How we can be stronger, together

November is Grovember at UNISON – but what is it, why now and how can everyone help recruit new members to Britain’s biggest and brightest union?

UNISON is running a major recruitment campaign and going for growth. After years of austerity and job losses, now is the time to grow together.

We are keen for the union to represent the tens of thousands of workers who are not yet members and have no defence against the attacks on their jobs, wages and conditions.

In many workplaces, 50% or less of the people working there are members of UNISON. In an ideal world, we should be 100% unionised. And we will do everything in our power to help our activists achieve that.

“We need to strengthen the union,” says general secretary Dave Prentis. “We need to make sure that the activists are supported and we need to make sure that our members and potential members know that UNISON is there for them.”

The more members we have, the more UNISON can campaign to protect public services and the workers who provide them, to stop discrimination, to fight for equality of opportunity and for better pay and conditions of service.

Organised workplaces give members a stronger sense of confidence and ability to change things, together with much higher chances of winning recognition where it doesn’t exist.

UNISON has kept our membership roughly stable despite 700,000 public service jobs being axed since the start of austerity. And that’s because of all the hard work that our union – and especially our activists – have done during that period.

However, there are still large pockets of people who have never joined a union – and who need the kind of support UNISON can offer, now more than ever.

“We’ve never recruited more,” says Dave. “But what we’re seeking to do is increase our rate of recruitment still more, and retain more of the members who join.

“Our activists are doing a tremendous job, but they are on the front line and we know the pressure they are under.

“That’s why we’re working to give them the tools, the levers and the support they need – which will enable them to recruit far more easily.

“We want to simplify the way in which people join our union, to make it easy for them, and to strengthen our branches through doing that.

“We want to ensure that non-members know what we can provide, whether it be help when you need it at work, our out-of-hours helpline, legal services, or membership services.

“Our people turn to us for help. And we’ve got to be there for them.

“So it’s important that we, as their union, are strong. If we want to be a powerful voice for our members, it is imperative that we speak for the majority of the workforce.”

So how best do we sign up the new members we need – and who our workmates need?

We don’t want to give lessons in egg sucking to the people who are talking to members and potential members every day in our branches and workplaces. But here are a few useful reminders.

Selling points for joining the union are not just the obvious ones, about protection if someone is having problems at work, but include other work that we do – such as education and learning opportunities, alongside membership benefits such as legal assistance, financial assistance and special deals through UNISON Living.

Think about how you present yourself to potential members and the language you use. Be clear in your arguments for joining, but not pushy.

A good technique is to use inclusive language such as “our union” or “your union”. Avoid union jargon as far as possible and illustrate your arguments with real-life examples of how the union has been effective in the workplace – especially if you have examples that are local to you or the person you’re talking to.

And remember these two key points:

  • like recruits like – UNISON members are the best people to recruit potential new members;
  • “no-one asked me” is still the most common reason people give for not having joined the union already.
Useful tips on starting conversations
  • Introduce yourself and find out about the worker and their workplace: “How long have you been working here? What is your job/role?”
  • Identify issues. Start by using general questions and then narrow the focus: “How are things going at work? What has changed here recently/over the last…? What would you change if you could?”
  • If you are already aware of an issue, use this to open up the conversation: “Are you worried about…? What is happening about…? How do you think you and your workmates could be affected by…?”