Thursday, January 26, 2012

Recruitment success and how to sustain it

Yesterday's meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee heard that 2011 had seen UNISON recruit more than 175,000 new members - the best annual figure since UNISON was created in 1993.

Since it is estimated that we need to recruit about 145,000 members a year just to stand still (because of the turnover rate as members retire, become unemployed or move jobs) our net growth is a lot lower, but still impressive given that this is taking place whilst the number of jobs in the areas in which we are most organised are certainly not increasing.

The boost to recruitment which took us above our turnover rate and into net growth took place pretty much entirely in the period after our General Secretary's TUC speech calling for strike action over pensions. Indeed 30% of all the members who joined UNISON last year did so in the two months of October and November.

For once in life, cause and effect really are as simple as they appear to be. The last time we had such a "spike" in recruitment was around the national strike action over local government pensions in the spring of 2006.

Indeed, each and every significant boost to our recruitment figures at a national level has been associated with national industrial action.

I have spent almost nine years on the D&O Committee, and before that had served for seven years on the equivalent body at Regional level. In all the untold hours of discussion about how to improve recruitment, through periods of both growing and declining employment, under different Governments and through good times and bad, the only measure which I have learned is proven to significantly increase our membership nationally is to call upon our members to take national action in a cause in which they believe and for which a sufficient number are prepared to fight.

I'm not suggesting that we call strikes simply to recruit more members. Recruitment to our union (like industrial action) is not an end in itself but a means to the end of protecting and promoting the interests of our members and potential members. That objective has to guide us.

I am however suggesting that we need to change our thinking. Rather than see strikes as occasional exceptions to the "normal business" of the trade union (requiring such exceptional temporary exertion that we all take to our beds with "strike fatigue") we need to see conflict and industrial action as integral to our "normal business."

We must replace the bureaucratic timidity which sees strike action as a dangerous threat to be avoided, with an appreciation that, when conflict is necessary, it provides us with our best opportunity to build our numbers and our strength.

The evidence in support of this contention stares out at us from our own recruitment statistics.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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