“Organizing strategy for an organising union”
(26 April 2021) Developing a strategy is essential for unions who want to strengthen their organizing and recruitment work and many of EPSU’s affiliates in Central and Eastern Europe have taken the first steps.
Between November 2020 and March 2021, EPSU organised 4 workshops for trade union leaders aiming to start the work on organizational change and embracing organising and recruitment. The main objectives of the workshops were:
(1) to discuss the need for organising and recruitment and to make sure that it is reflected in unions policies;
(2) to understand the need for data collection and of having a functional membership database;
(3) to develop the capacity to think strategically; and
(4) to learn how to develop a recruitment and organising (R&O) strategy.
Each workshop consisted of 3 parts – starting with a day of training, followed by each union working separately on their strategies and then consultations with EPSU experts and the R&O Team. The programme would end by gathering of all participants and experts to discuss the outcomes of the workshop and the follow-up. The main input was provided by Greg Thomson, former director of strategic organising in UNISON in the UK, and by Orlagh Fawl, director of strategic organising in Fórsa in Ireland who shared her experience of the organisational change that her union is currently undergoing.
Over 110 trade union leaders from 12 countries, 44 affiliated organisations were part of this educational process. The main outcome of each workshop was a written R&O draft strategy document for each union. Based on these written strategies, individual discussions with affiliates will follow to discuss how EPSU can assist in their implementation.
Below is the list of suggestions made by Greg Thomson that outlines the challenges and next steps to be taken for the unions that participated:
- Having a written strategy in a short and accessible format should serve as a platform to get other members of the union to sign up to organising. Not everyone has the same understanding of the importance of organising. It is vital that union leaders spread the word through discussion, education, and training. This is a long-term and continuous process. Irrespective of complexity, each strategy document is a baseline showing how far the organising strategy has developed so far. But it must also be reviewed and updated, as the strategy is implemented and evaluated.
- Driving forward the organising agenda is best done through a working group. It is not a Committee activity, where all the work is delegated to one person. There is a need to have a group of people all of whom are actively working on organising.
- The essential tool for organising is a centralised computerised database. It was notable that those affiliates that had such a database were better able to target areas with the greatest potential for organising by comparing existing membership patterns with employment and labour market information. There was the added advantage that the database made communication with members easier.
- Affiliates often find themselves organizing in workplaces or sectors in which several unions are present. Affiliates should consider whether there is the potential for joint working or even merger. Competition between unions generally only benefits the employers. Given the difficulties, this may need to be a longer-term strategic goal.
- All affiliates understood that face-to-face recruitment and organising is most effective. During the current pandemic, this is more difficult than usual.
- Social media should only be used to support face-to-face recruitment.
- Ensure that the union celebrates its achievements. So that the question is not always, why didn’t we get more, but how much more could we have got with more members and activists. And this becomes even more evident where members have been involved from the outset in formulating the claim and taking action to support it, however limited. Otherwise, the danger is that others will claim that they got the improvement for the workers even though they did nothing. By engaging your members from the outset, you make it clear that it was their union that got the improvement.
- All affiliates saw free riding as a problem; indeed, it is a universal problem faced by unions everywhere. An understanding of the principles of organising provides the answer to this problem, which is another reason, why promoting organising among the wider membership through discussion and education is so important.
- Wanting to be treated fairly is an extraordinarily strong psychological driver. Trade unions are all about fairness, specifically fair pay, conditions, and treatment. The problem is that workers do not always trust that there is a link between their joining the trade union and getting treated fairly. We need to demonstrate this link by our actions.
Greg’s complete feedback from each of the 4 workshops is attached in English, Czech, Polish, Hungarian, Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, Bulgarian, Romanian
- Greg's Feedback January Workshop - EN
- Greg's Feedback February Workshop - EN
- Greg's Feedback March Workshop - EN
- Greg's Feedback November Workshop - EN
- Greg's Feedback January Workshop - BCS
- Greg's Feedback January Workshop - BG
- Greg's Feedback February Workshop - Serbian
- Greg's Feedback March Workshop - CZ
- Greg's Feedback March Workshop - HU
- Greg's Feedback March Workshop - PL
- Greg's Feedback November Workshop - RO