From the TUC

If you want something doing – do it yourself

16 Jan 2009, By

Here’s another inspirational real life story about how getting active in the union can not only change working conditions for friends and colleagues but can give a whole new meaning to life. If you  have a similar story to tell, let me know.

PCS member Tracy Walker was dissatisfied with conditions at the DWP Benefit Delivery Centre in Milton Keynes and often grumbled to colleagues that she wished there was an active union in the office. Tracy decided if you want something doing, do it yourself!

“Along with two other brave souls, I volunteered to be local rep. It has made a massive difference to the office and it’s been extremely rewarding.”

The office of 200 staff had no union reps. “When PCS Organiser Steve Cawkwell organised a meeting for all staff in April 2007 what he said rang true. He told us we are the union so I thought if you want something doing, do it yourself.” Tracy was elected as PCS rep with colleagues Tracey Scott and Sandra Clarke who was also elected as a safety rep.

“Our first task was to make a list of the union members and non members so that we could hand out union leaflets and work out who we needed to recruit and how to target them,” says Tracy.

One of the first issues for the union was the unfair staff appraisal system. Tracy raised this with her manager, who agreed to come to a members’ meeting to discuss how to resolve the problem and the upshot was that everyone’s mark was improved. “People were really pleased,” says Tracy.

A successful awareness day was then held in June when staff were asked to complete a questionnaire about their key concerns. This was very well-attended and gave the new reps plenty of issues to discuss at their new monthly meetings with management.

Having an organised union helped raise the PCS profile significantly: “Ex-members rejoined the union as well as people who’ve never been in a union before – including several young people in their teens and early twenties. Two members went to a PCS Black Members Workshop recently and there’s a team of members who help distribute leaflets and update the notice-boards in their own time. Now everybody knows there’s definitely a union in our office.”

Then came a really big issue. The employer decided that 40 people who’d transferred to the office from Inland Revenue over the previous two years had been overpaid, and threatened to cut their pay by around £2000.00 a year each. “The amount of work involved was massive and people said we would never win but with lots of work locally and support from a full-time PCS official we did win and all those people have kept their rate of pay.”

Tracy says, “I’ve had training from PCS and fantastic support from union colleagues at all levels. Once you become a rep you’re part of a big network of union officers with a huge amount of experience between them, so you’re never stuck for someone to ask if you need help. You won’t be pressurised to do more than you feel able to, and you’ll get lots of advice and support when you need it. And they’re a friendly lot!”

One of the things Tracy has found most encouraging is the way that ordinary members in her office have got involved and taken such an interest in union campaigns. “A meeting about the below-inflation DWP pay offer was very well-attended and it seems that every time we go on strike over the pay deal, more and more people support the action and more and more members volunteer to help picket”.

She says the reps have had a lot of thanks from people: “They feel pleased there’s a union presence – and being a rep has given new meaning to my working life.”