Back On Track: Unions, coalitions and job-creation
One challenge for unions in the 21st century is for unions not just to lead the defence of current employment, but to also be in the business of creating new jobs for future union members. One way to achieve this is through encouraging unions to build coalitions. In doing so we promote the role of trade unions to a wider audience, pool resources and be well-placed to recruit and organise new members once jobs are created.
Amanda Tattersall has five tried and tested principles guiding unions within a range of campaigns from winning public support for fully-funded education provision to boosting recognition with expanding anti-union supermarkets. There are signs that the principles and methods in Power In Coalition (www.powerincoalition.com) can also be used by unions in specific job creation campaigns. The Northern TUC has been deploying 5 of Tattersall’s core principles with encouraging signs of success.
The Back On Track campaign was initiated by Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson and has been actively supported by trade unions in the North East of England with the Northern TUC. We have helped build a powerful coalition has been built with the intention of ensuring the government gives the project the go-ahead to the Intercity Express Programme . If successful this will create 800 direct jobs and 7,500 indirect jobs and have the potential to mean Hitachi basing their entire European train manufacturing operation in the North East of England. We were determined to ‘bang the drum’ for our region but recognised that this would require persuasive arguments and political pressure to ensure government ministers make a positive decision.
Principle 1: Less is more
It would have been very easy to build a 100 strong steering group for this campaign with residents groups, parish councils, business figures and colleges all offering support. However attractive and impressive this may have seemed, it would have undermined the ability to make swift strategic and operational decisions. We knew we’d need to be able to make decisions in between of formal meetings and so needed to keep the bureaucratic barriers to a minimum. Instead we built an alliance chaired by Phil Wilson MP involving the Northern TUC, Durham County Council, the County Durham Development Company, North East Chamber of Commerce, the North East Federation of Small Businesses, Unite and the Northern Echo newspaper. An outer tier of supporters were deployed according to when would be most beneficial for the strategy, kept informed and motivated.
Like all coalitions bringing different organisations with different objectives and histories there can lead to some tensions. The size of coalition meant these could be spotted quickly and sensitively managed. This was particularly important in the early formative stages of the coalition. Had we had a far larger core group there would have been a real danger these would have been overlooked and unresolved leading to problems later on. Instead relationships have been strengthened which has already benefited other activity and new campaigns between some of the partners.
Principle 2: Individuals matter
Individuals have certainly played a decisive role in the campaign and ensuring all ideas and activities were explored and fulfilled in between meetings and conversations. Phil Wilson MP has been instrumental and without him the campaign would never have begun. However individuals in each of the coalition partners have also made significant contributions to make things happen. These pivotal people have not necessarily been the most senior person in an organisation but with the freedom and initiative to make things happen operationally. The scale of the gains for the region meant that this was what has driven people to dedicating time and keeping Back On Track prioritised.
Principle 3: To wield self-interest with the sword of social justice
A number of our arguments have emphasised the significant benefits to the North East from generating this level of work and what it would mean. We’ve tracked the rising unemployment figures in County Durham and pointed out the huge need to create jobs in a region hard hit by public spending cuts. Rather than solely highlight the social fallout if this scheme doesn’t go ahead we’ve spoken up about the region’s assets, advantages and the contribution it can make to the wider economy. For example the Northern TUC has calculated the UK taxpayer would benefit from over £106 million per year from creating so many jobs. Given that we are persuading Conservative ministers we have tailored some messages that fit their perspective, acknowledge declared priorities within the Coalition Agreement without reducing the urgency and pressure to create new employment.
Principle 4: Timely exercise of power through conscious planning
A timetable of activities, arguments, press articles and research was developed and sequenced in order for maximum impact. The Northern Echo newspaper has been an exemplar in its campaigning and as well as telling the story of much of the coalition they have also been active participants in making the case.
The timetable for the Government’s decision and announcement has been delayed a number of times but our coalition has been able to successfully adapt and arguably increase the pressure further.
Principle 5: Multi-level coalitions
The outer tier of coalition members has been very active. One role they’ve played is in gathering signatures for a petition to present to parliament. In a relative short period of time 4,000 people signed to support the campaign – many of whom in workplaces which gave trade union reps a positive opportunity to discuss it with members. Other activities have included developing a campaign facebook group of over 500 supporters have been involved in promoting and building community events, displaying campaign posters in windows and workplaces as well as encouraging their MPs to sign up to the campaign in its early stages. As a result all 29 North East MPs from all three political parties have given it their backing. At a strategic level we have lobbied the Japanese Ambassador and written to the Japanese Prime Minister to outline to him the success the North East workers have brought to the Nissan car plant in Wearside.
The outcome of the Intercity Express Programme will soon be known and the North East is ready to get on with the job. Amanda Tattersall argues that measuring a coalition’s success isn’t just about winning a specific outcome, but also about sustaining relationships, shaping the broader political climate and increasing the capacity of member organisations. To this extent we’ve already succeeded.