Activism begets Activism
I’ve long been a believer that unions need to think about their members in the ’round’. Few people would define themselves purely as a worker or an employee or by their job-title. How would you describe yourself? For me being a union official is a key part of who I am – but I’m also a dad, a husband, an Evertonian, a socialist, a dog-owner, err I better stop there…the list could go on. And if we don’t simply define ourselves by the jobs we do, even fewer have us have such neat and ordered lives that our issues and concerns are nicely compartmentalised between what happens on one side of the office door or factory gate and ‘beyond’.
If this is true of our members and potential members, I think its also true of our reps. Many of our reps and activists are active beyond their workplace as well as within it. At work they may be a shop steward or a ULR – but the rest of the time they may be sitting on a school governing board, helping out at their church, helping run a kids sports team, playing a role in local politics or volunteering for a local charity. But what is the inter-relationship between this ‘community activism’ and their role as workplace rep?
Here’s an interesting graph taken from a presentation by David Peetz, an Australian academic, which was passed on to me by Jenny Evans who heads up the ACTU’s organising work. The slide clearly shows that reps who play an activist role in their local community are also likely to be more active workplace reps (or delegates in Aussie parlance). In some ways this seems a bit counter-intuitive – surely the more active you are outside of work, the more demands on your already stretched time, the less time you’ll have for other forms of activity, but this slide would suggest not.
This throws up lots of interesting questions about how we identify our activists; what we ask them to do; how we support them to link their workplace and community activism and so on.