Ask a group of union organisers to define ‘organising’ and you’re likely to get as many definitions as there are people in the room.
What is clear is that there is no one ‘right’ organising model, or ‘silver bullet’ for building stronger unions. Nor is ‘organising’ a new idea, or something you need a degree in rocket sciences to understand.
So, having said what its not, here’s 10 things we think organising is about and why its important!
- Organising is not an end in itself – We organise because organising helps us build strong, effective unions capable of delivering for members in the workplace and beyond.
- Strong unions matter within and beyond the workplace – Growing inequality is inextricably bound up with falling union density. The US provides the most graphic example of this. Unions are a force for good in the workplace, in the community and across society as a whole.
- Unions need to invest more in organising and recruitment – Increased investment pays off. The relative success of the last 10 years is in part underpinned by the increased focus on, and investment in organising. Each union will have different organising priorities and will need to allocate resources to reflect these. For example, public sector unions may need to focus more resource on reps and building workplace organisation than on employing new organisers engaged in Greenfield organising.
- We need to think more broadly about resources – UK unions have a relatively low subs base. How do we increase the resources we have available to organise, represent and support members and potential members. How do we secure more resources from employers (facilities and facility time, recognition, support for organising)?
- It’s not about ‘organising vs. servicing’! – All unions need to be able to represent and service their members. The key is how is this done: ensuring that wherever possible issues and concerns are dealt with by well-trained, confident local reps, freeing up union officers and staff to play a more strategic, facilitating role. It also means using our ‘wins’ – whether at the bargaining table, or in disciplinary and grievance cases – as opportunities to build the union.
- Reps and stewards are key – Unions need to promote, support and value the role of reps by ensuring they have enough resources including facilities and facility time, access to training and development opportunities, and access to quality advice and guidance. We know where we have good, active reps, potential members are more likely to know about the union, and more likely to believe the union has their interests at heart.
- For unions to grow, they will need to innovate – Innovate in the way we campaign and what we campaign on (eg migrant workers and students); the partnerships we develop (eg community organisations, academics, NUS); the training provided (community alliances, strategic campaigning); the way we communicate (exploiting new media and technology and networks at work); and facilitating participation (member networks, mapping).
- Members and potential members want unions to be relevant to them – This means organising and campaigning on the issues that matter to them and creating a sense that the union reflects their professional/occupational concerns. It means, where possible, engaging positively with employers.
- Communication is vital – Members want to know what their unions is doing and why. They also want to feel that the union listens to them and acts on their concerns. Communication between members is also important, particularly in professional contexts. Unions can help members network with each other.
- Investing more is organising is vital, but it’s not enough – We need to think imaginatively about extending union membership and collective bargaining coverage. For example, workplace by workplace, company by company organising is resource intensive. Can we organise sectorally?