Thursday, October 31, 2013

Solidarity!

http://www.unison.org.uk/news/message-of-support-to-striking-higher-education-workers

There's the message of support to today's Higher Education strike from our General Secretary.

I hope many other activists in local government, health and our other service groups are also on ‎the way to support picket lines.

Workers in this country are in the midst of the longest sustained fall in real wages in living memory (although a small number of senior employees in the public and private sectors are doing rather nicely).

There's no automatic law that says that if capitalism can drag itself to a better place economically then any benefits will be shared with workers.

We need our trade unions to mobilise us to fight for better pay - and today's unprecedented united action by the three major Higher Education unions is an important moment in building that fight.

Solidarity!‎

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Defend the Link’s model response to the Collins Review

If you are a Labour Party member (whether an individual member of a Constituency Labour Party (CLP) or a levy-paying member of an affiliated trade union (or a member of an affiliated society) you should try to ensure responses to Ray Collins' review of the relationship between the Party and the affiliated unions are made which defend the link - and therefore the principle of an audible political voice for the organised working class.

Defend the Link have issued a model response which provides a good starting point (http://defendthelink.wordpress.com/2013/10/29/defend-the-links-model-response-to-the-collins-review/).

This is certainly a rather better starting point than a letter from a senior political official of one large trade union which has yet to agree it's position at Executive level, which (in making some preliminary observations which don't actually appear to amount to agreed policy) starts with the trite observation that "the status quo is not an option" (because "it hasn't worked for us").

Whenever anyone says "the status quo is not an option" it is because they are about to propose, advocate or support a change for which they cannot make a reasoned justification, and that is certainly so in this instance. To the (considerable) extent that it is true that the current relationship between the Labour Party and trade unions "hasn't worked" for trade unionists this has been nothing whatsoever to do with structural or organisational questions, and everything to do with the political approach taken by the trade unions.

It is not a good answer to the question of how trade unions might better influence Labour to suggest that we should have less influence!

There's a rather cruel joke doing the rounds about a trade union General Secretary who, thinking aloud, wondered whether - since the Party leadership ignore decisions taken by a Conference at which trade unions have 50% of the vote - they might take more notice of such decisions if we only had 30%.

I don't believe that's true and I think you should all stop repeating it.

In the mean time, Defend the Link have given us a model response to send to Ray Collins in our CLPs - and a sound basis for the formulation of a coherent trade union response.‎

Monday, October 28, 2013

Solidarity with Higher Education members - join the picket lines on Thursday!

A number of UNISON activists in Higher Education have issued the following statement in advance of their strike action this coming Thursday (jointly with UCU and UNITE).

All UNISON activists who can do so should support their nearest Higher Education picket line on Thursday!

This is the statement;

"UNISON members in Higher Education are on the verge of launching national industrial action on 31st October - the only service group in all of our union to do so - and the following left activists are making an Appeal for Solidarity:
We call on all trade unionists to throw their weight behind our upcoming strike. We've won a yes vote for strike action because we have pushed hard for it in our branches and at a national level; we've won elections to the HE SGE because we fought for a left voice to represent our members' needs; we were the only Service Group to oppose the Pensions sell out in 2012 because we worked together; we've won a yes vote because we've built an inclusive, non-sectarian, and vibrant left that talks openly with each other regardless of different political affiliations; we've got a vote for action because we've built a strong network of activists who are serious about standing up for our members and put that ahead of all other considerations.
We are left wing trade unionists of various stripes, currently on the front line in the struggle against neoliberalism, calling for a united fightback and for social justice - we are calling for unity in action now.
Without unity in action right now, we are doomed. Please join our call, sign below, and attend our picket lines on 31st Oct and beyond: Solidarity forever!
Signed (in a personal capacity):
Linda Holden, HE SGE
Sarah Pickett, HE SGE
Tomasa Bullen, NEC
Molly Cooper, HE SGE
Max Watson, NEC
Matt Raine, HE SGE
Andy Beech, HE SGE
Sandy Nicoll, HE SGE
Carole Hanson, Brighton Uni
Ivan Bonsell, Brighton Uni
Domenico Hill, Bristol Uni
Linda Myers, Manchester Met Uni
Sue Howarth, Manchester Met Uni
Rosina Morrison, Manchester Met. Uni
Andy Cunningham, Manchester Met Uni
Lucinda Wakefield, Sheffield Hallam Uni"

Between now and Thursday's strike the priority has to be unity in action.

I will comment further thereafter about the importance of working together in an open and non-sectarian way without losing sight of important political principles.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Grangemouth and the limits of industrial power

It's understandable that UNITE emphasise the news that Ineos won't close Grangemouth‎ (http://www.unitetheunion.org/news/unite-grangemouth-now-has-a-fighting-chance/‎) rather than the price being paid in pay, conditions and pensions.

‎The employers have won by threatening to walk away and close the plant - and criticism of the tactics of the trade union is clearly to be expected (http://workerspower.co.uk/2013/10/grangemouth-unite-dispute-2013/). It may be that an attempt to generalise a fight could have lead to a better outcome.

However, this episode is, fundamentally, a reminder of the imbalance in power between labour and capital in our existing social order. Labour (us) consists of real people, with homes, families and communities as well as jobs. Particularly at a time of high unemployment we cannot easily walk away from our employment relationship.

Capital, on the other hand, seeks profit without concern (in the final analysis) for social consequences‎. If a firm is willing to close a plant and walk away it can do so - and, as Ineos have now shown, this can greatly empower wealthy bullies who want to increase profitability at the expense of their workforce.

Workers cannot resist such tactics by strike action, but only by occupation on the model of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders forty years ago. Given the legal shackles now borne by our trade unions it is difficult to envisage official support for such action in the absence of a strong, militant and independently organised rank and file.

Without this, our union organisation in even the strongest and best organised workplace is always vulnerable to capital's ultimate sanction of closure.

Which is why, as well as industrial organisation, our workers movement needs political representation. Ultimately we should be fighting for a society in which ownership of the means of production is with the community as a whole (rather than some rich bloke on a yacht miles away). 

Here and now we should be fighting for a Government which would legislate to strengthen workers' rights - and would be prepared to intervene to nationalise vital productive assets put at risk by the sort of bullying and blackmail with which Ineos appear to have got away.

Which is why we need to step up the fight to preserve a political voice for trade unionism (‎http://defendthelink.wordpress.com/). To stop future owners like Jim Ratcliffe from carrying out further assaults upon working people we need our movement to aim for the sort of social and political changes which cannot be won through workplace organisation alone.

Friday, October 25, 2013

CLP motion on the union link


What follows is a motion agreed by Lewisham West and Penge Constituency Labour Party at the instigation of Croydon UNISON.

‎‎

‎This CLP confirms that having been created to represent working people in Parliament by the trade unions, together with cooperative societies and socialist clubs and societies we have concerns regarding the current Collins Review process.

 

We believe that Labour's continuing relationship with trade unionists through their affiliation to the Labour Party continues to represent the values and aspirations of ordinary people.

 

We recognise that trade unions are collective organisations, and as such understand that this relationship is based on the basis of collective affiliation.

 

We note the review that Ray Collins is having of the Party's relationship with the trade unions as outlined above.

 

However, we also note that the media interest in this matter is being whipped up

by newspapers hostile to our aspirations which have never had sympathy with the basis of our Labour movement.

 

This CLP affirms that the relationship between the trade unions and the Party has been and remains central to the role of the Party in representing the interests of working people.

 

We therefore support:

- the collective affiliation of trade unions to the Party;

- collective decision making by trade unionists within the Party;

- representation for, and involvement of, trade unions at every level of the Party.

 

We therefore campaign for this throughout the Party and trade unions and call on

all Labour movement activists to make submissions to the Collins review in

accordance with the above principles.

 

We oppose any and all suggestions that would weaken or undermine the

relationship between the Party and the trade unions based upon collective

affiliation. We call upon the NEC to ensure that any proposals for change take

account of the views expressed.


Solidarity and Human Rights

Trade union rights are human rights - and trade unionists need to be among the foremost defenders of human rights.

Perhaps the first human right is the right to life - we certainly hear enough from politicians about how the state protects our safety.

That's why we should show solidarity with the United Friends and Families Campaign, which brings together those seeking justice for their loved ones who have died in police custody or at the hands of the police.

Those in London tomorrow can join the procession at 12.30pm from Trafalgar Square to Downing Street (‎http://uffc-campaigncentral.org/m/event?id=6614919:Event:293‎3).

Solidarity to all those who will be there.



Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Defending the Link - we need UNITE

http://unitedleft.org.uk/index.php/london-a-eastern/350-unite-and-the-collins-report-

I urge regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) to follow the link above, to the website of UNITE's influential United Left, which backed UNITE General Secretary, Len McCluskey, in his recently successful bid for re-election.

‎In the article linked to above, Jim Kelly, Chair of UNITE's London and Eastern Region sets out a coherent argument for the approach which trade unionists should take to defend the link between the Labour Party and the trade unions. 

Under a Government of Old Etonian millionaires it is perhaps clearer than ever just how much our establishment wishes to dispense with the uncomfortable inconvenience of a political voice for working people.

In the Sainsbury/Progress faction within "our" Party there are also many who dream of a polity of state funded parties competing for the (ever rightward shifting) "centre ground" without the tiresome need for the party of the "centre-left" to be held to account in any way by pesky workers.

There needs to be a united trade union position (at least among those trade unions which stand for progressive politics) to defend collective affiliation of trade unions to Labour and the existing rights of affiliates at every level (including voting strength at Conference and representation at the NEC).

I believe that UNISON's Labour Link Committee will next month adopt just such a resolute position. UNITE need to do likewise.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Immigration is not the problem

When I started going on demonstrations in the late 1970s I first heard the old chant that begins "unemployment and inflation are not caused by immigration!" A couple of years after that I got an Economics A-level and realised that was indeed true.

That's why I appreciate Anita Hurrel's piece on Liberal Conspiracy yesterday (http://liberalconspiracy.org/2013/10/21/nine-reasons-why-labour-should-oppose-the-new-immigration-bill/‎).

The Tory Immigration Bill (which gets its second reading in the Commons today) is as gruesome an example of racist "dog whistle" politics as we'll see between now and the 2015 General Election (which is, of course, what it's all about).

Although making less pleasant the lives of (some) "foreigners" (broadly, those who don't own Central London mansions and/or large yachts)‎ probably does bring genuine pleasure to many Tory MPs, this odious legislation isn't really about denying migrants access to services or compelling landlords to volunteer for the border agency.

The real purpose of the new law is to be seen to be "tough" on immigration in the forlorn hope of ever appeasing the ignorance and bigotry expressed in its purest form by the Daily Mail. For the Tories this is about holding on to supporters who might be tempted by UKIP, and for the other parties it's about keeping up.

What needs also to be borne in mind is the knock on effects of "dog whistle" politics on those who hear, and are encouraged by, the whistling. 

Already black people (particularly young black men) are far more likely than their white counterparts to be stopped by the police (and to die in police custody). 

Already we know that letting agents will collude with racist landlords to deny some would-be tenants homes on the basis of their race.

At work we see instances in which cuts and redundancies fall unevenly on black and minority ethnic workers (as, for example, the very local Councils which pioneered equal opportunities are now savaged by the deepest cuts).

Such discrimination is encouraged and legitimised by legislation attacking immigrants and, although the equation immigrant = black is less true than it was a generation ago, the racist consequences remain obvious.

In determining how we should respond as trade unionists‎ we do have to take on arguments about the adverse impact of immigration upon some workers. An increase in the supply of (particularly) unskilled labour through migration can depress wages - other things being equal (ceteris paribus, as I was taught in economics).

A trade union response ought not to be to try to restrict migration, but to see to it that ceteris aren't paribus. ‎Ever tighter immigration "controls" would simply mean more migrants workers were undocumented, making them even harder to organise and even more vulnerable to unscrupulous employers.

Our approach has to be to seek to organise all workers and fight for higher pay. UNISON's long standing support for an amnesty for undocumented workers reflects the interests of our members rather more than the equivocation and accommodation being shown towards racist Tory legislation by the Shadow Cabinet.

Or, as we used to finish chanting all those years ago; "Bullshit! Come off it! The Enemy is profit!"

Monday, October 21, 2013

Oh Lords !

The Lords tomorrow consider the Lobbying Bill (a.k.a the Gagging Bill) at its second reading, with warnings from their own Constitution Committee ringing in their ear trumpets (http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/lords-select/constitution-committee/news/lobbying-bill/‎).

It tells us something about political life in the UK that we have to look to an unelected legislative chamber to protect our democratic rights.

The Lords Constitution Committee sensibly suggests that the proposed limits on third party campaign expenditure in the run up to a General Election (which would stifle the work of UNISON's General Political Fund) impose unacceptable limits on the right to freedom of expression.

So far so good.

Unfortunately, the same Committee concludes that no constitutional issues arise from Part Three of the Bill. After all that Part (on "Trade Union Adminstration") just tramples all over the right to freedom of association.‎

Let's hope the Lords ‎ heed today's Grauniad and - at least - stall the bill. Even if all the dangers of Parts One and Two were eliminated, Part Three remains a serious attack upon our trade unions.

Stop Hinkley C - Nuclear Power No Thanks!

The nuclear power industry, an offshoot of the programme to create the most devastating weapons of mass destruction that the world has ever known once promised electricity "too cheap to meter".

It never delivered that, but it has delivered radioactive waste that will be dangerous for centuries - and for which we have no means of disposal - and, every few years the industry's safety procedures fail somewhere in the world.

These would be sufficient reasons to oppose the building of new nuclear power stations even were the Government not gambling our money as consumers by guaranteeing a price in order to tempt EDF to build a new nuclear power station.

The trade union movement has long been conflicted about the nuclear power industry, a unionised industry which (by the very hazardous nature of its business) does at least aspire to a safety culture. UNISON Scotland has policy in favour of continuing to operate current nuclear power stations (for example).

However, the construction of Hinkley C points so far in the wrong direction that the unions should unite in support of the opposition (http://stophinkley.org/). We should not continue to bequeath to future generations the poisonous legacy of waste we don't know how to dispose of any more than we should want to keep alive the prospect of providing another name to add to the list of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima.



Wednesday, October 16, 2013

All out for Halloween in Higher Education

I'll blog a proper report of today's meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) shortly - but the headline news has to be the decision of three Higher Education unions, representing between them almost 100,000 workers across the UK, to strike against the 1% pay freeze on 31 October.

Members of UCU, UNISON and UNITE are set to be called out a fortnight from tomorrow in a vital struggle for fair pay in a sector where growing rewards for some senior managers stand in stark contrast to falling real incomes for the workforce.

All UNISON members (indeed, all trade unionists) need to turn out to support the picket lines of striking Higher Education workers on 31 October.

Lambeth UNISON certainly returned the skeleton costumes we borrowed from the UNISON Centre a couple of years ago (for those who may want to go "trick or treating" straight from the picket line!)

On a serious note, this dispute is a vital step in building the overdue fight against the pay freeze - and the falling real incomes to which it has given rise. We can only restore the strength of our unions to defend our members if we can mobilise around our strength - unity in dealing with the issues which unite us.


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It'll be appropriate

‎As an inquisitive soul, I asked, at today's meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) when the NEC would consider the timetable and arrangements for the next General Secretary election.

Readers will be reassured to learn that our Presidential Team, with the Chair of our Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee‎ will determine a timetable at an appropriate time.

This will come as a relief to those fearful that this important decision might otherwise have been taken at an inappropriate time!

In unrelated news, our Staffing Committee will consider filling the longstanding vacancy for a Deputy General Secretary in November.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Hold Capita to account

Capita's plans to remove hundreds of jobs from the London Borough of Barnet are rightly prompting opposition and I urge all readers to sign the petition at http://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/capita-keep-our-jobs-in-barnet.



On the day the Royal Mail was stolen from tens of millions of us in order to be sold cheaply to hundreds of thousands with cash to spare, Capita demonstrate - by shifting hundreds of Barnet jobs around the country - that the private sector will always put shareholder value above public service.



Today's Guardian editorial's description of our "self-hating" public sector is more than apt. For the generation that I have worked in public service (mostly representing public servants as a union rep) I have watched the continuing denigration of the public service ethos by politicians of all parties - and by many of the senior managers appointed to do their bidding.



The Barnet Alliance for Public Services are to be applauded for petitioning Capita's Chief Executive. If these money-grubbing privateers want to deliver our public services we should aim to hold them to account just as we would elected Councillors.



As a child of two public servants brought up to believe that the value of what we do with our lives could never be valued in money I think it's long past time that we asserted the truth - that the profit motive is a squalid and sordid little thing and the private companies which leech profits from taxpayers are an infestation which we will one day exterminate.

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Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Join the Dots... Defend the Link to resist privatisation

On the same day that the state-owned East Coast trains gave £209 Million to the Exchequer (money which would have gone straight into the pockets of shareholders if made by any of the private franchises)(http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/nationalised-east-coast-rail-line-returns-209m-to-taxpayers-8866157.html) it is also clear that the Royal Mail is being privatised at below its market value (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/royal-mail/10362024/Last-minute-dash-for-Royal-Mail-shares-as-City-speculators-set-to-make-millions.html).

This means both that the Government is allowing taxpayers to subsidise the privatisation, and that many small shareholders will make a quick killing and move on. Across the Home Counties, holidays, fine wine and home improvements will be financed by windfall profits from a briefly held shareholding in something we all owned.

The notion that private companies are somehow more "efficient" has always been no more than ideology (barely) concealing the naked self-interest of capitalists keen for an opportunity to turn a profit.

Since the Government are as determined to reprivatise the East Coast Main Line as they are to flog off Royal Mail on the cheap it's clear, joining the dots between these two stories, that this ideology, and those interests, continue to dominate.

The CWU have opposed the privatisation of Royal Mail (http://www.cwu.org/support-the-campaign.html) and the rail unions keep up the fight to return our rail network to public ownership (http://www.tssa.org.uk/en/whats-new/news/index.cfm/voters-oppose-east-cost-sell-of) - but these trade union campaigns need a coherent, organised political voice.

That's why the single most important political issue confronting all those of us who want to resist and reverse privatisation is to defend and enhance the collective relationship between the trade unions and the Labour Party (http://defendthelink.wordpress.com/).

The trade union movement needs a political voice. That voice should speak clearly in the interests of working people - and should make clear that the era of privatisation is at an end.

Labour needs to make the contrary case in defence of public services delivered for the public good - but to do that then, where the Party holds office it needs to stem the tide of privatisation right now.

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Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Higher Education UNISON ballot result

Congratulations to activists and officials in UNISON's Higher Education Service Group, where it was today announced that members have voted in favour of strike action against a miserly 1% offer (http://maxwatsonunison.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/higher-education-ballot-result.html?m=1).

The margin of the "yes" vote (54.4%) may not be overwhelming but it is decisive, and the Service Group Executive (SGE) will now decide on further action next week taking into account the results of ballots of members of other unions, notably UCU whose ballot closes on Thursday (http://www.ucu.org.uk/6760).

The Higher Education (HE) SGE has, in recent years, shown brave and determined leadership which has set a positive example to the wider union.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Barnet Not Fair?

Anyone reading this obscure little niche blog probably already knows that privatisation is a device to transfer money from workers and taxpayers to shareholders.

In a generation of struggles against this pernicious smash and grab raid on public services there have been few more inspiring chapters than the many written in years of battles fought by the workers, community (and bloggers) of the London Borough of Barnet.

Absent an effective national campaign to prevent privatisation (which will need a lot more from the Labour leadership than merely reshuffling Blairites into well-deserved, and doubtless well-remunerated, oblivion) the Barnet comrades were always, eventually, going to find themselves where they now are - with Capita threatening hundreds of redundancies as they shuffle local government jobs round the country.

Barnet UNISON can be proud, however, not only of their exemplary resistance but also of its results. The Union is still in there, representing members. Also, Tory Barnet have set the precedent of publishing the details of their contract with Capita (http://www.barnet.gov.uk/downloads/940431/customer_and_support_group_csg_formerly_nscso_contract).

Since the private sector can generally evade the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act to conceal their looting of the public pursue under the disreputable cloak of "commercial confidentiality" it is a critical victory to have compelled the publication of this contract.

If we are to turn the tide of this latter-day Thatcherism (which for a long time had engulfed the Labour Party and threatened to swamp the union movement) then we all need to follow Barnet UNISON with as much determination as we wish to prevent our employers from following Barnet Council.

For a start, let's ask every Labour Council to be at least as transparent as Barnet's uber-Tories. Let's have a clear commitment that every contract for the provision of local government services by a private company should always be a public document.

And that's just for a start.

The Directors and shareholders of companies like Capita must be subject to at least the same scrutiny as are Councillors and senior managers of local authorities.

We have to make this happen. The hundreds of Barnet workers facing sacking as private capital continues to pillage public services deserve at least this.

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World Day for Decent Work

As Dave Prentis reminds us in today's Grauniad, today is "World Day for Decent Work" as declared by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) (http://2013.wddw.org/).



However much our every day work may be full of the immediate, local - even parochial - concerns of particular trade union members or groups of members, it's always good to be reminded that we are part of a global movement which aspires to organise all workers everywhere.



Whether it's a fire in an unregulated textile factory in Bangladesh or the shocking death toll of migrant labourers in Qatar, the world provides regular reminders of the need for our trade union movement and its campaigns.



We do need to campaign to put pressure on Governments, international bodies and major corporations to combat the life-threatening exploitation of many of our sister and brother workers around the world.



From the perspective of the oldest trade union movement in the world (here in the UK), however, the current Government provide a clear lesson in just how temporary and contingent can be gains from legislation and regulation.



With tribunal fees choking off individual employment rights and the mischievous lobbying bill throwing a spanner into the heart of what's left of the right to strike, while the Government proposes work without pay for the unemployed, our international solidarity work is likely to become much more of a two way street.



The most important thing to do to make every day a day for decent work is to build up trade union membership and organisation, the foundations of a decent society.

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Thursday, October 03, 2013

Institutional Racism at Work - lost research from the last century

f you had been looking for a report analysing the operation of institutional racism in the workplace you might not immediately have been drawn, by its title, to "The Organisational and Managerial implications of Devolved Personnel Assessment Practices", a research report published by the (now defunct) Greater London Employers' Association in 1999.

(The report is not, as far as I am aware, available online, although the internet discloses its existence - http://eureka.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/4290/.)

This report, commissioned by a consortium of London Borough Councils in the late 90s, did however, in spite of its title, provide a methodologically solid foundation for some stark conclusions about racism in the workplace. Fourteen years on this research has not, as far as I know been either challenged or repeated. Indeed it has all but sunk from sight.

Since I was personally involved in the agitation which eventually led a number of London employers to commission this report, I could recount its origins and history at far greater length than would hold the attention of all but the most determined reader of this blog. And I fear that may well turn out to be what I now do...

In a nutshell, from at least 1993 several London local government UNISON Branches were particularly struck by the evident over representation of black workers among those facing formal disciplinary action from employers.

In one way or another, UNISON branches raised this concern with various London Boroughs. From personal experience I can recall that the employers' initial response (of denial) rapidly shifted when they carried out their own analyses.

I recall, for example, broad assent from one employer at the time to the observation (based upon their own monitoring data) that, in one Department, black workers were, in the mid 90s, twice as likely to be disciplined, and three times as likely to be dismissed, as their white colleagues.

Since these were employers with a high profile (and generally sincere) commitment to equality of opportunity, they agreed with us that something had to be done - but what?

One understandable (but misconceived) response was to review the files dealing with particular disciplinary cases. Since these were cases conducted under negotiated disciplinary procedures under which workers had (and generally made use of) the right to union representation, this laborious exercise (of which I have personal knowledge in one particular case) predictably failed to reveal any systematic pattern of greater injustice among cases that got as far as a disciplinary hearing.

It was because this "surface-level" analysis of data thrown up by personnel (or as we might now say "people management") procedures failed to account for the evident racial disparity in outcomes that a number of UNISON activists across Greater London pressed, as the 90s wore on, for the employers to commission research that looked a little deeper.

This led to the commissioning of the research which (eventually) led to the publication of the report. From the point of view of the concerns which had led to our campaigning for the research to be undertaken in the first place, there were two key findings.

The first was that managers acknowledged (in structured confidential interviews) that the ethnicity of an employee was a key determinant of whether or not they took formal disciplinary action. At least once asked to reflect upon their actions, managers were accepting that their actions were discriminatory!

The second finding (based upon something called a repertory grid technique - http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repertory_grid) was that white managers demonstrated a systematic tendency to rate white subordinates as better performing than black subordinates (whereas black managers demonstrated no such tendency). The nature of the research technique was that managers were not necessarily conscious of this discriminatory tendency, but revealed it in answer to the questions which they were asked.

Taken together, these findings tell a compelling story about the obstacles to creating islands of equality of opportunity in a society in which the deep structural roots of racism, embedded in the actually existing social relations of production, express themselves both consciously and subconsciously in the conduct of social actors (in this case, the predominantly white managers in a number of London Borough Councils in the late 1990s).

Obviously this could be read as a cautionary tale about the limits of reformism and the need for a revolutionary transformation of society if we are to destroy the persistent racism which is the enduring (and perpetually reproduced) legacy of the key role of African slavery in the genesis of Western capitalism.

However, whilst waiting (and/or preparing) for that revolution there remains much that can be done to fight for what Manning Marable once referred to as "non-reformist reforms".

In many ways, the problem of institutional racism in the workplace was only highlighted in the 90s because of victories won in the previous decade in gaining access to those same workplaces for black workers.

At the beginning of the 80s, Lambeth (with an estimated black population of 40% - remembering that no ethnic origin question was asked in the 81 census) had a workforce which was 90% white. Within ten years, vigorous application of equal opportunity recruitment practices had shifted that percentage to 50%. (Older readers will remember Lambeth and other boroughs being denounced at the time as the "loony left").

In the generation since we managed to open some of our workplaces up to greater diversity we have failed to make the same progress to achieve both equity and equality in those workplaces.

However, the research published by GLEA all those years ago continues to point out things that could be done, right here, right now to advance equality given that we know that (still predominantly white) managers, left to their own devices may end up discriminating.

Managers can be trained and challenged to analyse and confront their own prejudices.

Managerial decisions can be rendered transparent and subject to scrutiny.

Human Resources staff can be given the support to champion equality and challenge discrimination.

Union representatives can be empowered and encouraged to confront racism.

Employers can support and resource the self-organisation of black workers within trade unions.

The long lost research report, buried because of the discomfort to which its sound findings give rise, remains a tool which we can use to fight for these limited, achievable and worthwhile goals.


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