From the TUC

Union Summer 2009

15 Jun 2009, By

In a week where no-one resigned from the cabinet, and after a frantic few weeks of writing, rewriting, revising and contingency planning (guest speaker David Weils was unavoidably detained in the states due to a family member with suspected swine flu, best wishes to David and family), union summer 2009 finally kicked off last Monday.  

Delegates from across public and private sector unions here in the UK and guests from Cornell University USA and CUPE , debated current union approaches to campaigning, organising “gains” and how (if?) we measure and quantify them.  What was apparent was that there are many, many potential gains – winning an “issue”, getting new members/ activists, mobilising a lobby/rally etc. but the underlying theme washow does this increase our leverage?

Hosted by Ruskin College, Oxford (where rumour has it the Organising Academy Partnership is soon to be housed) the week was spent looking at methods to achieve union growth in a measured and strategic way.  The week centred around a model that can be found in its original form on our youtube page, the clip Organising migrant workers

Our first session was based upon the soon to be re-published Guide to Strategic Corporate Research which can be found in its original format on our webpages. The session considered the corporate campaigning model adapted from Basic Corporate Research, Key Research and Data Sources authored by our colleagues across the pond, Kate Brofenbrenner, Tom Juravich and Keith Mestrich the underlying message of which is – think like a boss!!

After an evening spent enjoying the finest that the White Hart had to offer, the second day was given over to Campaigning the Wellstone way – again, using successful methods imported from the US, delegates considered Getting the message right, Getting Members Active and Community Campaigning. The discussions held demonstrated that whilst alot of these concepts are not new, there is definite merit in us being more pragmatic before launching our campaigns – or in real terms – what do we need to say, who needs to say it, who do we need to say it too?

The TUCs National Organising Team (well, 3/5s of) then strode around the Observer guided walk of Oxford whilst pondering the world of work, politics and unions finally ending up in the White Horse – a very quaint old pub dating back to the 16th century covered with pictures of Morse and Lewis (who date back to the 20th century for non-Morse fans). We then headed back to the White Hart and engaged in the local pub quiz where pitted against the finest Oxford had to offer we were beaten into third place, all that stood between us and victory was Kasey Ainsworth (aka Mo Slater – who knew?)

Day 3 kicked off with a couple of sore heads and a feature on narrative including a really powerful extract from Dreams from My Father (Barack Obama). The primary feature being how do we tell our stories? In a world where organisers talk about mapping, LEEE and Communication Action Networks, how do we translate this into the real tale of the work that we do, the activists we meet, the members who inspire us – any of you who fancy having a go at this please feel free to drop a note on this blog without mentioning the word mapping!  This “narrative” approach features heavily in the work of Marshall Gantz, mentioned previously on these pages.

We continued day 3 with an in depth analysis of a union campaign that very helpfully demonstrated the methodology behind strategic choices that unions face and how with the benefit of hindsight, the decision taken could have been different. I have heard it said that there is no such thing as the wrong decision, in campaigning this is equally true yet we rarely take the time to properly evaluate the decisions that we take, the impact that they have had and the outcomes achieved.

After a brief interlude where the National Organiser supervised the National Training and Consultancy Officer changing a flat the day wrapped up with a few stories that the delegates had to tell. Any of you want to post them here?

The evening of day 3 will be quickly rushed over, suffice as to say, a good night was had by all via the local eatery Gino’s and a carry out from the 24 hour garage…..

Day 4 was the day it all came together, the groups were given the opportunity to put their Corporate Research into action and make a strategic choice about the sectors we should be concentrating our organising efforts upon in the UK. With choices ranging from a general strike to facilities management, ICT and the emerging “green collar” sector, there was lively discussion around the message, tactics and resource implications. There was also a large focus on leverage which had been discussed at various points throughout the week.

This is my final message, the capacity for us (my hand is also held up here) to forge ahead with a campaign without any analysis of leverage is a guilty secret of alot of the movement. We often see a problem (1) and then put into place a plan (4) to solve the problem without doing any research (2) and more importantly analysing (3) said research to identify fundamental things like, who has the power to solve the issue? Do we have resources available? So even if we implement (5) our plan and conduct a full and proper evaluation (6) (which by the way requires more than our usual “we won – yey us”!! or “We lost – boo the employer/government/union busters/ etc”).

For those of you who are avid problem solvers, put the numbers above in order and you have created your very own 6 step checklist for the next time you are about to launch a campaign

Union Summer 2009 left us with a few thoughts, some new skills and loads of ideas about how we can all improve our approach to Building Stronger Unions.