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Centre for Global Labour Research (CGLR) Colloquium - ‘Unions and Organising’

Starts: 17 April 2008

The Centre for Global Labour Research (CGLR) held a successful colloquium addressing the theme ‘Unions and Organising’. Over 40 people reviewed the experience and progress that unions have had with organising strategies, considered the importance of the Organising Academy and discussed experiences that trade unions have had with organising.

The presentations included:

Professor Ed Heery, Cardiff University ‘A Profile of Union Organizing Campaigns in the United Kingdom’. Professor Heery provided an overview of organising campaigns in the UK, and developed an argument about organising. He pointed to the way that traditional issues remained at the forefront of union concerns, that members defined their unionism in relation to collective practices and that where unions face hostile employers they are more likely to be predisposed to organising strategies around traditional issues. In cases where unions pursue a social partnership approach and employers are responsive, then organising strategies are more likely to involve the development of ‘new’ agenda, around equality, diversity questions and so on. Presentation available at bottom of page.

Mel Simms, Peter Fairbrother, and Ed Heery

Mel Simms, Peter Fairbrother, and Ed Heery

Dr Mel Simms, University of Warwick ‘10 years of the Organising Academy: What has been the Impact? ’. Dr Simms raised a set of challenging questions in relation to the Organising Academy and the organisers that have been through the successive programmes of the Academy. She noted that around 70% of the organisers from the first nine cohorts had become specialist organisers in trade unions. Dr Simms also noted how it was not straightforward to target under-represented workers. This aspect is very much a feature of where people work rather than a feature of the workers as such (e.g. difficult to organise). There is little evidence that organisers have been able to expand organising activity, into new areas of representation. Nonetheless, this research underwrote the way organising as a participatory activity is on union agenda, although the resources devoted to promoting and encouraging this activity is unclear. In a challenging conclusion, she argued that the embrace of an organising approach is very much subject to the politics of unions and the pressures toward centralisation of activity and participatory engagement. Presentation available at bottom of page.

Carl Roper

Carl Roper

Carl Roper, National Training & Consultancy Officer (Organising), TUC. Carl Roper spoke about the emergence and focus of TUC activity around organising, with particular reference to the Organising Academy. He reminded the colloquium of union history in the UK, and where the proposals to re launch the TUC and establish the Academy came from. He reviewed current developments as a pointer to the future, noting the: 

  • Increased union focus on, and investment in, organising and recruitment
  • TUC Organising Academy
  • Development of specialist organising teams and departments
  • Internal ‘Academies’
  • Significant investment – training and resources
  • Building organising into all our other work, for example union learning and H&S
  • Gradual cultural change

Thus future priorities are:

  • Address members and potential members perceptions of unions and what they are for;
  • Make unions fit for purpose;
  • Continue to build capacity;
  • Support for activists and activism. (Presentation available at bottom of page)
Jeff Evans

Jeff Evans

Jeff Evans, Senior National Officer, PCS Wales/Cymru and Howard Marshall, Regional Manager UNISON Wales/Cymru both spoke about developing organising approaches in relation to Wales, but not forgetting the broader context in which these approaches are developed.

Jeff Evans introduced a focused discussion about the way in which the PCS has developed as an organising and campaigning union over the last decade. This review was complemented by a reflective discussion to developing and organising approach, promoting participative activity and shifting aspects of union work from full-time officers to lay representatives and activists. He also drew attention to the distinctive differences in working with sympathetic governments (developing aspects of partnership working) and less considerate governments. Presentation available at bottom of page.

Howard Marshall

Howard Marshall

Howard Marshall drew particular attention to the way in which the union debate has been caught on the distinction between servicing and organising, and business unionism and campaigning unionism. He noted how it is important to retain an awareness of servicing while at the same time promoting organising. In a challenging way he posed a number of questions for unions: what are unions for? How do unions organise? Do unions organise and operate well?

Lydia Hayes, Regional Education and Development Organiser, UNITE (TGWU – South West) and Charlie Jones, Project Manager, UNITE (TGWU – Wales/Cymru) both developed the discussion with concrete examples of organising in UNITE the union.

Lydia Hayes reviewed the very successful union campaign by home care workers in Bristol in 2007, in which she was the key organiser. This campaign arose out of City Council proposals to privatise homecare work. Pointing to the gendered character of homecare work, the rather isolated and individual aspects of the work, low pay and part-time employment she demonstrated the genesis and maturation of a successful campaigns that drew on union resources and experience, alliances with the community, political projects and media profiling. Presentation available at bottom of page.

Charlie Jones  and Lydia Hayes

Charlie Jones and Lydia Hayes

Charlie Jones spoke of the diverse and imaginative organising initiative carried out by her in her role as Project Manager, working with migrant workers. This project of activity takes the position of migrant workers as workers and citizens as the starting point. The projects based in Flint, Llandudno, Wrexham, Llanelli, Cardiff and elsewhere centre on resource provision, drop in activity, language classes and related support. These draw on courses to promote citizenship skills, teaching and learning champions, and the promotion of formal links between the union and local community groups around this work. The result is a network of activity across Wales (see Presentation available at bottom of page.

The colloquium ran from 12.00 - 4.00pm on the 17th April in the Council Chamber, Glamorgan Building, King Edward VII Avenue, Cardiff.

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