From the TUC

Respect, empower and include!

18 May 2009, By

Since Barack Obama’s victory in last year’s US Presidential Election, there’s been a rush by a number of organisations to identify the silver bullet of the Obama campaign  – what was it that lead to his victory and what can we in the UK learn from it?

Obviously UK unions have been amongst these organisations and those involved in and concerned with union organising strategies have paid particular attention to how the campaign appeared to be able to enthuse and mobilise so many volunteers, many of whom (both young and old) we were told were getting involved in political campaigning for the first time.

Quite a bit of the analysis of how this was achieved has focussed on the campaign’s use of new technology and in particular social networking sites including Obama’s own version ‘MyBo’.  But as someone interested in how we in the trade union movement can get more people involved in the activity of their respective unions, I was struck by a chapter in the recently published Fabian Society book ‘The Change we Need: Lessons for Britain from Obama’s victory’.

The chapter, titled ‘Respect, empower and include’: the new model army’ written by Karin Christiansen and Marcus Roberts describes the campaigns approach to volunteers and activists.  It describes how the campaign initially identified volunteers, then put them to work and kept them motivated.  Throughout all of this there was an emphasis on keeping square pegs in square holes – allowing people to do things they had an interest in or a particular talent for, rather than forcing them to do a list of pre-ordained tasks.  Motivation was achieved by traditional methods such as regular encouragement and thanks and also by making sure that volunteers understood where their efforts fitted into the campaign as a whole.  Attention was also paid to ensuring that volunteers had the right resources in sufficient quantities.

Obviously none of this partcularly new to the way well run union branches and campaigns operate but I think that the trick for us is making sure that such approaches become more widely practised. 

You can download the entire book here.

5 Responses to Respect, empower and include!

  1. Lawrence Shaw
    May 19th 2009, 3:30 am

    The “silver bullets” exist in this country too, as Carl has pointed out. But I think UK unions have to work out who it is we are firing our silver bullets on behalf of, at least politically. I can’t see the majority of union activists in this country getting behind any major politician or political party at the moment. Perhaps that is why our victories are “undersung”…they are largely isolated in separate workplaces and not linked to anything near a wider serious political strategy.

  2. steve higginson
    May 21st 2009, 7:31 am

    What is good about the piece from Carl is it shows how he is grappling and searching for ideas around organising strategies. The Obama model was based on the civil rights modelof the 1960s when thousands of young/old committed activists when into the deep south to sign up and register voters.Surely this type of strategy can be applied to union drives of the 21st century.After all are not trade union rights civil rights?

  3. Carl Roper

    Carl Roper
    May 21st 2009, 3:01 pm

    Thanks for the comments. What struck me most about the ‘Respect, Empower, Include’ chapter was that the approach docmented was something that unions to develop relatively easily for two resons – firstly it doesnt cost a lot and secondly, its not a million miles away from what we do best and we have an infrastructure in place – lay activists and training – to deliver it.

    As for Lawrence’s point – the need to re-engage the public in the process of activity and participation is clearly not confined to trade unions. In my constituency, the Labour party is moribund, at least in terms of being an active membership based organisation.

  4. steve higginson
    May 23rd 2009, 5:34 pm

    the link between the civil rights movement and labour organising is a very strong one.One of the originators of the Afro-American voter registration scheme, and often cited by Barack Obama as one of his inspirations,was A.Philip Randolph. This inspirational figure was first and foremost,a trade union organiser,who after the first world war ,had fought the Pullman train company over union recognition and was leader of The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.His own inspiration was Liverpool-Irish firebrand James Larkin.So there is a continious thread of trade union and civil rights organising.It’s just that sometimes we forget how rich our history is.

  5. Carl Roper
    May 25th 2009, 7:05 pm

    The wonderful history of the civil rights movement ‘Parting the Waters’ by Taylor Branch illustrates the link with union organising.