For far too long, we have faced a barrage of attacks as a union. From Government and unscrupulous employers. We have injustices launched against our members on a daily basis at local and organisational levels, but how do we combat this?
It is easy to say “let’s build”, but what does that mean? How do we build our strength exactly?
1. Local discussions are key
They do not need to be discussions about pay and pensions, but discussions about health and safety, local policies, issues such as racism, sexism and homophobia, etc. We need to set up meetings that will engage our members so that we can find out what is impacting our members on a daily basis.
2. Monthly members meetings
Branches need to meet monthly with members to ask two fundamental questions “what is the issue?” And “what do you want to do about it?” It is only by understanding membership appetite that we can be successful. All too often, branches make decisions without necessarily understanding what the members are prepared to do. This is where campaigns have the potential to fail. If there is no membership appetite, then a campaign will fall on its backside.
3. Advocate empowerment
It is all well and good to say “let’s have advocates to recruit people to the union” but recruiting members alone is not enough. Our advocates need to be empowered to say to members “that situation you describe is awful, let’s contact the branch executive committee and demand something is done about it!” Let’s ask our advocates to engage with members in their area on a regular basis.
Training is key here. Branch led training on how to develop policy, how to assert our rights and how to form relationships with other members in the area that may be going through the same issues so that members are empowered to take the lead in formulating demands.
Do not rely on the employer system to communicate. Having to get permission from Employee Relations before sending out an email is one way of accepting that the employer has all the power necessary to silence us. That is not something we should accept in the slightest.
6. Local lay committees
Establishing lay member committees is key. This is separate to regional committees in that it is run and led by lay members and reps at a local level for a particular reason rather than a general ‘catch-all’ reason. They are similar to town committees but could be designed for a specific purpose. Forging links between members in different branches so that we have membership led campaigns across bargaining units, locations or even cross-union. Why not set up a PCS anti-racism alliance amongst members of branches in the area and build on a local basis to start?
Our GECs, our NEC and our Senior Full Time Officials are not our saviours. Holding a title does not convey power. Being a GEC member is simply a conduit between the membership and the employer at a specific level. It is on the ground where the power is, and that’s why we must build.