Thursday, October 23, 2014
How shall we organise the fragmented workforce? (Not?)
At yesterday's (inquorate) meeting of the UNISON Greater London Regional Council, a presentation was given about the importance of organising the fragmented public service workforce.
This useful and informative presentation drew from the clear policy adopted at National Delegate Conference and referred to the statement issued by our President and General Secretary affirming the priority to be attached to organising the 15% of our members in the private sector (a proportion which will certainly continue to grow as long as UNISON Labour Link remains such a weak and ineffective part of our organisation).
Jobs which, a generation ago, might have been carried out by public sector local government or health workers are increasingly now performed by private sector workers, often on low pay or even zero hours contracts. These workers, many of whose employers are actively hostile to trade unions often have no tradition or experience of organisation. This is a major challenge to UNISON.
Are we fit to meet this challenge?
Today I was hoping, as a Branch Secretary, to meet with a couple of private sector shop stewards, from two different branches, in two different Regions of UNISON, together with a colleague at the UNISON Centre.
And then I made the mistake of contacting our Regional office to see if they could come along.
Sometimes you learn the true priorities of our trade union the hard way.
It is not our first priority to organise private sector workers who desperately need organising.
That is not as important as turf war between sections of our ossified bureaucracy.
Activists can't meet national officials without the presence of Regional officials.
Shop stewards in one branch must not organise members in another branch.
Above all we must guard against the enthusiasm of motivated lay activists who will willingly give their own time up to build a trade union in difficult circumstances.
I sometimes think our large trade unions are too large. They are large enough to become an arena for battles between egos and careers within the machine.
Large enough too not to hear the cry of small and medium sized groups of trade unionists who need an energetic response to difficult employers.
The high level working group, consisting of the Presidential team and various others of UNISON's "great and good" (which has been established to oversee organising the fragmented workforce) means nothing on a day like today.
What is the point of the mighty UNISON Centre on the Euston Road (with all its long-term empty space) when UNISON shop stewards wanting to implement the most important priority from our Conference have to meet in a pub because officialdom isn't ready to help them yet?
Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.