The end of organising models?
Becky Wright / 19 April 2017
The other day I had a conversation with a senior industrial officer who said 'I've been talking to a lot of organisers who seem good at letting me know what the organising model is, and less about putting it into practice.'
I was a combination of surprised and disappointed. Surprised because it encapsulated something that's been on my mind for quite a while and disappointed that we've got to the point where we talk about things more than we do them.
If that's the case, is it time to stop talking about organising models?
Now, I recognise that this could be seen as quite a controversial move and a tad hypocritical from someone who spent shy of five years teaching them. I was relatively pleased that some of my students remembered what I had taught them all those years ago, but underpinning everything that I had emphasised in the classroom is that it's mainly in the doing and less in the conceptualising. I understand the need for models; they help us to explain why things work and how they work. Models act a shorthand for our ideas and approaches to our work. But there is a danger to models that we rarely discuss and that is that models can get in the way of doing the work that we need to do. We become obsessed with what models we're using and less on the task at hand.
When we begun to talk about organising again as a movement, it was within a particular set of circumstances - that of significant decline, changes to industries that were beyond recognition and a seismic shift in who were union members. There is some sense in this, the approach we had used for a significant period of time had not yielded results and arguably didn't even manage the decline. When things don't work there tends to be a rejection of what went on before, but I think that in trying to reject the existing status quo, we lost sight of the need to agree what values we wanted to work towards and how this will build our movement up. By having a model which ultimately puts a considerable amount of emphasis on the industrial staff, it doesn't help a union pull together and therefore hinders any attempts to be successful. And then, what if the model ceases to work?
Managing decline doesn't sound sexy, it doesn't make waves. Yet, by a combination of a period of relative friendliness politically and industrially plus our own hard work, we've not done a bad job at managing decline. But we've experienced nearly ten years away from that comfort zone and have got to move out of that mode and into one of growth. Unlike before, we haven't had a period with a stark lack of success. Therefore there is no need to reject our existing work but we need to shift our language and and approaches to work which can constrict us and focus on what we need to do to ensure that workers/employees/self employed people see themselves as union. We need to ensure that this approach does not create division and allow for navel gazing but is focussed on action and allows unions to make strategic decisions that reflect their circumstances.
I propose therefore, we stop talking about what model we're using and agree a set of values in our work that reflect our traditions of equality and equity, unity, justice and democracy and keeps us strategic.