What’s organising all about?
Many unions have adopted the ‘organising approach’ and the idea has been taken up readily within the FBU over the last couple of years. You might have heard the general secretary or other national officials use the word, or you may have attended an FBU school and heard your tutor talk about organising. But what is organising all about?
Membership of TUC-affiliated unions fell from 12 million in 1979 to 6.7 million in 1997. There are many reasons for this, including the decline of highly unionised manufacturing industries and also the loss of confidence in trade unions largely due to the Thatcher government’s anti-union laws.
Various attempts were made during this time to alleviate the decline by many unions, but the majority of this work was expensive and largely unsuccessful.
The TUC launched its organising academy in 1998, which trained organisers to assist affiliated unions with some organising challenges. This has been a great success and union membership has stabilised over the last 10 years (6.5 million members in 2008) with unions who have adopted the organising approach showing significant growth in their relative sectors.
Organising and servicing
The ‘organising’ approach is radically different to what is known as the ‘servicing approach’ and prefers a more personal one to one contact with members and prospective members. The official or activist listens to the individuals’ concerns and attempts to demonstrate how joining the union can deal with their individual problem rather than, just offering a benefit such as a free will or legal protection etc.
Organising involves strategic methods to improve union membership with methods such as ‘mapping’ – a method that is currently being used in the FBU. Mapping is a process of identifying workers who are already in the union, likely to join the union or conversely records reasons why an individual is not currently a member (see page 8).
Organising depends on the involvement of grassroots activists, officials and reps on stations. TUC research has shown that the majority of non-union workers in the UK have never been approached to become a member of a union. This is also evident within the FBU and particularly on RDS branches. If every FBU member encouraged just one colleague to join the FBU, it would bring the union much closer to our goal of 100% density.
The importance of an organised branch
One of the most important areas of organising is campaigning. The FBU is constantly campaigning on behalf of every member of the UK fire and rescue service, both on a local and national level. It’s vital that members talk about and understand what the FBU is campaigning for. The union encourages firefighters to get involved in the campaigns that they are interested in. It’s amazing to see how members, who you may perceive are not interested in the FBU, will become involved on an issue that they care about.
The key to the organising approach is encouraging members to take part in union campaigns. It means keeping them well informed and up to date on all union issues. Being organised means showing members that they are the union and that, by sticking together, we can make a difference.
We must organise firefighters, from all roles and duty systems, and control staff with the common goal of protecting the fire and rescue service for the public and therefore our members’ conditions of service.
So let’s get out there and organise in our workplaces.