Working with affiliates on recruitment and organising

EPSU Organising guide 2020

(20 November 2020) Over the past two weeks 27 trade union leaders and officers from 10 unions in Moldova and Romania have taken part in a series of organising and recruitment workshops.

Following an initial webinar to discuss organising and recruitment strategies, the unions spent time drafting their own strategies that were then assessed in individual meetings with each union. The final workshop brought all the unions together again for a further debate and review of the process.

This was a new initiative by EPSU which it intends to gradually roll out to other countries across Central and Eastern Europe over the next few years.

The main inputs during the webinars came from Greg Thomson, former head of strategic organising at UNISON in the UK and EPSU’s recruitment and organising team  - Agnieszka Ghinararu. In the final workshop they were joined by Orlagh Fawl, director of strategic organising at Fórsa in Ireland.

In the first workshop, the discussion focused on the need for organising and recruitment strategies to address widespread union membership loss across Europe. It also addressed the problem of membership passivity and low levels of participation in unions’ actions. It was underlined that a key element of any strategy was a good membership database for monitoring trends and keeping in contact with members. The discussion also touched on how to get the right balance between providing services to members (“service union”) and organising. Greg Thomson underlined the need for a clear and realistic union organising strategy and took participants through the various stages.

The second part of the process was dedicated to group work on organising strategy. National level leaders together with union officers sat together and drew up their proposals for a recruitment and organising strategy for their organisation. Each union had a consultation meeting with the EPSU team in order to discuss their draft’s strong and weak points.

The final event brought all the participants together again to hear general comments from the EPSU team and discuss the possible follow up with a view to finalising the strategies and their implementation. Greg Thomson summarised the exercise of drafting strategies and stressed that participants showed a high level of commitment to organising and recruitment. However, he also underlined that it is essential others within their federation/union share this commitment - this can be achieved through discussion and education.

Orlagh Fawl followed this by presenting Forsa’s experiences in strategic organising. Among other things, she highlighted the need of have a good plan to win; the importance of research and resources; two-way communication (with members and non-members) and having an organising team in place.

Six key points

Commitment to organising and recruitment It is essential others within the federation/union share this commitment - this can be achieved through discussion and education. Otherwise organising will be crowded out by other priorities.

Management of the strategy is crucial for effective implementation The strategy must be put into writing an updated as it develops. This provides a point of reference against which progress can be monitored. Effective management requires a steering committee which has responsibility for the implementation of the strategy and receives regular reports on progress.

Good communication is a crucial part of effective organising and recruitment Communication must be a two-way process, so that members feel involved and heard. Everyone recognises that a digital database is an essential tool in effective targeted communications and monitoring of an organising and recruitment strategy. Social media is a useful adjunct to face-to-face organising but it is not a replacement for talking to members and potential members. And it is only useful if it is kept fresh and dynamic, so that it does not get tired and out of date.

Campaigns aimed at securing improvements for members, can be used to increase recruitment They should be used to supplement day to day organising and recruitment, not replace it. They only work as an organising tool if members are asked to actively participate in the campaign. Even low-level activity can be effective, such as asking members to complete surveys or sign petitions or distribute leaflets. Unions often fail to report their successes amongst the whole membership. But it is only by doing so that members see the benefits of membership and why they should get active in the union.

Training plays an important part in organising and recruitment in three complementary ways It can be used to reinforce the benefits of organising and recruitment in building union power amongst the wider membership. There are technical areas such as communications, use of social media and application of databases, where it can be used to improve the skills of leaders and activists. A more general offer of training to members on issues such as health and safety, trade union rights and social media can help attract new members.

Recruitment of new starters Getting new employees to join the union when they first start with an employer is a highly effective way of increasing recruitment.