UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Monday, 13 August 2012

How To Organise Non Union Workers, A Lesson From Historic Strike in Texas

The Texas Observer and SEIU report on a tremendous success for Janitors in Houston, Texas, a State where the legal and free market environment is amongst the toughest even in the USA.

There are some obvious and stark lessons for UNISON activists in this strike and success.

The union used organising methods - targeting employers, focusing resources, one to one work with workers, agitation tactics and mobilising allies in the wider community. The workforce was almost overwhelmingly Hispanic, low paid and non union. The State laws make unions extremely difficult to build.

Texas is a so called 'Right to Work' State whereby unions are obliged by law to give representation to workers who do not pay dues (so why join a union?). The law does not allow any advantage for a union - far worse than is currently the case in the UK. It meant falling out with the employers, risking the sack, risking union facilities and empowering the workforce to take the disputes forward.

These employers were out to get a different agreement to the one they ended up with and were sure that a union trying to organise the workforce were not going to succeed. They did not want to concede a 12% pay rise over 4 years. This action was aimed not simply at the local management in Houston but was spread all over the USA and the rest of the world. The companies involved were targeted wherever they had contracts and it worked.

But there are workforces and employers like this in the UK, operating public sector contracts. They too are largely low paid and very low density, with many immigrant and ethnic workers. In our Branch areas they will remain in most cases in a low wage, non union workplace. It takes agitation and organising to establish a union that they will want to join and be active in.

If they can do it in Texas, it can be done in the UK.