The need for creative and flexible training for activists was at the heart of a debate on strengthening the union and supporting activists, as delegates reconvened on the final morning of UNISON’s annual conference.
“We cannot underestimate what our activists do every day,” John Jones for the national executive told delegates.
Introducing the motion, he noted that the austerity agenda and “relentless” reorganisations have put particular stresses on activists.
There is a need for training to be made flexible to meet new barriers – the union’s blended courses are one way forward.
“Many activists find the traditional forms of activism to be daunting,” he said, adding that it is vital to increase training to help them to gain confidence.
Phillipa Scrafton for the LGBT group highlighted the role of self-organisation in encouraging people to become active and realise their potential in such a role.
A speaker from Glasgow stressed that “our job, as shop stewards, is to listen to members and lead them. To do that, we need properly-trained reps.”
Tony Phillips from the London Fire Authority said that it’s difficult to get stewards to attend training outside the workplace. So last year, his branch organised a two-day course inside the workplace, which was well attended.
Manjula Kamari from Walsall said that the union needs to “go into organising mode” more importantly than ever.
“The simple truth is, this union is worth nothing without our activists.”
She applauded the executive’s commitment to a wider range of training methods, together with mentoring.
“Education is the absolute bedrock,” said a delegate from the Eastern region. “It does us allow us to be creative in how we train.”
And she described the region’s spring activist school as a way of helping to support and develop activists.
Helen from Lanarkshire pointed out how daunting it is to be ‘thrown in at the deep end’ as a new steward – something that she, as a nurse, would never do to a student nurse.
Her branch uses a buddying system to help new reps, and she suggested that such a scheme should be added into more training systems throughout the union.
Amelia Davis said that she was standing at the rostrum because of the training she’d been given, and stressed the importance of developing new activists.
Conference agreed a range of approaches, including calling on the executive committee to:
- encourage branches through the joint branch assessment to dedicate targeted resources to embed within branches plans to support activists;
- recognise that some current systems of accreditation and training can act as a barrier, and work on new ways of tackling this;
- encourage branches and regions to develop mentoring systems.