Spotting future activists

Organising is key to our future – and to our ability to defend the future of public services.

The more members we have, the stronger we are, the louder our voice and the more effective we are.

But organising isn’t just about recruiting members. It’s about getting members active – it’s about the very essence of trade unionism as the collective voice of working people, speaking and acting in their own interests.

Many hands make light work

We need more activists as well as more members. It’s a key job for existing activists to spot and develop future activists – and it’s a job that pays off.

The more active members there are in your workplace or branch, the more shoulders there are to carry the burden and lighten the workload for everyone.

More employers, more stewards

More outsourcing and more privatisation over recent decades has meant more employers. It’s a rare UNISON branch that only deals with one employer now.

And that is a situation that will only grow under a government determined to press ahead with more outsourcing, more privatisation and more competition.

We not only need to recruit members among these privatised workers, we need to recruit activists among them too.

Talent spotting

But how do we find these new activists?

The basic technique is the same as recruiting new members: be open, be honest, be encouraging and – above all – listen to what members are saying and what they want.

If you listen, you’ll not only find out what the issues are for members, but also which members are most vocal and most willing to do something about the problems they face.

Organising approach

It is these people who are likely to be your branch’s new activists.

And this is the essence of the organising approach: it’s about how we can encourage members and potential members to come together and solve problems collectively.

Experience in various organising projects shows that this approach works.

When we do this, UNISON benefits from new members and new stewards and a sustainable organisation in a workplace.


Once new activists have been identified, the question then is how we develop, mentor and train them.

Sometimes a mentor is seen as someone very experienced whose role is to teach a new person the ropes. Others see a mentor as someone who is skilled in asking questions, listening and encouraging the person they’re mentoring to work things out for themselves.

In UNISON, something between the two will usually work best. Try it and pretty soon the new activists you’ve spotted will be spotting and mentoring more new activists in their turn.

Branch development and organising toolkit

The branch development and organising toolkit is a set of short planning modules that can help branches map their branch organisation and membership.

It will also help in developing their branches and recruiting and organising new members and activists.