Saturday, June 14, 2014
Organising the fragmented workforce
A few months ago I was reflecting on the challenges we face in trying to organise the fragmented (and frequently privatised) public service workforce.
This issue, which will be an important topic for discussion at UNISON Conference over the coming week, has also been one of the things keeping me away from blogging over recent days.
UNISON faces a public service workforce employed by thousands of different employers, sometimes on zero-hours contracts, often without the benefit of trade union recognition.
Whilst we have made great strides in organising the workforce of a company like Four Seasons (where we have a national recognition agreement), we need a significant change in our own culture if we are going to unionise employers who do not welcome our presence.
The NEC’s Development and Organisation Committee is still waiting for a final report of the lessons learned from the “Three Companies project” (which attentive readers of this blog may remember). I won't forget to pursue this.
Most of all though we need to face forward and prepare ourselves to organise in hostile environments.
I’m aware of the case of an activist who has been through two suspensions since he began trying to organise for UNISON in his employer. In a world in which workers need two years direct employment before they even have the right to gamble a thousand pounds on a claim of unfair dismissal, we need to provide different, appropriate, support to activists in such circumstances.
I have sympathy with the argument that our structures (including our lay democratic structures) are not perfectly designed to facilitate such organising, or to represent the interests of our members “out there” in the fragments of the fragmented public service workforce.
However, I have very little sympathy with the idea that we should prioritise years of navel-gazing when there are workers out there now experiencing unilateral pay cuts from employers, some of whom seek to prohibit discussion of trade unionism in work time.
Our ramshackle branch structures are the only structures we have now, in 2014, to organise workers who need to be organised in 2014 and our over-stretched lay activists are the only activists we have, right now, to help to achieve this.