(5-6 March 2014) Building strong and effective trade unions was at the centre of the debate at a meeting on organising and recruitment hosted by the Swedish affiliates in EPSU and PSI. Among the key messages from the debates was the importance and challenge of changing union attitudes towards organising and recruitment.
Along with presentations from all the Swedish affiliates, there were contributions from the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and South Africa that revealed the very varied and challenging environments in which EPSU/PSI affiliates are operating.
EPSU deputy general secretary Jan Willem Goudriaan and PSI general secretary Rosa Pavanelli both participated in the debates with a focus on the European and global aspects of recruitment and organising.
In response to the resolution from the Nordic affiliates that will be debated at Congress, Jan Willem said that EPSU was looking at how recruitment and organisation could be pushed up the EPSU agenda. He highlighted how coordination through EPSU had ensured cross-country support for recruitment campaigns by affiliates and it would be important to examine how this can work in the context of countries where there were major challenges in building trade unions.
Jan Willem also said that by working together in a key sector, like social services, EPSU and its affiliates could focus their energies and improve coordination in a way that may help to support recruitment and organising initiatives at national level.
Rosa agreed and mentioned in particular PSI’s plans to map the health and social services sector with the help of the SEIU services trade union from the US, that had made significant gains in membership over the past 20 years.
EPSU vice-president and general secretary of Kommunal, Annelie Nordström concluded the meeting by noting the many positive examples that had been discussed while recognising the major challenges that remain. She underlined that it was crucial that the union was visible in the workplace and that membership was built through face-to-face contact.
During the discussions the following points emerged as some of the main elements for consideration in implementing change within the trade union movement and establishing new approaches to recruitment and organisation:
- some unions had become professionalised and bureaucratised and needed to be transformed and handed back to members;
- it was vital for unions to build more of a presence in the workplace with union leaders being active in this;
- the challenge posed by transforming unions from servicing organisations to more active organisations should not be underestimated;
- organising was about engaging members and providing them with the means to try to sort out problems themselves rather than expect union officials to step in;
- a major challenge is the recruitment and organising of members who often work in fragmented, individualised situations – particularly in growing sector like social services;
- there was a need for some creative and open thinking about how unions work together within and across sectors and don’t pointlessly duplicate resources or reinvent the wheel;
- a successful organising and recruitment campaign is not just about numbers (although these are important in relation to union’s representativeness) but also about creating a more empowered membership;
- longer term investment was seen as valuable in getting into schools and colleges to communicate union message and even recruit college students.
There were several presentations at the meeting on the situation in different countries and sectors including the following covering Sweden, Ireland, Lithuania and South Africa:
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