Working Lives Research Institute: ten years young and still going strong

Credit: WLRI

TEN years ago, Professors Steve Jefferys and Mary Davis teamed up with TUC Librarian, Christine Coates, to establish the new, labour-friendly Working Lives Research Institute (WLRI) at the University of North London, soon to be London Met. This week we are celebrating a decade of success – from humble origins to an expanding influence – and staying true throughout to our original mission of socially committed research.


The Working Lives Research Institutes launch meeting featured none other than Eric Hobsbawm, Dorothy Thompson and John Saville who spoke to an audience of 150 on Marxism and History.


At the five year celebrations, in 2007, Mary Davis, then Deputy Director, said: “For us the keystone and the cornerstone is that it’s got to be socially useful. It’s not any old work it’s not any old consultancy. We like to service our constituent parts, which is obviously the labour movement, and is obviously progressive organisations. We’ve been true, I think, to our mission.”


After five more years, the WLRI is not only still going strong, but is now part of a new power house of social research which incorporates all the other Research Institutes within our Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, into an umbrella organisation, the Faculty Advance Institute for Research (FAIR), bringing together over 40 staff into one of the largest research clusters of its kind in the UK. FAIR Director Steve Jefferys of the WLRI, said of this new development: “The idea is to create a more common sharing of resources and to give our researchers the opportunity to promote their work to a wider audience in London and beyond. It also encourages closer links between research and teaching in the Faculty.”


The importance of our own research – socially committed and embedded in the labour movement – cannot be underestimated especially in the current climate. The WLRI has struggled – alongside all those in the public sector – to survive in the current climate and we are proud to still be going from strength to strength in such tough times.


Some demonstrations of recent work that illustrate our relevance to the labour movement in the era of cuts includes research into the impact of austerity on UNISON and PCS members; exploitation and forced labour in the UK and the EU; the ‘hidden workforce’ in the privatised public sector and migrant workers in UNISON; the detrimental impact on health that restructuring can cause; the impact on changing identities in European working lives; the precarious nature of work, and high levels of unemployment of young people.


Over the years, the WLRI have always had our fingers on the pulse of the labour movement, and we keep abreast of – and contribute to – the latest debates and issues via our links with trade unions and associated partners.


Our open seminars that form part of a taught Professional Doctorate in Researching Work have been enormously successful. Twenty-five students are currently studying part time alongside our internationally recognised experts in their field.


The WLRI have hosted countless conferences and workshops to disseminate our research and to inform the labour movement over the years – the full breadth of research projects the WLRI have completed over the last ten years would take far too long to list here – you can see a flavour of our current and archived work on our website. From Sudanese trade union archives to Yorkshire mining communities; from France to Turkey; ACAS policy papers and so much more.


In the age of social media, you can of course also follow us on Twitter, be Friends with us on Facebook, and watch our films on Youtube.


The ten year celebrations of WLRI, this Thursday 22nd, has free, open workshops with guest speakers, films exhibitions and an evening reception to complete the circle. A new Working Lives booklet, edited by Steve Jefferys, will be launched featuring a previously unpublished interview with the Marxist historian, Eric Hobsbawm about the origins and importance of the Community Party Historian’s Group along with contributions from feminist historian Dorothy Thompson, and labour historian John Saville, who all spoke at our first ever public meeting.


The WLRI goes from strength to strength – and we are endeavouring to grow our close relationship with the labour movement as we struggle together through the current climate. We hope to celebrate with readers of this blog – see you on Thursday?


Full details of the WLRI ten year celebration events can be found on the WLRI website.

Max Watson started working for WLRI in 2005, and is now Communications officer.


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