Category: Stronger Unions

Turkish trade unionists on trial

DSC_0017
KESK leaders standing outside the main courthouse in Istanbul last week.

I was in Istanbul for three days last week to attend the opening of the trial of Turkish trade union leaders.

My articles on what I saw have begun appearing in a number of places:

Germany:

Global:

UK:

USA:

French language:

  • Andy Funnell has translated one of the articles for LabourStart’s French language blog, here.

Israel’s ports haunted by Ronald Reagan’s ghost

This article appears on Stronger Unions, the blog of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in the UK.


In the labour movement we’re often fond of our history. We preserve certain traditions, we celebrate some holidays, we even have museums displaying our union banners and old pamphlets. Our past inspires us.

We don’t tend to think of union-busters sharing in some kind of nostalgia, but they do – and it sometimes shows up in odd ways.

Back in 1981, long before Ronald Reagan was elevated to sainthood, before he “won” the Cold War (helped by Mrs. Thatcher) and was loved and revered by everyone, he was a very conservative and divisive politician.

Just six months after his inauguration, Reagan crushed the powerful air traffic controllers union, who had dared to go on strike for better pay and working conditions. He did so by bringing in strike-breakers, including military air traffic controllers, and sacking over 11,000 professionals, barring them from federal employment for life.

To trade unionists in the United States and elsewhere, it’s a bitter memory.

To newly-elected ministers in Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government in Israel, it’s a source of inspiration.

It was revealed last week that the Israeli government was looking into plan codenamed “1981” which according to the daily business newspaper Globes, derives from “the year in which US President Ronald Reagan fired the air traffic controllers at America’s airports and brought in military controllers in their stead.”

The target in Israel is not air traffic controllers but port workers in Haifa and Ashdod.

The two ports are unionized – bastions of trade unionism despite the relative long-term decline of unions in the manufacturing sector. As a result, port workers enjoy good pay and conditions which are routinely “exposed” in the right-wing media.

The government plans to build new ports and Netanyahu, his new finance minister Yair Lapid, ultra-right Minister for the Economy Naftali Bennett and the Minister for Transport Yisrael Katz are quite openly relishing a fight with the port workers – and possibly with the broader labour movement, including the Histadrut (national trade union centre).

Lapid, who made a career as a television personality, was widely seen as a bright new face in Israeli politics, but since joining the Netanyahu government has often seemed to try to out-flank his coalition partners from the right. His comment on the possibility of a port strike was “Let there be war.”

Globes reported that “the government has prepared several responses: bringing the army and foreign companies in to operate the ports; outlawing of strikes in vital services; warning manufacturers to stock up with materials; and opening up the Port of Eilat and Israel Shipyards for loading and unloading of goods.”

Two days later, there were signs of a government retreat. While not ruling out using troops as strike-breakers, Transport Minister Katz instead raised the prospects of Israel using the Jordanian Red Sea port of Aqaba, as well as ports in Cyprus, Greece and Turkey, to break any potential port workers strike.

For decades port workers have been on the front lines of some of the sharpest industrial struggles. Australia’s “war on the waterfront” in the late 1990s left bitter memories – and helped weaken the right-wing Bob Hawke government. Britain of course had the long-running struggle of the Liverpool dockers.

Now it’s to be the turn of port workers in Haifa and Ashdod who face a determined right-wing government that seems to be inspired by the ghost of Ronald Reagan.

How are union members using the Internet?

This article appears in Stronger Unions, a news and comment blog about the UK trade union movement, managed by the TUC.


Unions that want to communicate with their members using the new technologies face a problem. And the problem is that we don’t actually know very much about how our members use the Internet.

Of course there are general surveys and studies which show that masses of people use Facebook and Twitter, that smartphones and tablets have come to replace desktop PCs as a way to access the Net – but is that the case for union members?

After all, union members in the UK and elsewhere are not typical – we tend to be older than the average, for example.

The only way to know how our members use the Net is to ask them, and this year for the third year running, LabourStart is doing exactly that.

In last year’s survey, we learned that a very large of number of trade unionists had started to use Google+ and LinkedIn, in addition to Facebook. And yet unions were not really responding to this, and had done little or nothing on those social networks.

Nearly 42% of the nearly 3,000 respondents last year told us that they accessed the Net with a smartphone and a third that number were already using tablets (like the iPad). But less than 6% thought their unions had apps for these devices.

We learned that nearly two-thirds of the respondents rated their national union websites as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’, but that number dropped dramatically when we asked about local or branch websites.

These numbers and many more like them can be very useful for unions in Britain and around the world. We should, for example, invest more in training local and branch unions to do better and more useful websites. We should learn which social networks our members use (such as LinkedIn) and exploit the possibilities there, rather than solely relying on Facebook. We should be designing apps for smartphones and tablets which are increasingly becoming the primary way our members access the Net.

This year’s survey will run through 18th March – and the more members of trade unions participate, the more useful it will be for all of us. We don’t just want those who love new technology to respond – it’s also important to know how ordinary members of our unions use the Net.

Please spread the word in your union – you can take the survey online here.

Korea: Hunger strikes, head-shavings and global solidarity

This article appears on Stronger Unions, a news and comment blog about the UK trade union movement, managed by the TUC.

South Korea’s progress from dictatorship to democracy has not been an easy or straightforward one, as the recent Presidential election has shown. The good news was that for the first time in history, the Koreans had elected a woman, Park Guenhye, to lead their country. The bad news is that she’s the daughter of the former dictator, Park Chung-hee, who ruled the country from 1963 to 1979.

Another indication of the uneven character of the transition to democracy as been the ongoing fight by trade unions for recognition and rights. One of the Korean unions still fighting for the most basic kind of recognition is the Korean Government Employees Union (KGEU).

The government has refused to recognize the KGEU, and has sacked 137 of its members, including its president and general secretary, charging them with being members of an “illegal organisation” (the union). The union is demanding that all those workers be re-hired and the union recognised. They’re demanding that President-elect Park make real her campaign commitment to genuine social dialogue.

On 15 January this year, KGEU president Kim Jungnam announced his intention to go on indefinite hunger strike. He began the strike on the street opposite the offices of the transition team for the new president-elect.

A little bit more than two weeks into the strike, Kim collapsed and an ambulance was called. He was taken to hospital and is still recovering.

Other union leaders immediately stepped in, and all the KGEU vice presidents themselves went on unlimited hunger strike.

This was followed by a uniquely Korean form of protest – union leaders publicly shaved their heads in protest.

The struggle by the KGEU has attracted considerable interest internationally, and has won the support of Public Services International (PSI), the global union federation representing 20 million government workers in 150 countries. PSI general secretary Rosa Pavanelli has released a video statement of support for the workers.

In Britain, UNISON has spoken out strongly in support of Kim and the KGEU.

Meanwhile, over 10,000 rank-and-file trade unionists have signed up to support the campaign on LabourStart which appears in more than twenty languages.

The KGEU has been strengthened by all the international support and has just released a video by Kim thanking all those outside the country who expressed their solidarity.

The struggle continues.