Thursday, April 11, 2013


May 1984.Demonstration of supporters of the strike in Mansfield with leading a waving NUM President Arthur Scargill

The death of Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher brings back into the spotlight her fight against the unions. So my thoughts go out to my visit in the early nineties with an international delegation of miners to the Union of Democratic Miners (UDM) in Nottinghamshire. The UDM was created after a conflict with the once powerful National Union of Miners (NUM) at the time of the great miners' strike in 1984-1985 under the leadership of his infamous president Arthur Scargill (1981-2000). During that visit I learned how dramatic this miners' strike has been for many British miners and ultimately for the entire British trade union movement.

Of course, the Thatcher government made every effort to destroy the economic and political power of the English trade unions, united in the trade union confederation TUC. The TUC at that time was both, a social economic as well as a political power. Because of its huge financial contributions to the Labour Party, the TUC in fact controlled the party. Because Thatcher from the outset was planning to change radically the British economy  based on the principles of  the free market, a small government, privatization of state enterprises, deregulation, etc. a clash between her government and the trade unions eventually was inevitable.

Extreme Left parties joined with their pamphlets the internal conflict in the miners' union. In the pamphlets the willing to work the miners were denounced as traitors. 

With which unions, when and how such a confrontation would occur was obviously not foreseeable. The question is whether it was necessary to have such a tough confrontation as the one between the miners' union NUM and the Thatcher government? Was there no room for negotiation and compromise? What about the employers? Did they hide behind the back of Thatcher to let her do the dirty work so they afterwards could impose their conditions on the battered trade unions or were they willing to negotiate and compromise? In the latter case, employers and unions together could have put pressure on the Thatcher government.

During my visit to the UDM, I learned that these questions already had been posed, but that the board of the NUM, presided by Arthur Scargill stuck to its strategy of confrontation with Thatcher. Artrhur Scargill himself must have believed in a kind of class struggle. The tragedy started with the board of the NUM rejecting a national ballot on the strike. This non-democratic attitude put a bomb under the legitimacy of the strike. Apparently the NUM board did not want to take the risk that a majority of the miners would reject the strike. So the NUM held to its confrontation strategy with the idea that the union would at least be strong enough to bring down the Thatcher government.

On the picture you can see how far the polarization went between supporters and opponents of the strike. Without a vote no strike says one of the banners. On the other banner we read that "Scargillism is communism".

The above three pictures are taken from a book by Alan R.Griffin, County under Siege: Nottinghamshire in the Miners' Strike 1984-5, Moorland Publishing Company 1985.

The tensions about the legitimacy of the strike increased within the NUM by the rejection of the results of a ballot in Nottinghamshire on 15 and 16 March 1984. The outcome of that ballot was staggering: more than 20,000 votes against the strike and only some more than 7000 in favor. Based on these results, the regional board summoned the strikers to go at work, what most did. Striking miners from other regions were asked to stop their picket lines in front of the gates of the mines.

Instead the NUM board searched a way out of the resulting internal conflict, the board decided to confront Nottinghamshire. The Nottingham representatives in the NUM board were physically attacked and miners from outside the region were making picketlines in front of the Nottingham mines. The result was more violence between miners with people injured and even a few dead. What followed was a Greek tragedy of conspiracies,non- statutory conferences and meetings, growing distrust, physical violence against miners willing to work, etc. This led gradually to the self-destruction of the once mighty NUM. Instead of solidarity and cooperation, there was distrust and opposition and even hatred within the trade union. The Thatcher government had an easy task to finish the job. Within a few years, dozens of mines were closed.

Saturday, April 6, 2013


A female domestic worker in the time of my grandmother around 1900. You could always recognize domestic workers on their cloths and of course the basket for groceries. I found this photograph in the photo album of my grandmother. Probably she was my grandmother's friend. 

When she was young, my grandmother on father's side served as a domestic worker. It was a humiliating experience but there was no other way to gain some income for her poor family. My mother in law was also a domestic worker when she was young. Her family was also very poor. However, she had good memories of the time she worked as a domestic worker.

For the first time I learned more about domestic workers during our stay in Colombia. First in the flat of father Rosier who was travelling abroad. She was a sweet older woman who did her best to make our lives as nice as possible. Later on we stayed for a few months in a flat of a Colombian friend who was also travelling abroad. The domestic worker was a very young woman. Although we had only one domestic worker in our flat we had the feeling to belong to an old aristocratic English family like you see in the television series 'Dowton Abbey'.

As we grew up in a more or less egalitarian Dutch society with little class differences, me and my wife felt uncomfortable with a domestic worker in our house. We also had the feeling that we had no privacy anymore. It was a strange experience to eat in the sittingroom while the domestic worker was eating in the kitchen. We decided to invite the domestic worker to eat together with us, to share the same table. We then learned that this created an uneasy situation for the domestic worker. That's why we decided not to have anymore domestic workers in our house during our stay in Mexico and Costa Rica. In stead we hired somebody, to clean the house a few times a week.

We learned that wage and labour conditions for domestic workers are on a minimum level like for example a wage lower than the official minimum wage and not one day off or one day off per week. Everything depends from the family she is working for. Is it a nice and understandingly family or are they using the domestic worker as a kind of slave without no or little payment and no free days? In Indonesia I heard about the bad conditions and the abuses of Indonesian domestic workers who had migrated to the oil rich Arab countries with the aim to earn money for their family that stayed in Indonesia.


Therefore it was very good news to read that a constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal rights for domestic workers in Brazil has come into force on 2 April. “Manuela Tomei, Director of the ILO’sConditions of Work and Equality Department, welcomed the vote in the Brazilian Senate, which was passed unanimously at the end of March after being approved in the lower house.

With the passing of this law, so culminates Brazil’s process of recognizing the dignity and value of domestic work and domestic workers, who are to a large extent black women - a process which began in 1998 when, for the first time, the Constitution included a number of important labour guarantees for these workers. Today's Senate decision is one additional step towards narrowing the historical divide between the richest and "whiter" stratum of society and the poorest and "darker" lower end of the social ladder,” Tomei said.

It is particularly significant given the dramatic rise in the numbers of domestic workers in Brazil over the last few years – from 5.1 million to 6.6 million between 1995 and 2011. 17 per cent of all jobs for women are in the domestic work sector. Latin America is one of the world’s fastest growing regions in the domestic work sector.”

Global momentum

The IlO believes that because of the approval of ILO Convention 189 and recommendation 201 in 2011 has sparked a global momentum on labour legislation of domestic workers: Argentina also passed a bill in March, which limits working hours and ensures paid annual and maternity leave for domestic workers. The Indian Parliament included domestic workers in legislation to eradicate sexual harassment at work, which was passed last February.

Since the Convention’s adoption, a total of nine countries have passed new laws or regulations improving domestic workers’ labour and social rights, including Venezuela, Bahrain, the Philippines, Thailand, Spain and Singapore. Legislative reforms have also begun in Finland, Namibia, Chile and the United States, among others.

So far four countries have ratified ILO Convention 189 – Uruguay, Philippines, Mauritius and Italy. Several others have initiated the process of ratification, including South Africa, Costa Rica and Germany.

The European Commission is also pressing EU countries to implement the ILO Convention and has called for safeguards to protect young domestic workers.

Facts and figures on domestic workers
WorldwideBy region
  • 52.6 million worldwide
  • 83 per cent are women
  • 29.9 per cent are excluded from national labour legislation
  • 45 per cent have no entitlement to weekly rest periods/paid annual leave
  • More than a third of women domestic workers have no maternity protection
  • Asia and the Pacific: 21.4 million
  • Latin America and the Caribbean: 19.6 million
  • Africa: 5.2 million
  • Developed countries: 3.6 million
  • Middle East: 2.1 million

According to an ILO study from January 2013, entitled Domestic Workers Across the World, at least 52 million people around the world – mainly women – are employed as domestic workers. At the time of the research, only ten per cent were covered by general labour legislation to the same extent as other workers. More than one quarter were completely excluded from national labour legislation.

ILO legal specialist on working conditions, Martin Oelz, said that the signs are encouraging: “The Convention and Recommendation on domestic workers have effectively started to play their role as catalysts for change. Giving social dialogue a central place, these global minimum standards now serve as a starting point for devising new polices in a growing number of countries.”

The above italicized text, the map and the worldwide facts are coming from the ILO website.