Recruitment and organising: getting the strategy right

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(8 April 2022) Over the past two years, EPSU has been working closely with many of its affiliates in Central and Eastern Europe as they debate and draft strategies to strengthen their recruitment and organising efforts.

Over 50 trade unions have taken part in workshops and consultations on recruitment and organising (R&O) run by EPSU’s organising team, with the support of the European Trade Union Institute. The aim has been to discuss the whys and hows of drafting a strategy, working through the process with each affiliate.

Greg Thomson, former head of strategic organising at UK public service union UNISON has been providing advice and support and in the article attached below looks at the progress made so far and with references to some of the initiatives taken by EPSU affiliates in Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and Ukraine.

Greg argues that it has been important to ensure that each trade union recognised the challenges and opportunities facing them and could develop solutions appropriate to their needs and circumstances. Developing a strategy is not about shoehorning a union’s approach to organising into an off-the-shelf model.

He says that unions should ideally be looking to systemic changes in the way they operate, so that organising is embedded in everything they do. Campaigning and negotiating should be viewed through the prism of organising.

Greg underlines that this is a long-term process and not something that can be achieved overnight. At every step of the way, affiliates need to adjust the strategy, as it becomes clear what works and what doesn’t. Learning by doing is key.

The initial feedback from affiliates who have been through this process has been encouraging and has revealed some of the challenges that they have faced in developing effective strategies as well as some positive outcomes so far that are explored below.

Greg’s article covers the following elements

  • Defining organising as the recruitment and retention of members and the development of an engaged and active membership;
  • The need for a strategy – a written document that can be used to get buy-in from the whole membership and based on reliable membership information maintained and updated in a database;
  • The need to build trust through dialogue with members and non-members; ensuring the union is visible at the workplace; identifying the issues that matter to workers and publicising union successes;
  • Ensuring good communications;
  • Tackling key challenges such as competition with other unions and the thorny question of free-riders – the workers who benefit from the collective agreement negotiated by the union but refuse to join; and finally
  • Reviewing, adapting and updating the strategy.

The next round of strategy workshops and consultations will be run from 10 May and there will be further follow-up later in 2022.

The full text of Greg’s article is below and you can find EPSU’s organising guide, Building the union – winning for members, here in 13 languages.