T10 – Up With The Unions

Human rights thrive when the workers are united

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Trade unionists are the lost heroes of the human rights movement.

T10 intro video – audio transcript

Hidden History

In the 19th century, industrialisation required that men and women be mobilised in their millions to do the sort of work that this new kind of explosive capitalism required. Cities grew, factories proliferated, people of all ages were harnessed to the delivery of profit.

Slavery apart, never was the instrumentalisation of human beings so evident or so damaging: the vast majority of people, young and old, existed for the profit of the few.  It was as true in the country, among agricultural workers, as it was in the cities.

In the language of today all of their human rights were being violated.

Not only could most not vote or enjoy their civil liberties in any kind of meaningful way.  They did not have even the basics of a decent life: the sort of social rights that are to be found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and are assumed to be fundamental in the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Covenant, the sort of things we discussed last week on track nine on social rights.

It wasn’t human rights activists that changed this situation but organised labour. Take Britain as an example of the sort of things that happened over time in all industrialised countries

  • Friendly societies emerged to provide support and services for workers caught up in this alienating new world
  • Combination laws passed by William Pitt’s government at the end of the 18th century to control industrial agitation were repealed, and from about 1825 trade unions in the UK were allowed to argue on behalf of workers on work-place issues related to wages and conditions (but not anything bigger or more political!)
  • Right through the middle of the 19th century, extraordinarily brave people joined together to resist the assumption that their lives were merely the fodder of capital, The Yorkshire Woolcombers’ and Weavers’ Union and the  ‘Tolpuddle Martyrs’ being among the most famous
  • In 1871 trade unions were legalised in Britain, albeit picketing was criminalised in legislation passed at the same time, although for only four years, that law being removed in The Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act 1875
  • The franchise was extended so that more and more men (and later women) had the right to vote, especially as a result of laws passed in 1867, 1884 and 1918

As I say the story I am telling here is a British one, but it stands for a universal truth:

Through the 19th century, the industrialised world gradually saw working people come together to fight back against their employers and to use their power as (almost literally) the tools of capital to do so.

This led directly to better working conditions, in other words to more successful lives in all these countries: hours at work reduced; children given the chance of education; health duties imposed on employers, and much else besides.

With the emergence of political parties linked to labour, the British Labour Party for example, the capitalist classes had further incentives to concede a little so as to protect as much as they could. The classic example of this was Otto von Bismarck who was both a hater of unions and (at the same time!) the promoter of a golden age of German social democratic laws, pensions, health-care and so on.

Where Were Human Rights?

Not so much sleeping, but on the side of capital, more or less, sad to say.

The subject in the 19th century was in thrall to the revolutions in France and the US at the end of the century before: I talked about this a little at the start of Taking to the streets.  But these were not labour or workers’ revolutions in any kind of meaningful way.  Though they used the language of human rights they were about the assertion of the political power of elites rather than the masses underneath.

Two points prove this:

  • Property is thought of as a human right in both
  • No consideration is given to the fairness of who has and who has not got property in the first place

I looked at the damage property has done to human rights in a track a couple of weeks ago.  Through the 19th century and right up until the Second World War, human rights was identified with this thread to human history: the one that emphasised individual liberty and personal freedom.

But it never asked how this individual or that person came to be able to exercise their freedoms in this particular way, or indeed how it was that some people through poverty were never able to exercise them at all.

And thus came about the great divide between liberal and socialist progressives, with human rights on the side of the liberals in applauding freedom but ignoring context.  They celebrated rights while ignoring inequality in their exercise.  (By the way are their echoes here of the ‘liberalism’ of the liberal democrats in today’s UK Coalition Government?)

And so …

  • The language of human rights became a way of resisting rather than promoting collective change for the good of all – my track on property again
  • When that battle was lost, after the Second World War, human rights regrouped within nation states as a narrowly legalistic subject focusing only on civil and political rights.  The effect of this was to surrender social rights to the political sphere, ie the Labour movement with its rhetoric of socialism, solidarity and struggle.  (This is the narrow approach to our subject that I am trying to change in this project: see my first common track and also track one).
  • Armed with these civil and political rights, judges then began to use these rights to weaken the capacity of trade unions to deliver for their members: the best example of this is the way judges all around the world interpreted the right to belong to an association as including the right not to belong, thereby making impossible the kind of guaranteed membership among a work force that a union really needs if it is to bargain effectively on behalf of all: the European Court case of Young, James and Webster is the best known of these though there are many others
  • While doing this the courts have been consistently hostile to efforts by the unions and their membership to exercise their civil and political rights themselves.  So many examples come to mind of pickets that have needed to be controlled, of labour protests that have fallen within exceptions to the rights rather than being part of them: see the old code of practice on picketing rooted in these antagonistic cases, especially Piddington v Bates from 1961:
    labour lawyers know better than most how dangerous human rights can be in the hands of hostile judges.

And Today?

Judges are certainly better than they were in terms of their interest in human rights. For sure they view that term more broadly.  We got a sense of this in the comments by Virginia and others to my track on social rights.


  • The hostility to union action remains, in the UK at least. This is not just a matter of judicial antagonism.  It follows from the enactment of more and more legislation which has made it harder and harder to strike on behalf of even one’s own workers, much less society at large.
  • A good example of this general point is the way the courts were used to stop BA strikes last Summer.
  • Potential strikers these days need to be bureaucratically spot on if their actions are to survive the scrutiny of the judges – no human right to freedom of association gives them any benefit of the doubt.

Should Not The Days Of Strikes Be Over?

You’d have thought so – but in this world of global capital attacks on living standards have been severe.  The gap between rich and poor has greatly increased.  A means to this end has been the rapid de-unionisation that has occurred in so many industrialised countries.  What is going on here?  Why are unions so often the first targets in a country (whether democratic or not) that is intent upon realigning wealth in favour of the rich:

First make solidarity history, then make poverty real.

The point we have reached in many countries now – Britain is a good example – is one where some workers are still organised to defend themselves and some are not.  The first give us tube strikes and the like – great inconvenience for sure but understandable from the workers’ point of view.  They do not want to join the second group, union-less and therefore undefended and vulnerable, forced to take whatever the latest profit-increasing manoeuvre is that management has happened to come up with.

In a country with rising levels of inequality, on whose side should human rights be? The question needs only to be asked for the answer to be obvious.

  • Membership of a trade union is a key way of defending your human rights against the actions of an aggressive state, whether it is a democratically elected one or not.
  • Sure, some people are not members and others are.  Is this fair?  No! But the answer to this lies in more members not fewer, in a greater not a shrinking cohort of unionised labour
  • Unions are vital to protect the interests of all kinds of workers – they should protect across class and into the private as well as the public sector.  We all labour whatever the colour of our collar

And That Old Complaint?

It is true that unions are sectional, concerned only with the interests of their members.  This makes them hardly universalist in their approach to human rights.

True – but universalising human rights is the task of government, and as I argued in my first track the best way to achieve this is by having a democratic administration committed to social democratic values, in other words exactly the kind of government that, historically, unions have supported.

Unions want a progressive government to work with them in generalising benefit to the advantage of all.

Ok so you can’t get to work, you are stuck in traffic, your flight does not take off, your exams are not marked, frustrating I know – but try to keep the bigger picture in mind.  Here are human rights fighters doing the best they can with the tools they happen to have.

The alternative may be faster movement but also it means deader lives.

Up with the Unions! Conor Gearty

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16 Responses to T10 – Up With The Unions

  1. Richard Buck says:

    Connor, I agree with you on necessity of unions to achieve human rights for workers. Most of us have agreed in the course of this discussion that politics is the proper route for the achievement of human rights. Even in democracies, people can not make good on their political demands unless they organize. Politics does not respond to great arguments and well-thought sentiments. It responds to groups that can deliver votes or money, or that have the ability to facilitate or disrupt services. Globalization has severely impacted the ability of unions to assert power. As long as firms can go to the countries with the cheapest labour, they have a tremendous club to use against unions. The power of states to prevent the flight to cheap-labour counties is limited, but not totally absent. Germany has succeeded in retaining much of its industrial base. However, the best way to counter multinational corporations would be to have multinational unions. It is amazing that the most precious asset in the world economy, people, seems to have the least value. Governments are bending over backward to protect bondholders. How did they get so much power? The slogan “Workers of the World Unite” perhaps has greater relevance today than in the past when economies were mainly national. The fight for human rights would then become a fight to organize the world’s workers so that they can assert power nationally and internationally.

    • Christina says:

      Workers of the world unite indeed. But wasn’t that a long time ago?
      The multi-nationals are extremely hidden and difficult to trace, like tax havens. Julian says they are people laundering not money laundering. (Pilger this week)
      the minute you have effective unions, the rules are changed, in this country Ford (American) changed the job descriptions to avoid paying the women workers, (legistlation 1968) and Dagenham has sunk like a stone.
      They move the sweat-shops over seas, and the call centres, so any kind of union movement needs to be global. But I’m not sure how unions benefit DRC, Afghanistan and especially Nigeria. I was teaching Ken Saro Wiwo neice when he was hanged. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jun/08/nigeria-usa Where were the unions? 15.5million, the price for a human rights activist

  2. Paul Bernal says:

    Conor, I’m right behind you on this one – the unions can and should play a crucial role in the struggle for human rights – but have a question and an observation.

    The question is how can the image of trades unions be rehabilitated in the eyes of the public? It may be a question with no answer, or at least no answer in the current climate, but it is one that has to be addressed if the trades unions are to regain their power and influence – right now, it’s all too easy to dismiss almost anything a union does, just by appealing to what ‘everyone knows’ about unions.

    The observation is that I suspect we should be considering the role of new technology when considering the idea of collective action, one of the key ways in which unions have been effective in the past. It’s a huge stretch to suggest that a Facebook Group is even on the same continuum as organised labour, but there is something in the way that the internet allows small, seemingly powerless individuals to ‘gather’ together to support or organise themselves in support of a cause. I believe we’re just seeing the beginnings of the possibilities for this right now, but it could become something more and more powerful and effective.

    That’s one of the reasons one of my particular interests in the field is how we deal with things like privacy and anonymity on the internet – some of the keys that have been behind the effectiveness of unions, like freedom of association and assembly, need to be translated into the internet context. That means we need to think more carefully about what levels of surveillance and data gathering we consider acceptable on the net.

    • Richard Buck says:

      I am intrigued with the internet as a means of organizing labour, nationally and internationally. Two candidates for President of the United States used the internet extensively as a way to organize and raise money–Howard Dean and Barrack Obama. So, it certainly does have potential for organizing people. I believe that the internet has been effective in better communication between elites internationally. Why shouldn’t it work for workers of the world as well? I resist positing technology as a panacea for the world’s problems. Yet, we should not dismiss its use. It is better to consider it as an aid to organizing rather than the ultimate solution. With the intractable problem of organizing the labourers of world we need original ideas, technological or otherwise.

      • Paul Bernal says:

        There are certainly big possibilities – the internet can help organisation, publicity, coordination, working with and learning from equivalent organisations around the world, finding ways to provide support (including for example legal support) and so forth. Whether there are sufficient people with sufficient interest and expertise working in the field is another matter – but it should be something that people working in the labour movement should be thinking about very carefully. At the same time, we need to be very careful about the vulnerabilities that working in this way brings into play – possibilities for surveillance, for rooting out activists, and for undermining activities are all there.

    • Christina says:

      It’s not just the unions which need re-habilitation. Freedom of speech.
      If its true as reported in one paper that it was the CPS, NOT Sweden who opposed bail. That is an issue which needs reporting.
      The role of the media: what we know, what embedded journalists choose to tell us.
      What a week! student: right to protest; right to assemble and demonstrate; arrest of Julian; and even in Ireland the European court suggesting that their human rights need attention. All this in human rights’ week. Certainly a week to remember.
      Look to the media; one man, King of the world who owns/controls media across 3 continents. Try and find out to whome the BBC is accountable, Question time is a franchise like so many others. rights need a voice, and the media, however defined must be their voice.

      • Paul Bernal says:

        This could well be a pivotal moment for freedom of speech – whatever you think about some of the things that wikileaks has revealed, and whatever you think about Julian Assange personally, the way that ‘the establishment’ has reacted to the whole business is both scary and revealing, and needs a very strong response, and not just the kind of thing that the hackers and hactivists have produced. Time to stand up and be counted, and time to put ourselves firmly behind freedom of speech, ‘freedom’ of the internet, and all that that entails. If wikileaks ends up being squashed and squeezed to death by a combination of governments and businesses, the end result will be bad for all of us.

  3. Craig Valters says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with you here Conor – but also with the posed thoughts and questions of Richard and Paul.

    The question regarding public negativity towards unions is absolutely crucial. From numerous discussions on this regarding the recent tube strikes, I’ve found the vast majority of people’s opinions are, ‘If they can’t be bothered to do the job then we should find someone who will’. The idea of worker cooperation for a greater good, to protect them from those whose main priority is profits or their own managerial job security, seems to barely impinge on so many people’s ideas on this.

    Personally, I really struggle to understand this. Everyone surely wants job security, the knowledge that they will not be treated unfairly – this is fundamental to anyone feeling their work is meaningful and their contribution is valued. Crucially, this should not be seen as some kind of privilege, but a minimum requirement in any respectable workplace.
    As Richard mentions, the responsibility for the weakening of the unions no doubt lies with globalisation – but of course, it is the particular form of neoliberal globalisation which is the problem, not globalisation in itself (however it is understood). It is globalisation itself which gives us the chance to organise against such weakening – through greater levels of communication we can try to form collective movements which challenge the nefarious elements of the current neoliberal model of globalisation.

    In discussion with people regarding unions, I found a remarkable familiarity with free-market concepts, but these concepts were often understood as basic logical responses, not opinions. It is enough, say many, that people have a job, they ‘should not complain’. Essentially, the interest of the business competing in a national/international sphere was understood as more important than the majority of the individuals of which it is composed. It is this remarkably illogical system mindset that Marx understood so well (in terms of alienation), way before neoliberal globalisation began to really make its mark.
    I suppose the real question is: why would people feel this way if it’s clearly against their own interests, particularly considering the possibilities for global discussion on such issues? One important element is the media. There is negativity and a bias, even in the more neutral of papers, in the interests of sensationalism – and I think it’s fair to say, in the short-term interests of their readers. So a controversy around any given particular strike focuses on the here and now – being unable to catch a flight, get to work etc – rather than the grander context. There could be a whole host of factors here, but we should not forget how often ‘independent’ media is encompassed by corporate interests (the Murdoch empire being the prime example).

    Rightly so, Richard and Paul discuss the possibilities of the internet in helping unite common interests. Certainly, the possibilities are only just being delved into and more research is valuable. However one important facet of ‘internet solidarity’ is how fluid it can be. I think it’s important to remember how membership of a facebook group, for example, is simply a click. If solidarity is expressed by a workers meeting or a demonstration, then it is clearer that the support is genuine. The internet can be deceptive in this manner and obviously less physically apparent. So in its greatest asset, its ability to group together masses easily through instant communication, comes it’s most problematic feature – it’s not necessarily ‘real’. There is a great deal to contest this thankfully – the student protests undoubted swelled in numbers thanks to awareness and discussions online. But the more illusory aspects of online solidarity should be noted – and the difficulty with its fluidity is strongly exacerbated by the domination of corporate interest in the national press.

    If anyone is interested, the day Conor’s post came out the Guardian published an interview with Bob Crow. I think it’s interesting to see how a liberal paper frames the discussion:


    • Paul Bernal says:

      From my perspective, Craig, the point about using the internet is not as a substitute for ‘real’ action and interaction, but as a supplement – and as something new and different, that can add a different set of possibilities. If, for example, a union in one country can find a union in another country that has encountered similar problems and found their way through them, they can give advice as to how it happened. They could share experiences with employment contracts, get advice as to how laws might apply, and so forth. Finding expert advice – and sympathetic expert advice – should be easier with the internet than ever before….

    • Christina says:

      My understanding of one of the reasons behind the tube strike is safety.
      As a regular travelloer on the Northern line, I am far more frightened by the age and maintenance of the system.
      But let’s frame the argument another way. Enormous amounts have been invested in security at the H of Commons, and airports, by both UK and USA.
      However, I don’t want to be irradiated. I want to know if I’m flying with Garuda or QANTAS, and I want to know if Toyota or Rolls Royce made the engines and when. Short cuts across safety to booost profits, are far more endangering to my life than a passing terorist. As Conor says we survived the IRA without all this, but then there wasn’t big money to be made. Power, profit and greed.

  4. Craig Valters says:

    I agree with you Paul. I realise that in contrasting ‘real’ action and internet interaction I make them appear seperate, but I certainly see the internet as a supplement to other forms of collective action (as mentioned with the student demonstrations). As you mention, it offers instant access to expert advice and undoubtedly a huge deal more.

    I think its useful to draw together your previous question and observation. To what extent can the internet play a role in changing/maintaining public opinion of the unions? It allows the unions themselves great communication undoubtedly. But can greater communication help us challenge what ‘everyone knows’ about the unions? I think there is certainly hope. But my post was an attempt to perhaps put this in the context of the fluidity of opinions of users of the internet and the corporate message which tends to inform many opinions. These things can cloud matters greatly.

  5. Lee says:

    1. The article and responses focus on the large-scale work of the unions: their political message, strikes and efforts for workers as a class. When advocating for unions as friend not foe we should not overlook the smaller, day-to-day work of assistance to individuals facing disciplinary procedures or in dispute with an employer. This work is hugely important to address the inequality of arms and potential for unfairness.

    2. Sometimes, when not concerned with redundancies and closures, the large-scale action is seen as less fundamental and more opportunistic. I think the source of public negativity towards strikes focuses on those which are not based on “job security [or] the knowledge that [workers] will not be treated unfairly” (to borrow from Craig). Strikes are perceived as a tactic in commercial negotiation, in circumstances in which the public would not consider fairness to be in question. We aren’t talking about the cutting-edge of fundamental social rights but striking a better deal for people who already have a decent deal, with the public suffering the consequences. It is seen as one greed (shareholders) against another greed (workers). I’m in favour of redistribution and strikes as an essential tool in the worker’s kit but a little honesty here would do the public image of unions a lot of good.

    3. Maybe there is more to the hostility than this. Greece has seen widespread protests and seven general strikes this year, despite the government’s hands being tied by the IMF and EU. Spanish air-traffic controllers launched an unauthorised strike recently. And in France, where I’ve lived for much of the past year, I found protests and strikes to be common and widely supported. The national attitude to unions is different and matches what seems to be a different national attitude towards a work-life balance. Sarkozy’s “travailler plus pour gagner plus” wouldn’t have made news in the UK. Perhaps the work of unions in supporting the individual’s right to the lowest common denominator approach to their work goes against (fictitious?) traditional British expectation that we should progress through hard work and fair play. Perhaps our longer heritage of modern political stability is evidence of a British reserve which would oppose an openly confrontational union. There certainly seems to be something in the attitude towards unions in these different countries, their cultural traditions and their politics over the past century.

    4. The role of the media has been discussed in addressing the public perception of the unions. I find there to be no lack of air-time for Bob Crow, Tony Woodley, Derek Simpson and Brendan Barber to voice their views. That their message fails to get across is, I find, related more to their presentation than the media treatment or substance of their arguments. As Craig’s linked Guardian piece notes, a character like Bob Crow will tend to preach to the converted whilst alienating himself from the remainder: the remainder who need to be reached by the message.

    5. “Potential strikers these days need to be bureaucratically spot on if their actions are to survive the scrutiny of the judges – no human right to freedom of association gives them any benefit of the doubt”. And nor should it. The demand is not merely to associate, it is to excuse the breach of contract in doing so during working hours without taking annual leave and yet have a job to return to. If we make this imposition on employers, I don’t have a problem with a bureaucratic imposition on unions for the sake of stability.

    6. I worked recently in Colombia and was lucky to meet several trade union representatives. Lucky because they are a dying bunch, both in the numbers of them assassinated each year and in union membership. Anti-trade union violence, intimidation and legislation are problems resulting in the lowest level of unionisation in the Americas. Their work will continue to be crucial if Colombia is to develop beyond a cycle of oppressive government and powerful, armed non-governmental actors. With Colombia as an example, I support the article and responses in their sentiments on the importance of unions for galvanising social change, providing democratic representation for the otherwise voice-less and holding government and big business to account.

  6. Alice Donald says:

    I am joining Conor’s debate on The Rights’ Future belatedly (though having hugely enjoyed all the previous posts and the responses to them – thank you). I think we should acknowledge that trade unions – whatever the negative perceptions that persist of their having principally narrow, sectional interests – have in fact embraced new models of organisation that reflect not only the new technology available (Paul’s point) but also the changing nature of the global economy and the necessity of forging alliances with social movements and other civil society formations.

    One example is the national and international union activity that led this year to the International Labour Organisation’s adoption of a core labour standard for domestic workers. This landmark decision has created, for the first time, an opportunity for nation states to formally recognise the role of domestic workers in their economies and to legislate for their rights. This shows the importance of union organisation to protect not only the ‘traditional’ workforce (if that exists anymore) but also workers in the informal economy whose human rights are unusually vulnerable to being breached.

    With regard to the methods of protest and role of technology, I think the Hope not Hate model is instructive and inspiring. Hope not Hate used ICT to coordinate hundreds of people to leaflet and canvass in areas where the BNP fielded candidates: there was no substitute for walking the streets of, say, Barking and Dagenham but it was technology that ensured everyone knew when and where to go. Trade unions mobilised for this effort, as did anti-racism and civil society groups and many individuals without any particular affiliation. And it worked!

    Paul Mason on Newsnight referred this week to the potential for protesters to exploit the asymmetry of power that technology affords (cf UK Uncut, Anonymous). Relatively few protesters achieve startling results against powerful hierarchies. UK Uncut seems to me an especially inspired initiative in targetting tax evaders and avoiders, since it is only by embracing arguments about widening the fiscal base that a coherent intellectual and political challenge can be mounted against austerity; otherwise all we are left with is ‘don’t cut my bit’.

    One final thought which perhaps relates more to Conor’s last post on resisting law’s empire. In research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which involved interviewing economic and social rights activists outside the UK, I was struck by how many of them regarded litigation as simply another form of social action rather than as a separate sphere of activity. For example, SERAC in Nigeria described how they saw the outcome of a legal case as secondary to its mobilising potential; court hearings were regularly attended by hundreds or even thousands of protestors. Similarly, South African activists involved in the Treament Action Campaign’s successful bid for more accessible anti-retroviral drugs described the grassroots campaign that preceded the legal case and continued beyond it to demand implementation. They also movingly told of the impact of the (legal and political) campaign on the litigants themselves – some have since died but their involvement had afforded them a degree of respect and acknowledgement and access to those in power that had previousy been unthinkable. Of course, the South African and Nigerian experience may not be replicable in a country like the UK. However – without wanting to fudge the contrasting stances that Conor and Virginia address in their book – I think it would be instructive for UK activists to consider ways of using the legal process as part of broader political rights-based campaigns. The present context of austerity will sadly afford plenty of opportunities to do so.

    • Paul Bernal says:

      I’m really glad to hear that the unions are taking advantage of technology – and I hope more of this can happen. My main point was really that we need to be sure that their ability (and freedom) to use the technology is something we need to guard carefully, and think about a bit more deeply – because there are threats as well as opportunities, when the ways that those who might seek to restrict or suppress workers’ rights and actions are considered. Monitoring and surveillance, profiling of ‘trouble-makers’, interception of communications, blocking of websites, leaking of damaging data and so forth – some of the things that have come particularly into focus during the current Wikileaks saga – can be very powerful tools in the hands of the wrong people.

  7. Christina says:

    “I say the story I am telling here is a British one, but it stands for a universal truth: Through the 19th century, the industrialized world gradually saw working people come together to fight back against their employers and to use their power as (almost literally) the tools of their capital to do so.”
    I like your point Conor, but it seems to me, both British and historical. However, there is a gathering movement this very month, not unions, no political parties but young people concerned for their future. And they were taking to the streets, just as you said in Track 2.
    Now however, they are taking another tack/track which is the unfair property rights as pertain to tax. I will not repeat Johann Hari excellent article, but mayhap twitter is coming into its own. http://tinyurl.com/2wb4f3o ( mentioned above by Alice)
    He also speaks of threats to assemble, threats to protest and the terrorism act being invoked. I’m not sure that the unions are the answer to the right to gather, but the next few weeks should show. Unions have not a good record on both women and children, and not usually allowed into sweat shops , and certainly not represented in trafficking, whether here or abroad , and that is despite the sterling work by Lord Lester and Baroness Prosser who freely admits the extent to which the unions traditional outlook hampers them. I quote from my interview with her. It’s the women’s perspective again!
    “But in the TNG (Transport and General Workers Union), you’re on your own; However, in June 1983 Marie Paterson one of the top union officials decided to leave office, and since the union had so few women. there were only 4 women out of 400 paid officials, I applied. So to be a national officer ,promoted without training, was amazing.”
    “recently I went to a retirement at TGWU Transport and General Workers Union office, where there were many members from around the country. From inside my current world, (EHRC and Lords) I saw all the people there as “white and old”. “Daily, I work with young keen people of all colours, many Muslims and Bahá’í. The TGWU are becoming more irrelevant , they are not reflecting the population.”

  8. Duygu says:

    The idea that trade unions are the lost heroes of the human rights movement is attractive and alluring, as it offers acknowledgement of past achievements and also hope that in the future the unions, embracing not only a true human rights agenda but also a true internationalism, will be one of the collective instruments by which universal rights benefits will be realised for everyone. Less inspiring is the observation that in some state contexts, trade unions appear to have been very much the arm of government control and policy implementation rather than defenders or promoters of workers’ rights. So perhaps a key issue is not only unionsiation but the nature of unionisation and its role in society. It is a profound idea to conceive of this role as organised collective efforts to promote human rights and social democratic values in government. Being legally free, independent and representative of members’ wishes to internationalise and get involved in the serious politics of human rights across borders at a time when globalisation has seen widening economic gaps between people just about everywhere is a visionary ideal for the role of unions.

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