From the TUC

Activism begets Activism

11 Nov 2008, By

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. 

David Peetz
David Peetz – Community Unionists are more active

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.

Any thoughts on this? Would a UK survey have similar results? Perhaps its time to find out!

One Response to Activism begets Activism

  1. David Peetz
    Nov 13th 2008, 12:37 am

    It’s nice to see this stuff making its way to this website but I should comment on it , as there’s an important ingredient you also ned to be aware of: training. The superior performance of community activists in this role as union delegate only happens amongst those who have been through union training.

    The easiest way to illustrate this is just to use a quote from the study (sorry it;s a bit lengthy):

    “Recruiting community-union activists into delegate positions is of limited value if the union does not then invest in delegate training. Community-union activists bring to the position of delegate a set of skills and capabilities that can be usefully applied in a union delegate role. But the transfer of skills is not automatic – delegates have to be shown how their skills as community activists can be utilised in the role of delegate.

    “To see how this works, let’s look at some key aggregate variables: confidence, activism and local worker power…When we look only at delegates who have NOT been through union training, we find there are no significant differences between community-union activists and others in terms of confidence, activism and power. For example, only 21 per cent of untrained community-union activists, and 18 per cent of untrained union-only delegates, scored highly on confidence. Similarly, workplace activism was high amongst only 13 per cent of untrained community-union activists, and 14 per cent of untrained union-only delegates. In neither case were the differences significant. Local worker power was high amongst only 42 per cent of untrained delegates, with no differences between community-union activists and union-only delegates. But once delegates HAD received union training (that is, training on union matters provided either by or on behalf of the union), community-union activists performed better than non-activists. They were more likely to be in the high confidence category (by a margin of 44 per cent to 35 per cent), they were more likely to score highly on workplace activism (by 37 per cent to 26 per cent) and they were more likely to be in workplaces which had high local worker power (by 64 per cent to 55 per cent).”

    [If you want to chaase it up, the study (with Barbara Pocock) is published as ‘Community activists, coalitions and unionism’, in D Buttigieg, S Cockfield, R Cooney, M Jerrard & A Rainnie (eds), Trade Unions in the Community: Values, Issues, Shared Interests and Alliances, Heidelberg Press, Melbourne, 2007, 127-140.]