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

Monday, 7 October 2013

The place of community organising in union strategies

Unions 21 has produced an excellent and very readable booklet on the debate around community organising, with interesting examples and a thought provoking chapter from Professor Jane Holgate on union approaches. There is also a good solid summary of where we are in the introduction by TUC officers Kevin Rowan and Carl Roper. it is a worthwhile read for all UNISON activists engaged in our campaigns nationally and in local campaigns where we need to work with service users in a community: http://www.unions21.org.uk/download/371

There is no doubt in Venn Diagram terms there is a great deal of overlap in union organising and in community organising. It is also really good to see in the introduction an acknowledgement that too often there is an over emphasis on the process rather than the outcomes.

We acknowledge the success of such as the Living Wage Campaign, not least in the fact that it is now part of the union language and even of our specific claims. We do need the support and alliances of/with community groups. All good union activists understand and appreciate the value and need for widespread political and community mobilisation to win campaigns and the examples in the booklet are good ones.

The question is - should unions be doing more about community organising? Unite has established Community Branches and there are other examples of unions re positioning towards Community Campaigning styles that rely on tactics beyond simple industrial power. Leverage campaigns, political lobbying, demonstrations and (with no disrespect intended) stunts that catch the media eye. These are all symptoms of a popular campaign with momentum towards success.

We acknowledge that the old image of unions consisting of overweight men on picket lines has been damaging but that is not a matter of debate now - we all agree. Many of these tactics are ones we should use and copy. We should, and in UNISON we do, seek to work with groups who clearly share our aims. not just in service groups but also on issues like anti racism, anti fascism and internationalism but also on a diverse spread of campaigns that reflect our membership and their concerns.

But, although there is no hint otherwise contained in this excellent booklet, we must not be tempted by substitute actions. Community strength is an ally of industrial strength, not a new form of strategy. Organising requires priorities. Priorities dictate resources. Resources are scarce. Our most powerful weapon remains our collective strength at work. That is where we must focus.

Union organising that builds strength, that produces success that can be seen in terms of more members, more resources (income) and more power is still the best accurate test of our success.