From the TUC

There’s more to the Organising Academy than meets the eye

13 Nov 2013, By

The TUC’s Organising Academy does a great job in training and developing new full-time organisers, but arguably some of its most innovative work in recent years has focused around ensuring that experienced lay reps are equipped and enthused to move into leadership roles.

Around five years ago, Prospect started work with the TUC’s National Organiser and Organising Academy Director to devise a programme that is similar in key respects to the TUC’s own lay leadership  development course that followed shortly afterwards. We wanted our reps to have the opportunity to look beyond Prospect and the industrial relations arrangements in their own workplaces, but we also wanted them to develop their own capacity to think strategically about the union’s future and to influence the choices that will shape it.

We saw the value in taking this agenda forward as a Prospect group, combining existing and potential national executive committee members.

Our pilot programme, held at Ruskin College in 2009, was wide-ranging, taking in contributions from academics, IR practitioners and other trade unions – and we learned a lot from it. The next programme, held in the run up to the 2010 General Election, had a stronger political focus and opened many minds to the reality of working with politicians in a non-Party aligned union. Last year, by popular demand, we applied a stronger governance lens to the programme’s activities. For the first time we also introduced a recall day for participants six months after the conclusion of the 3-day programme. This encouraged reps from across the union to stay in touch with each other during the intervening period, and it focused their attention on reporting back progress on the actions they had resolved to take.

In the last 15 months, stimulated by the election of a new General Secretary, we have also been applying some of this learning to the work of our national executive committee. We embarked in September 2012 on a strategic review, encompassing five core themes of union work – recruitment and organising, information and campaigning, case management, professional voice and policy priorities, and governance and accountability.  The TUC National Organiser assisted at the formative stages of our strategic review, enabling executive committee members to compare perceptions of union capacity and leverage and inform their discussions about priorities for change.

By Christmas 2012 we reached agreement on an action plan covering all five strategic review themes, and a recognition that a more formalised suit of governance tools would facilitate both a better understanding of progress and evaluation of action. These have now been introduced, leading to further helpful discussion – again facilitated by the National Organiser – about appropriate and proportionate use in a democratic organisation.

Clearly this is not the end of the story. The harsh economic and political climate in which we all now operate means that executive committee members will increasingly face important and difficult decisions under severe pressure on their time and facilities. Having a good governance framework doesn’t guarantee that the quality of decision-making, and it can’t replace the motivational impact of a shared vision for the union. But there is now a clear commitment to building on sound foundations and an appetite to continue this work.