Recruitment and organising strategies – let’s take it to the next level

EPSU Recruitment and Organising meeting December 2021

(3 February 2022) At the end of last year more than 20 EPSU affiliates took part in an in-depth process to develop their recruitment and organising (R&O) strategies.

Beginning with an opening seminar on 9 November, the process involved 20 consultations between individual unions and EPSU’s R&O team and ended with a wrap-up seminar on 9 December. This was all supported with finance from the European Trade Union Institute’s education department.

The union’s strategies had originally been prepared in four strategic workshops for trade union leaders in the period November 2020-March 2021. The follow up allowed participants to revise and discuss their strategies and it was useful to bring together key decision-makers from affiliates that were at different levels of development.

The opening session in November 2021 reviewed what had been achieved in the first series of workshops and the childcare workers’ union in Hungary and health workers’ union in Romania shared information about heir written strategies and their implementation.

In the consultations with individual unions, Greg Thomson, former head of strategic organising at the UNISON public services union in the UK, together with the EPSU R&O Team commented on progress and next steps and the extent to which EPSU can provide further assistance.

At the final workshop in December, Greg presented a broad review of the progress participants had made and where to go from there. There was also a presentation on membership databases – a key element of being able to monitor membership and communicate with members.

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:

1. Centralised database

There was general acceptance that a centralised data base is a good idea but unions had made varying amounts of progress in developing one. There was confirmation that databases could relatively easily comply data privacy rules, particularly as their information is for internal union use. Problems would arise if any data were suppliedm without authorisation to third parties.

2. Communication

It was clear that all affiliates understood the importance of communication as a vital tool with which to build members’ trust. This has to be two way and members will only support and want to remain in a trade union that listens to their views and tells them what it is doing on their behalf. Many affiliates are making use of social media to communicate with members and the wider world. This is not a substitute for face-to-face communication, but it is a useful additional tool, particularly during the pandemic. This again is an area where EPSU expertise can be useful in terms of advice and training.

3. Engagement and activism amongst members

It is important to ensure members are engaged and get active in their trade union. First and foremost, the best recruitment tool for any member organisation is its existing members. If they believe the organisation belongs to them and works on their behalf, they are much more likely to recommend it to other work colleagues. The recommendation of a work colleague can be very persuasive in encouraging other workers to join the union.

Secondly practically all affiliates expressed concern about free riders in the workplace. These are workers who say ‘why should I join, when I get the benefit of any improvements negotiated by the union anyway?’ Added to which some affiliates reported that they faced competition from other trade unions in the workplace. Workers are much less likely to be free riders or join a competitor, if the union is active locally and workers see that it takes up issues on behalf of colleagues and reports back to those colleagues. Crucially they have to see that by joining the union they make it more effective. This is best done by getting members to be active in campaigns.

Getting more members active in the union can take time. First of all there may need to be an element of talent spotting by the union. Who is it in the workplace that other workers listen to? It is probably not the person who talks the most, but is more likely to be someone who is more thoughtful. Approaching that person and encouraging them to become active in the union, can be a good start. Activists need support and that means creating a network of activists and potential activists, who can support one another, as well as being accessible to them.

4. The work continues

A great deal of progress has been made so far, but much remains to be done, particularly to ensure that organising is seen as a priority for the whole union. Education and training can be an important tool in getting the message across.

The EPSU R&O team are there to help and I would urge you to continue using them. What will work in the long term is sustained systemic change in the way in which your union operates. This is not a quick fix, achieved through a single campaign, but is a long term process. The good news is that you have all made a good start.