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NEW PODCAST Unions Go Digital In The Covid Crisis

In the first episode of the UnionDues podcast,  I chat with the TUC’s Digital guru, John Wood.  Is the Covid crisis the ultimate stress test for the work he and others have been carrying out in their Digital Laboratory?

There’s lots of good practice, but equally much more could be done, so it’s not a spoiler to sum this up as a “glass-half-full” situation.  We talk about how the laboratory is proving its worth, what “digital transformation” means in practice, and why the Blockbuster video/dvd stores are key to understanding that.

The monumental take away from our conversation was the stat that as of this year, there are more millennials in the workforce than any other age band. When a clear majority of our potential members are native digital citizens, what possible reason can there be for being addicted to analogue? (Feel free to disagree  – [email protected] )

Covid inevitably looms large in the podcast.   There’s an excellent round up of union advice on the TUC website here  I wrote about the under-reported need for proper consultation on furloughing workers  last week.  The scandal – because that’s what it is – of inadequate testing and PPE for frontline staff is rightly the target of a major TUC campaign.  Let’s hope that particular issue is fixed by the time you read this.

But how are unions themselves coping during the crisis?  Are there clues for what we will look like once all this is over? There are already some interesting straws in the wind.

My personal experience is that unions generally are not that keen on home-based working for staff or meeting virtually rather than face-to-face.  There may have been good reasons for this,  but the lockdown and social distancing have taken a wrecking ball to the argument.  What may have been an indulgence is now a necessity and you know what?   People tell me its working just fine.  In fact,  colleagues in  Scotland, especially, have been working in this way for years.  The benefits (personal, financial and environmental) of less travel, and freeing up more time could lead to real and sustained improvements in productivity and lower sick leave or employee churn*

And if these locked-down socially distanced arrangements work,  why would a union pay to light and heat and hang on to a head office that in post-Covid Britain will most certainly be too big. And if equity is released by property rationalisation,  it would be a great windfall for perennially under-invested areas of union work, like organising or youth engagement.

I’m know I am getting a little ahead of myself here – but are you going to tell me that this vision of the near future is unlikely?  (Go on – it’s a genuine invitation: [email protected] )

Our book review this week is “The Lost Decade” by Polly Toynbee and David Walker.  A stark reminder of what has happened over the last ten years before Covid gave us hopefully temporary amnesia.  Everyone needs a baseline from which to work, and this a comprehensive (and thus somewhat relentlessly challenging) view – but the concluding “What Next?” chapter offers relief and hope.  Well written and pacey but don’t read it if you’re feeling in any way depressed. I’d welcome suggestions for future reviews,  and if you’d like to contribute yours, let me know at [email protected]. Happy to record you reading your review too, to play on the show.

You can find out more about the specific union campaigns mentioned in the podcast run by can be found by clicking on the relevant link:

PPE for bus drivers (Unite), Bus bailout (Unite), Ferndale hotels (GMB), Matalan (GMB), Bolt  (IWGB) Unions and Foresight (Unions21)

Thanks to everyone for their interest and support.  Please download or stream, listen, comment or rate, share but above all enjoy. You can also click on the player at the bottom of this post. Episode 2 will be out in a couple of weeks.

Stay safe everyone.

*Not terms we usually use for union work,  but perhaps we should?  Finance is finite, and we surely have a duty get the best return we can on the members’ money.

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