The Skills for Strength organising training day on Saturday 7 March was a great success and I got a lot out of it. Copied below is an extract from my closing speech. The materials from the event will soon be on the regional website at:unisonnw.org/skillsforstrength.
“UNISON is strong, but to survive in austerity we need to get stronger.
“Last year we were successful in recruiting over 25,000 new members. An extraordinary effort, that meant that despite job losses in the public sector, our region achieved net membership growth.
“We have led campaigns that have achieved results. We have seen off privatisation proposals – at Pennine Acute Health Trust and at the University of Central Lancashire.
“We have led successful campaigns against local cuts in public services – in Cumbria against cuts in the Ambulance service and recently in Liverpool against cuts in Sure Start Centre provision.
“In many cases we have been able to stop, or at least limit the impact of employer offensives against terms and conditions – a recent example is at Cheshire Police. None of these things was achieved easily and I want to salute the efforts of UNISON activists across the region who work so hard to deliver these wins for members.
“I want to pay tribute too to the work of activists in defending members in a context of austerity. We have been fighting a determined rearguard action for some years now. It’s tiring. Many of us are worn out. But we keep going because we are trade unionists and we know that it makes a huge difference to our members lives to be part of a union fighting their corner through difficult times.
“Colleagues – I believe that we are at a crossroads. The Union we represent and work for today will not be the same in two, three or four years time.
“Generations of activists have built and sustained our union and we’ve continued that work in recent years with the refocusing of resources and energies on organising and recruitment.
“Imagine our union made up of branches with 80% or more of the workforce in membership.
“Where we have a lead organising steward in every work area on every shift coordinating an army of activists ready to support, represent, and lead our members.
“Communication structures that ensure well crafted messages are conveyed to members on a one-to-one basis, complemented by social media and digital communications strategies.
“Members who don’t just take part in the democratic process of the branch but who actively engage in collective campaigns that challenge the employer and defend and further the interests of members.
“Members who don’t just belong to the union – members who ARE the union.
“Organising is not about branches and activists taking the servicing burden from region and full time officers. It is about the whole union working together to resource, support and empower members to work collectively to address their issues in the workplace and beyond.
“That’s the union we have to become. And if we do, we won’t just avoid decline. We will grow to an extent that no employer would dare take us on!
“When workplaces are organised, an employer would not have an easy option of downgrading staff or making redundancies.
“When workplaces are organised, a council or a health trust would know they’d face effective opposition to any attempt to privatise a service.
“When workplaces are organised, a Government would not be able to easily weaken employment rights.
“If we had a union comprising of lots of organised workplaces, then we could truly speak for working people – and Governments would have to take note.
“This is our responsibility. It’s a daunting task but we’ve made an excellent start. Now we need branches to fully embrace organising. We need to stop seeing full-time officers as the cavalry and realise that the real power lies in the collective engagement and mobilisation of members.
“Colleagues we are strong, but to survive in austerity we need to get stronger.”