June 25, 2009

I want to correct Sian Moore's continued inaccuracies (Letters, 18 June) concerning Trade Unions in a Neoliberal World, which I co-edited with John McIlroy. Moore claims that we present "an unrelenting structural super-determinism" at the expense of "the agency of workers".

Compare that statement with what we actually wrote in the book: "The relationship between agency and structure is dialectical: trade unionists can improve things by working to maximise the potential opportunities that the current unfavourable environment still offers". Not much super-determinism or neglect of agency there.

I wrote: "There is space to change things and combat conservatism. History demonstrates that trade unionists have changed in the past and they can change today and tomorrow." Hardly unrelenting super-determinism. It is the approach embodied in our analysis throughout the book.

Moore misrepresents what we wrote. We gave proper emphasis to the agency of workers. The evidence confirms that since 1979 it has proved inadequate to stemming union decline when faced with the more powerful agency of capital and the state. That balance is likely to constrain progress in the foreseeable future.

We do not suggest inaction. Our views on alternative strategy are in print, reasonably well known to fellow academics and inform our writing in the book. Unions should mothball "partnership", concentrate on more effective grassroots organising, get their money's worth from new Labour, or else.

However, like most academics, I cannot endorse Moore's present predilection that every critical assessment must be accompanied in the same text by "alternative visions".

Moore's inaccuracies stretch to her unacceptable ageism. At 39 years of age, I am an unlikely old man.

Gary Daniels, Former lecturer in employment relations, Keele University.

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