Organisers of the world unite!
Some 90 people packed into the Regents room in the Grand Hotel yesterday lunchtime for the ‘Building Stronger Unions’ fringe meeting.
Most people were left standing and the butties were in short supply (we catered for 30!) but the event itself went really well, and all four speakers got a good reception.
Arlene Holt-Baker from the AFL-CIO kicked things off by setting out what unions in the US have been doing since the mid 90’s to reverse membership decline. This year saw a significant increase in union membership in the US and a small increase in density – an incredible achievement in the face of determined employer opposition to efforts by US workers to organise. Arlene noted in her remarks that she was an organiser and that while some commentators thought that ‘community organising’ was to be sneered at, she was happy to call on ‘organisers of the world [to] unite!’.
Paddy Lillis from USDAW talked about the incredible growthof the union over the last decade – with membership growing by 25% despite the fact that the union has to recruit 70,000-80,000 new members every year just to stand still. Paddy outlined the inspirational work being taken up by USDAW lay reps and activists involved in the USDAW Academy and ‘stand-down’ reps programmes.
Chris Keates talked about the very different challenge facing the NASUWT and other education unions. While union density amongst teachers is high, one of the key challenges is encouraging members to become more active and involved in the work of the union. Chris talked about NASUWT’s ‘Voice in Every Workplace’ campaign and the structural and cultural changes NASUWT was having to undertake to embed organising into the day to day work of the union.
The final speaker was Mark Serwotka from PCS who talked about the need to link organising and campaigning activity, and to really engage lay reps and stewards in developing and delivering union organising strategies.
My thumbnail sketches don’t do any of the speakers any justice and so we’ll be trying to get some video footage of the event up on the tinterweb later today or tomorrow (on the Stronger Union youtube channel).
All in all a great event, which showed there is a real appetite to debate how best we can grow our unions and make them more effective. Hopefully, that vibrant debate will carry over into the national ‘Building Stronger Unions’ conference being hosted by the TUC on October 14. You can read more about that event and register here.