From the TUC

2011: A year in organising

16 Jan 2012, By Guest

The TUC's Frances O'Grady (third from left) with the Academy Diploma Group

It’s been a year since I started here at the TUC.  And what a year for organising it has been.

2011 saw the largest trade union demonstration for a generation, 500,000 working people and their families marching for the alternative to this government’s slash and burn agenda.  It saw the biggest day of industrial action undertaken in decades by public sector unions to defend pensions.

Where has the Academy fitted in with all of this? 

Well, for me, the backdrop for all this action has been teaching the Diploma in Organising.  Over the course of 2011, our group explored what it means to organise, how to construct campaigns and develop teams in the workplace.  But, it’s all very well being in the classroom talking about organising and learning about theory, it’s what you do with it that counts and from the work that we saw, our Diploma group got out there and made a difference.

March 26th saw the group come back to the classroom, eagerly talking about and showing how they had identified new activists during long coach journeys, branch meetings and conversations with members.

After November 30th, we heard about increased membership, even more activity and success in using Anger Hope Action in union communications all thanks to our organisers work.

We heard about campaigning against Government cuts, Academies and keeping jobs for Bombardier workers and Derby families.

We even went to OccupyLSX and explored how the union movement and other progressive causes can link together.  In short, it’s been a full year which has demonstrated the need for unions to campaign on the issues that members and their families care about and to be an integral part of their communities.

Lessons to take away from 2011?  This is what I would say to union organisers:

Plan, plan, plan.  Make sure you know what you want to achieve and how you can realistically go about getting it to happen.  Don’t leave gaps in your research, if necessary go back and do more.  Nothing should be left to chance.

A good organiser thinks strategically.  Take a step back, react when necessary but be proactive in the work that you are undertaking.  Set the agenda.  Also, don’t think of actions as the plan, they’re a means to an end.

Communicate.  1-2-1s remain the most powerful way to communicate with activists and members so make sure you do it as much as possible.  Take the time to listen.  If you need to communicate by means other than face to face, ensure you’re employing the same principles.

Evaluate and celebrate.  Don’t be afraid to be honest and take the time to look at what worked and what didn’t.  Equally, celebrate the success that you have in your campaigns, it does wonders for building and maintaining engagement.


2 Responses to 2011: A year in organising

  1. Alan Warner
    Jan 16th 2012, 4:49 pm

    For me 2011 has been a very exciting year as an organiser. We’ve seen the biggest attack on working people for decades, mass youth unemployment, the tripling of tuition fees, attacks on public sector pensions as the government attempts to divide workers, and the academies and free schools agenda. In 2011 we showed that trade unions are still relevant and as a movement we mobilised members in their hundreds of thousands in March and then in their millions in November. As an organiser last year provided me with a wealth of opportunities to find new activists and build strong groups of members in the workplaces. As we enter 2012 the pensions dispute still rumbles on, private sector worker being pitched against public sector worker, but we must not let the politicians and speculators create a race to the bottom. We need to be clear about our message and ensure activists are engaged locally and leading campaigns at a grass roots level. For me, I think the forced academies programme for 200 “failing schools” provides a huge opportunity to engage members, we’ve seen teachers, parents and the community initiate a campaign at Downhills school in Haringey and I think this will inspire other disputes. We need to look at what works well and share best practice with colleagues in similar disputes. Whilst campaigns need to be member led, we need to build the broadest support for a campaign involving teachers, parents, members of the community, sympathetic councillors and politicians united with one aim of saving the school and fighting for a good local state school for every child.

  2. George
    Jan 16th 2012, 5:32 pm

    I’ve had a busy, productive and interesting year and that’s in no small part to the Organising Academy, the discussions about strategies and skills it has provoked and the great organisers it has enabled me to meet.

    I think the biggest organising challenges that I would like to see the trade union movement get stuck into in 2012 are:

    – defeating government austerity. From pensions to benefits to employment rights, let’s make 2012 the year the people fight back. Key to that is turning the tide of public opinion that believes that cuts are an appropriate cure for an economy that has had investment ripped out of it.
    – giving leadership to young unemployed and precariously employed young people. Unemployment amongst 16-24 year olds – the future of the trade union movement – is at its highest in a generation. It’s of obvious strategic importance, yet little coordinated work is being done to give this movement a coherent voice. An open goal beckons.
    – giving all-out support to union and community campaigns to defend the gains that working class people have made over the past five decades. The NHS cannot be left to be dismantled in the interests of privateers; academies are a bleak prospect for future generations’ education; public transport to be worthy of its name, run as a public service, not run down for speculators.

    Let’s take what we know and what we have learnt and put it to good use.