Friday, February 22, 2013

Recruitment - Spring Forward

The official report of this week's meeting of UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) is now online (http://www.unison.org.uk/news/news_view.asp?did=8374). It headlines the item which we discussed after agreeing our response to the TUC on a General Strike - the forthcoming recruitment drive.

This was an item which required not only an introduction from our General Secretary, but also a contribution from every Assistant General Secretary who was in the room. Since we have enough Assistant General Secretaries to field a five-a-side team (with a substitute) this took a while.

Dave Prentis put the case positively. We don't want to become a declining union, we want to recruit in order to grow and become stronger. He also made the point that UNISON hasn't frozen recruitment of staff (although we don't seem yet to have advertised for a Deputy General Secretary - http://www.unison.org.uk/jobs/). If we want to engage and enthuse activists then our message needs to be a positive one about how we are using our current strength and what more we could do with greater numbers.

Some other contributions to the discussion would be less persuasive in the branches. A focus on the income generated through recruitment is entirely rational, but our shop stewards will be more interested in strengthening our bargaining position with employers than firming up our bank balance.

Similarly, the suggestion that we should communicate a message that "no branch can hide" from the recruitment drive is probably not the sort of positive encouragement most likely to inspire activists. The official report manages to avoid that tone, but I can't be the only busy Branch Secretary who will read the comment that "from the start of the advertising campaign on 11 March 'everybody has to be doing something'." with a wry grin.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am sceptical about the efficacy of "free standing" recruitment drives. I agree very much with our General Secretary that "We recruit best where we've got issues and we recruit best where we've got branch organisation." I asked about the evidence base for the assumption that the recruitment drive will be effective and was told that we will be drawing on the experience of USDAW, the shop workers union, which has continuously to recruit vigorously because of their high membership turnover.

Bearing in mind that even witty cynicism never built a trade union, I think that activists need to engage in and take ownership of this national recruitment drive in our localities. The issues which we have to recruit around, most obviously job (in)security and the threat of redundancies, can be the basis for local application of the national initiative.

The initiative will be launched from 11 March and will therefore coincide with the working through of some of the job cuts which will be the consequence of budget setting in local government branches. Branches facing cuts will need to integrate their involvement in the recruitment drive into an energetic response to the cuts.

I'll return to this topic I'm sure.

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