Friday, 8 May 2009

Regional organising strategy successful - if implemented

The most successful branches in terms of membership growth are those that have implemented methods such as workplace mapping and campaigning on local issues, Jeremy Waddington and Allan Kerr find in an extensive evaluation of the organising strategy of British public sector union UNISON. The findings seem to lend support to the view that implementation is key in organising strategies.
In order to reverse a decline in public sector union density, UNISON launched a National Organising and Recruitment Strategy in 1997. The strategy is different from the approach of American unions such as SEIU in that UNISON chose not to deploy large numbers of dedicated organising staff, but instead relied primarily on active members. In addition, the UNISON approach is more decentralised, with more latitude for local branches.
Key to the strategy are local Branch Development and Organising Plans. Among other things, branches are expected to map workplaces to identify potential targets for organising campaigns, draw up recruitment and retention plans, boost membership participation and improve representation and negotiation. Methods that could help achieve this include linking up with community organisations and with union initiatives such as Learning Reps, and negotiating for more facility time.
Waddington and Kerr divided branches into those with no membership growth over a period of three years, an intermediate group and branches with more than 6 percent growth. High-growth branches were more likely to have implemented elements of the organising strategy. For example, 82 percent of branch secretaries in high-growth branches said mapping had been undertaken (as opposed to 14 percent in no-growth branches); 67 percent said a plan to organise non-members is in place (26 percent in no-growth branches) and 49 percent said campaigns on local issues have been launched (37 percent in no-growth branches).
Incidentally, 6 percent membership growth over three years may seem modest in comparison with successful unions that have achieved membership growth of up to 10 percent per year. Waddington and Kerr point out that UNISON is recognised by most employers it deals with. While this has obvious advantages, it means that it is more difficult to make a radical switch to an organising approach than in situations where unions try to organise workplaces where they do not have a foothold yet.
Jeremy Waddington and Allan Kerr (2009), Transforming a Trade Union? An Assessment of the Introduction of an Organizing Initiative. British Journal of Industrial Relations 47(1): 27-54.

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