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Why are we talking data in unions?



My first organising project was 21 years ago, organising travel agency workers across the North of England.

A team of 5 organisers, pre social media, going around to every Thomas Cook shop in the UK to recruit and identify activists and feedback issues to the union negotiator. After 6 months, the union executive decided to expand our operations to include a company which had no union presence. The exec allowed us the time to research and plan and to see what was feasible for us to do. During this time, if you came to visit my office in York, I had a strategic corporate map that didn't look too dissimilar from crime dramas where someone took the case home with them. It definitely raised an eyebrow or two.

By mapping out the company, exploring aspect such as ownership and management, I identified a smaller company that was likely to be bought at some point by our target company and made a case for us to concentrate on that, ready to expand into the target.

While this was going on, my colleague and I liaised with our counterparts at the Thomas Cook EWC where we found out that post 9/11, salaries in the UK would be cut. Only in the UK would this happen.

And so, we faxed (!) every shop telling them this and asking to send back a signed letter in protest. We weren't expecting much and yet got back hundreds of letters, it was the biggest action this sector had seen and it stopped the cuts. We gained members and people willing to be activists and reps.

This experience not only shaped my views on organising but I learnt a powerful lesson - knowledge is power.

And if a union has knowledge, it can direct its resources to do the right job, at the right time.

In the debate about data and digitalisation of unions, we wanted to get back to the heart of the change and ask how do unions understand what data is, use existing information, as well as other sources of information that they have to make good decisions on their priorities and the work that they do?

I'm excited that over the next coming weeks we can share some initial case studies and ideas before the launch of our report.

In the meantime, sign up to join us at our annual conference and report launch.