Trade Unionism at the British Conference of Undergraduate Research

York Trades Council member discusses paper at British Conference of Undergraduate Research.

The British Conference of Undergraduate Research (BCUR) is an annual conference taking place at different venues across the UK. This year the conference was hosted at Winchester University and displayed a wide variety of research topics.

It was good to see that amongst the discussions of Chemistry, English and Philosophy that I was not alone in approaching the topic of labour unions. Another delegate held an interesting presentation looking at the role of Chinese labour unions in the global economy. This is encouraging as it not only shows young people getting involved in labour politics, but highlights a shift in attitudes towards trade unionism in higher education.

The presentation I gave was titled Decline of Collectivism in the Labour movement?: Individualism, Neoliberalism and Collective Identification. The title and content was derived from an article published earlier this year in the FIELDS journal.

The presentation was mostly well received. Many delegates discussed the themes within the project as well as their own experiences of work. This included how much the workplace has changed, transformations in the labour movement and individual cases of workplace bullying and mistreatment.

Some delegates were also intrigued by the existence of trade unions in society, having previously being unaware of their existence. This prompted delegates to speak of part-time, precarious work experiences as well as agreeing with the need for trade unions to reinvent themselves for a new generation.

The project of course was not without its criticisms. The research I had conduct was based on the analysis of interview data where participants communicated lived experiences within the movement. Some felt that non-numerical data had no place within the economic statements I was making. I take objection to this as whilst something may make sense numerically its application can have adverse social effects. These social effects are best measured through the analysis of lived experiences.

Another criticism arose from the papers’ observation of increased wealth inequality. Some commentators felt that “a rising tide raises all ships” despite many contemporary researchers – including Piketty, Wilkinson and Pickett – presenting evidence to the contrary. Similarly a trickle down economic theory cannot work when the rich are not investing reflect in George Osbourne’s growth figures this week.

Over all it was fantastic to see trade unionism picking up interest amongst young researchers. It highlights the possibilities of a new and exciting future for the labour movement.

A free download of the original article is available from the link below:

http://eprints.hud.ac.uk/23084/1/1111.pdf

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