Cutting across diversity : trade union learning initiatives and migrant workers in the Communication Workers' Union in the United Kingdom
This article examines trade union learning activities and migrant workers in the communications industry. The key research questions focus on how far this learning meets the needs and aspiration of migrant workers, whether there are structural or discriminatory disincentives to taking up union learning and how far inclusion and cohesion in the workplace and wider community can be promoted by union learning activities. The empirical research is drawn from interviews with national union officials, branch and workplace representatives, and indigenous and migrant worker learners and non-learners. The research revealed a ‘superdiversity’ of migrant workers in terms of ethnicity, country of origin, level of qualifications and length of stay. There were two key findings: firstly, the type of union learning activities demanded by workers cut across diversities. Some barriers to accessing union learning existed primarily associated with migrant workers disproportionately working unsociable shifts and being concentrated in lower paid, peripheral jobs. However, beyond these barriers many of the issues and problems and positive experiences related to union learning were common to all workers who were unified by a common lack of access to, or utilisation of, formal educational resources. The second key finding of the study was that a culture of union learning in these large traditional unionised workplaces, where it appears that the main focus is on learning for learning’s sake, is valuable in fostering the social integration of all workers generally and of migrant and minority ethnic workers more specifically. However, this may be undermined by deregulation, privatisation and industry restructuring.