Unions come in all shapes and sizes– generalist, covering many different sectors or employers, some organising vertically – from the lowest grades to the MD or Chief exec – or horizontally, in some cases non-supervisory grades on others predominantly managerial and professional layers.
In the latest UnionDues podcast, I chat with Nationwide Group Staff Union General Secretary Tim Rose. NGSU are a single employer union but well established and with high density levels, working inside a big player in the world of finance and the world of mutuality.
So how, then, do you retain true independence from the employer? What structures, organisation and governance do you need to maintain that? What are the strengths and advantages of working in this way as opposed to the challenges and constraints?
The discussion ranges across all these issues and lifts the lid on a fascinating and fluid situation – exacerbated, inevitably and profoundly, by the 2008 crash, digital technology and now Covid. Workers in the finance sector, including NGSU members, are key workers with branches generally remaining open throughout. That has created some unanticipated problems, such as increased assaults on staff (and union) members.
At its heart, the success or otherwise of NGSU and all unions is the ability to recruit, organise and retain members, and to accurately and effectively articulate their concerns to their employer. That’s as much a cultural matter as a structural one (“Culture eats structure for breakfast” as the saying goes.)
We also take our regular sweep around the industrial landscapes and there’s an update on the BABetrayal campaign, with many politicians now branding the company’s approach (to dismiss all their UK workforce and rehire around 12,000 less of them on inferior terms and conditions) a “national disgrace”. Given the airline is in receipt of state aid, and has found an estimated £1bn to buy a rival operator, the soubriquet is understandable
BECTU continue to push for the gaps in coronavirus compensation schemes – CJRS and SEISS – to be closed. Thousands of workers , mostly freelancers, in the creative sector have been excluded from both schemes and reliant on Universal Credit. The Treasury Select Committee became the latest to call for action on this, but Government has yet to respond. When concerns about the viability of many theatres and studios are added into the mix, you can understand why the union has called for a “Marshall Plan” for the sector. Other active in this area include @ForgottenPAYE, @BBCfreelancers, @Directors_UK, @WFTV_UK and @PregnantThenScrewed. There are any others too.
Labour Research’s Lionel Fulton joins us to introduce a new guide to state benefits under coronavirus.
Finally, how postmasters and postmistresses were treated by their employer – the Post Office – when a supposedly fool-proof, error-free accounting software programme called Horizon went wrong is a scandal in the truest sense. Also culpable were the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters who unquestioningly backed the employer rather than their members and who were delisted as an independent union in 2014. Kudos to journalist Nick Wallis who has followed this story for a decade, and to the CWU who offered postmasters/mistresses an alternative, proper union home. The whole story can be heard via the BBC Sounds App. A salutary and cautionary tale for sure.
The last episode in series 1 of UnionDues will drop on 23 June and features a discussion with Paul Day of the Pharmacists Defence Association Union – on a ground-breaking recognition deal with Boots, promoting equality and inclusivity and coping with Covid.