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2015 National Delegate Conference
1 January 2015

Conference recognises that activism is at the very heart of UNISON. Activists ensure that the union is accessible to members in the workplace giving day to day support and representation to members, encouraging other workers to join the union and building our organisation. Without activists we could not function as a democratic lay member led union.

Conference utterly condemns the Tories unwarranted attacks on trade union facility time, which has led some employers to take an ever more restrictive view of trade union facilities. This in turn has made it difficult for some activists to represent members, particularly members whose jobs have been outsourced. Conference believes that activists, with access to the facilities necessary to do their trade union work, are essential to good industrial relations.

Conference also notes with concern that pressure on existing activists is growing as a result of austerity and the continuing fragmentation of public services. This has led to a reduction in the number of activists, putting further pressure on those who remain, as their own work intensifies and they try to cover for colleagues who have left. Conference also notes that workplace issues faced by groups of members who experience discrimination are generally harder to tackle in fragmented workplaces. Isolated members fear to speak out and may not be sure where to go for support.

Meanwhile the number of UNISON members working in the private and voluntary sectors is increasing, while our activists tend to be disproportionately concentrated in public sector employment. Even within the public sector fragmentation has created problems, for example in academies. This leaves whole areas of public service where UNISON has fewer activists than our membership numbers warrant. Conference notes that our practice of self-organisation of groups of workers facing discrimination can assist in giving these members scattered across diverse workplaces a strong sense of collective union identity. Branch support for self-organisation and outreach into equality communities can reap great benefits, uniting members around a shared identity and purpose, encouraging them into activism.

Conference recognises that it is evident from the membership figures that despite proportionality and fair representation being written into rule; women, particularly lower paid women, and Black people are underrepresented amongst activists. The current surge in membership amongst young members means that there is also a need for more activists among young members. Conference believes that in addressing the shortfall in activists it is important that we should also seeks to redress underrepresentation amongst these key groups. This should include working with the self-organised groups to raise awareness of their potential to help branches to reach, recruit and engage members.

Conference recognises that the rapidly growing numbers of our members who are not employed within our traditional core employers do not receive the same high level of support and assistance that all UNISON members deserve.

All members, regardless of their employer should be able to access support and representation and to participate fully in the democracy of the union.

Conference understands the very real difficulties many branches face in both representing and organising members outside the core employer, and in providing opportunities for those members to engage in the democracy and decision making of the union.

Conference applauds those branches which have begun to address these difficulties in creative, ambitious and successful ways.

Conference asks that the National Executive Council develops and issues guidance to branches, suggesting strategies branches can adopt to ensure members in the fragmented workforce can access all the benefits of UNISON membership on an equal footing.

Conference also asks that the National Executive Council require that all UNISON systems and processes are focussed on making it as simple as possible for our branches and activists to work to build the organisation.

Conference notes the work that is already being done, which includes:

1)Issuing advice on best practice;

2)The roll out of the skills bank;

3)Making training more accessible;

4)Greater emphasis on mentoring and support for activists;

5)Developing strategies for protecting and enhancing trade union facilities for activists.

The aim should be to increase the overall level of activism amongst members, not simply the number of shop stewards. All activism is valuable, and for many members activism is a journey in which their engagement with UNISON increases over time, as they gain confidence, or where they find a particular area where they feel they can contribute most.

Last year we established an annual organising planning cycle, involving the Joint Branch Assessment (JBA), Regional Plan, Service Groups and SOGs. Conference believes that it is essential to embed activist development as a central part of that planning process.

Conference notes that, in a time of austerity and job cuts, our recruitment figures for the past year are still encouraging. We commend our activists and staff for their efforts.

However, there is still a need to recruit and organise more young members in our union. Given that the majority of public sector workers are women, it is essential that we devise ways to attract young women into our movement, and ensure that our agenda is one in which their aspirations are met, and that our organisation is one in which they can reach their full potential as UNISON members.

Conference calls upon the National Executive Council to work with the self organised groups, Young Members’ Forum other appropriate bodies in UNISON to:

a)Branches to:

i)Identify those areas where taking into account fragmented and outsourced workers they need more activists and consider which groups of members are underrepresented to help the branch establish targets for the number of additional activists they need, preparatory to the JBA;

ii)Encourage retired members to help identify and develop new activists;

iii)Formulate a plan for how potential activists can be identified and encouraged to become active.

b)Regions to:

i)Ensure that all JBAs map activists within branches against all the employers covered by the branch, and examine the activist base in the branch to see how representative it is of women, low paid women, Black and young members;

ii)Use the information gathered in the JBA mapping process described above to agree firm targets for activist development in each JBA with a clear plan of how new activists are going to be identified, trained, mentored and developed. The targets will seek to rectify areas of underrepresentation, whether in terms of representation for outsourced workers and or amongst women, low paid women, Black or young members;

iii)Monitor progress against the activists’ targets in the JBAs and report on how monitoring and evaluation will be managed in the regional organising plan;

iv)Produce a regional activist development plan based on best practice and aimed at targeting underrepresented groups such as low paid women, women, Black workers and the private sector, which should also form part of the regional organising plan;

v)Work with Regional Retired Members’ Committees to identify ways in which retired members can be involved with the recruitment of activists.

c)Service Groups to:

i)As part of the organising planning process to incorporate into their organising plans the development of activists in national employers where there has been fragmentation;

ii)In the case of private contractors mapping and targeting will be developed as part of the joint work programme between the Private Contractors Unit and Strategic Organising Unit in liaison with regions.

d)The Retired Members National Committee to:

i)Encourage retired members to take an active role in supporting branches to identify and develop new activists amongst the current membership;

ii)Prepare a training programme to enable the achievement of i) above.

e)SOGs to:

i)Develop plans to use their networks to encourage more members to become active in UNISON;

ii)Identify any barriers to members of the SOG or young members becoming more involved in UNISON;

iii)Review progress against plan on an annual basis and liaise with the Development and Organising Sub-Committee of the National Executive Council over both the planning process and progress.

iv)Each of these steps should in turn feed into the annual planning process established at Conference 2014.

f)Young Members’ Forum to:

i)Collaborate with student unions, nursing and technical colleges etc to raise awareness of the benefits of union membership and to recruit eligible students into membership at the end of their period of study;

ii)Address the needs of young women who enter the workforce through avenues other than college, including those who are taken on as apprentices, by developing appropriate strategies;

iii)Ensure that our branches, regions and formal structures are “user friendly” and easy to access – including by the use of social media;

iv)Work with regions to identify appropriate student events and other events attractive to young members and potential young members where UNISON could have a recruitment and information stand;

v)Identify the issues which are of concern to potential young members, including those which are of particular concern to young women, and the barriers to them joining a union;

vi)Investigate free or very reduced membership to students while studying in vocational fields such as nursing, social care, childcare and early years students and to consider how best to work to recruit and organise in these fields including voluntary sector and private sector.