Recession-proofing: from union militancy to reskilling

Sunday 1 November, 3.45pm until 5.15pm, Courtyard Gallery

Responses to the economic crisis have ranged from ‘boss-napping’ in France to factory occupations in London and Belfast. It might appear there is a new militancy afoot, but the bigger picture is that responses are typically individualistic, even therapeutic, such as personal grievance procedures against bullying bosses and demands for counselling for over-worked, ‘stressed out’ employees. Unite is even providing personal fitness lessons to Honda workers in Swindon during a four-month shutdown.

Where ‘collective’ responses do occur, they can take a surprisingly altruistic form. A recent survey of distribution workers found they are prepared to be flexible if it will stop colleagues losing their jobs. The Swindon Honda workers voted in May to accept a temporary pay cut to save jobs. Over 400 such ideas have been submitted to the ‘Keep Britain Working’ campaign. Do these initiatives represent a new solidarity, or fatalism and despair? Is it better to be pragmatic than to make demands that seem unrealistic? What role is there for the unions?

Is the best recession-proofing strategy simply to work on one’s CV? Even before the crisis, Lord Leitch wrote in a government report that if ‘skills were once a key lever for prosperity and fairness. Skills are now increasingly the key lever’. The unions agreed, demanding accredited life-long learning and training opportunities for their members. Can qualifications protect us from the recession? In our service-oriented ‘knowledge economy’, the training on offer is often in generic ‘competences’, such as the ability to listen, or work with others. Does up-skilling in these ‘soft skills’ leave workers with anything of value beyond flexibility and compliance? What is the best way for all of us to protect our livelihoods?

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Other formats are available here

Michael Skapinker
assistant editor of the Financial Times; FT columnist; editor, FT’s special reports

Paul Thomas
civil servant; qualified FE teacher; organiser, Leeds Salon

Professor Lorna Unwin
professor of vocational education and deputy director, ESRC-funded LLAKES Centre, Institute of Education, University of London

Dr Glynne Williams
senior lecturer in industrial relations, University of Leicester

Geoff Kidder
director, membership and events, Academy of Ideas; convenor, IoI Book Club; IoI’s resident expert in all sporting matters

Produced by
Geoff Kidder director, membership and events, Academy of Ideas; convenor, IoI Book Club; IoI’s resident expert in all sporting matters
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