent increase on its 2015 performance – Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party carried off one of the biggest political upsets ever at the 2017 general election, dealing a serious blow to the Tory government and broader neoliberal ideology.

Steve Howell, deputy director of strategy and communications in the Labour leadership team, gives a detailed and engaging insider account of the election campaign. There are no big reveals, but…

1 August 2018Review

OR Books, rev ed 2018; 388 pp; £10.99; ebook £7. Purchase online here

Alex Nunn’s engaging style makes Corbyn’s journey from jam-making backbencher to leader of the opposition seem both exciting and totally rational.

Last year, The Candidate won the Bread and Roses award for radical publishing. That first edition traced Corbyn’s rise up to the attempted coup by right-wing Labour MPs in mid-2016.

This new edition includes a 100-page(!) chapter covering last June’s snap general election and the incredible surge of support for…

1 December 2017Comment

General strike for power shift

Main goal: Prevent wage cuts
Secondary goal: Stop strikebreakers from working

Successes:
In achieving specific demands: 3 out of 6 points
Survival: 1 out of 1
Growth: 3 out of 3
Overall success: 7 out of 10

The campaign achieved its secondary goal of ending the use of strikebreakers. It also prevented further governmental and military intervention into labour conflicts in Sweden. However it is not clear if the strike prevented wage cuts. For…

1 August 2017Comment

Jeff Cloves reflects on the intertwined histories of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and the US labour movement

In November 1962 – by chance and good fortune –

I heard the African-American singer/actress/songwriter/ civil-rights-activist, Odetta (1930–2008), and a new up-and-coming folk singer, Bob Dylan, sing live in London.

They appeared at the Singers Club – I was a member – which met at a Kings Cross pub, The Pindar of Wakefield. Also present was their somewhat controversial manager, Albert Grossman, and the event celebrated, I think, the club’s birthday.

It was an…

1 April 2017Feature

Jane McAlevey's new book is a shot in the arm ... and a challenge

Jane McElevey. Photo: Verso

Has the election of Donald Trump as president of the US got you down? Are there days you just don’t believe any more that we can win, that we can change big important things?

Jane McAlevey’s Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell) is the perfect antidote to Trump-era pessimism and despondency. I’m going to buy a bunch of copies for people I know, and I think you should too.

There are books out there filled with inspiring…

1 April 2017Comment

Class, unions and social movements

A rally of the trade union UNISON in Oxford during a strike (industrial action), 2006-03-28. Copyright © 2006 Kaihsu Tai

In May 2007, just after I started editing PN, we ran a front-page opinion piece by Dan Clawson, a US union activist and academic, on what trade unions and grassroots movements could learn from each other. He’d written a wonderful book about this, called The Next Upsurge.

Clawson gave an example of the new unionism he favoured: the…