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A #heartunion is not just for crises

Last year's Unions 21 conference was my first as Director and I enjoyed it immensely.  Filled with colleagues eager to consider new ways of working, hear new ideas which related to their job and thinking about how we can make unions stronger.  However, when you're running the show, you rarely get the time to just sit back and listen to all the contributions but because my last duty was 'roaming mic' our last session gave me plenty of food for thought which has stayed with me throughout the year which is this - unions can overcome difficulties if they know what they're standing for, and articulate a message that encapsulates a vision for the workplace.  To quote Mike Clancy (General Secretary for Prospect), a union is not just for crises.

Unions are often told by people outside of our work that we're not modern enough, we don't connect enough, we're not representative enough.  And there is truth to a lot of the criticisms we get.  However, it doesn't tell the full story of how unions, through reps and members with the help of paid staff manage to win important victories day in, day out.   

The trouble lies with what many union officers say to me - that a lot of their work is about being reactive, dealing with the immediate problem at hand.  This means that there is little time for the big picture planning or the thinking and human time it takes to change direction.  Since the conference, it's become something of an obsession of mine; how do unions, no matter their sector, industry or worker begin to articulate a concrete vision for work?  How do we become proactive, using the circumstances that we find ourselves in to our best advantage? 

And then, how do we win?

I came across this video of Rahm Emmanuel who worked for President Obama and is now the Mayor of Chicago.

Now, I don't agree with everything he does or thinks, but I think he's right on the winning bit.  Winning is so important because it means change, it means that people feel the power of being in a union and will then become the best ambassadors for your organisation.  I've seen the power of unions winning small and large victories and it is a great thing. 

How do we win?

  • Start off my thinking that it's going to be about a long term vision for a union and an industry, recognise that we're going to have to react, but the emphasis needs to be one of proactivity.
  • Review internal capacity - Conduct an audit of where we're strong and where we're weaker.
  • Undertake an external audit of the landscape we find ourselves in politically, legislatively and economically.
  • Consider leverage, how much influence and power do we have outside?
  • What do we want our industry to look like? What would need to change?
  • Go back to capacity - how do we need to change, augment, create a structure to achieve the goals

This is just the start of it, and it does require some leg work at the beginning, but as we go into a turbulent time yet again, unions need to be on the front foot articulating a vision on Brexit, new political mechanisms and changing world of work otherwise we'll just be reacting and we won't necessarily be winning.

Signed up for Unions 21's annual conference?  Tickets available to supporters and non supporters here