Organising for Growth

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2005 National Delegate Conference
28 February 2005
Carried as Amended

Conference welcomes the rise in UNISON membership to 1,313,500 and notes that membership has risen for the sixth year in a row and by over 100,000 new members since the introduction of an organising strategy. It congratulates all those involved, especially the smaller service groups, in particular police staffs, young members and the community and voluntary sector, all of whose enthusiasm and creativity has injected new life into this vital area of UNISON activity.

Conference notes that some of the most successful campaigns run by branches have been issue-based or centred around concerns raised by new or potential members. This means identifying early on in a campaign what the issues are and building around these. New members join when they see an active branch fighting on issues that are central to workers and the workplace. Equally, national campaigns can have a similar effect. However, the opposite can also be true. The union’s position on national issues and agreements can and often does affect decisions made by individuals as to whether or not they join our union. Overall, recruitment is greatly enhanced when members see a combative, campaigning union fighting on their behalf. It is also the case, as experienced by branches and activists who have mounted successful recruitment campaigns, that there is no magic formula, no quick fix that can be instantly applied. It is important that the union accepts the reality of the current situation, which is that there are too few activists carrying too heavy a burden, and that activists and branches who do mount major recruitment campaigns continue to do so successfully only by making large sacrifices in personal time.

Conference notes that among the recruitment and organising issues now being addressed, a major challenge has to be faced in local government and health, where we are continuing to see a fall in trade union density. A recent evaluation of UNISON density in local government reveals some branch densities lower than 25 per cent, with the average below 50 per cent. Our credibility with employers and government as well as national and local bargaining strength is at stake if we do not tackle this issue in what are our traditionally strong membership areas.

Conference further notes the results of UNISON research amongst branch secretaries and stewards that found:

1)training in organising and recruitment skills equips stewards to recruit and organise their workplaces more effectively. Many stewards, with four or more years’ experience, have not had the opportunity to undergo this training;

2)when asked which were their most important duties, both groups gave recruitment a lower priority than other duties;

3)almost a quarter of stewards are not given paid release and a further 18 per cent receive one hour or less per week. Conference therefore welcomes the campaign to raise awareness of rights to time off, negotiate improvements in current arrangements and promote a periodic branch review of its allocation; and

4)many stewards did not know that the regional pool is available to support branch organising and recruitment activity.

Conference therefore welcomes the National Executive Council proposal to offer existing stewards with four or more years’ experience refresher training in organising and recruitment skills.

Conference also notes with concern research by the british worker representation and participation survey that found 56 per cent of non-members eligible to join a union at their workplace said they had never been asked and in particular that two in every five non-members said they would join if asked. Conference therefore congratulates the National Executive Council on the production of guidance on the use of new starters’ lists and the powerpoint and DVD induction presentations.

Conference recalls that the regional pool, established by 2001 UNISON National Delegate Conference, is a substantial source of funding for branch development. In recent years over one per cent of total subscription income, in excess of £1.5 million per annum, has been allocated to the regional pool and it is essential that this funding is harnessed by regions and branches in support of organising activity.

Conference calls on:

a)regions and branches to participate actively in the major national service group campaigns, including pensions, A4C, schools remodelling, and higher education pay and grading, which are opportunities to reverse the decline in union density and build real membership growth;

b)branches and regions to arrange for stewards to attend the new refresher training course that will equip them with the organising skills to deliver real results in workplace revitalisation and membership returns;

c)branches to make greater use of new starters’ lists and attend new employee induction sessions;

d)branches to undertake periodic reviews of facility time in accordance with existing guidance; and

e)regions to encourage better take-up of the regional pool by branches and promote best practice examples of local organising projects funded from that source. This should include joint branch initiatives and regional-led organising projects in support of national service group campaigns as outlined in point a) above.

Conference notes the particular time-off, organising, recruitment and representation difficulties facing branch officers and stewards in some voluntary sector organisations and their host branches. It recognises that new strategies are needed to maintain the principles of lay representation and organisation in this area. It therefore calls on the NEC to:

i)mount a targeted survey of the problems encountered in this area of representation;

ii)support regions and branches in developing flexible and adaptable strategies to address these problems.