Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Most unfortunately I had to pop out to the toilet just ahead of Harriet Harman's address to Congress and - as I felt it would have been rude to walk back in while she was speaking - I waited until Tony Woodley was introducing a DVD on organising.

We spend far too much time listening to Ministers from a hostile Government and it makes more sense to spend our time considering whether ten years of the organising agenda has really contributed to halting the decline in union membership.

The work that is done as a result of the focus on organising is clearly valuable - and there is some evidence from cross-sectional data within UNISON that those branches who have adopted elements of the "organising approach" are performing better when it comes to recruiting and retaining members.

However, at the level of the membership of the Union as a whole, time series data suggests that major industrial disputes are the factor which influences variations in membership growth - the evidence that it is the "organising approach" which has halted the decline in union membership is equivocal at best.

The CWU are now moving Composite 5 on young members, calling very sensibly for learning about trade unionism in schools - the composite is to be seconded by the Professional Footballers' Association, whose members are probably amongst the most familiar trade unionists to most children. (They also of course have a fair few strikers in their membership).

Perhaps we should have the equivalent of football cards for the TUC, so the young people became familiar with General Council members by collecting and swapping cards with their images on. They could be TUC "Top Trump" cards with points for membership size, ability to express a coherent argument etc.

Or maybe not...


Anonymous said...

Good for you Jon - I've always said that the best place to be when ministers of a hostile govt are speaking - is in the loo. Let's hope you left them a lovely deposit!


Paul said...


I think its clear that for some unions major industrial action has been a catalyst for membership growth (for example PCS), but its also clear that the issue is not straight forward. USDAW for example has grown by 25% in the last 10 years, and this growth hasn't been driven by industrial action. I think the key point is unions have to organise and campaign around the issues that matter to their members and potential members and to be able to demonstrate that joining and getting active in the union actually makes a difference.

A poorly organised union that loses strike after strike isn't likely to prove attractive to potential members. Neither is an 'organising' union that doesn't actually deliver for members.

Speaking at the 'Building Stronger Unions' fringe yesterday both Mark Serwotka from PCS and Paddy Lillis from USDAW talked about the need to put lay reps and solid workplace organisation at the heart of our organising strategies and I'd echo that.

The real reason I wanted to comment on your post however is that I for one would buy a pack of union 'top trumps'...but I suspect this puts me in a rather small and sad minority!