Becky Wright is a woman on a mission. Fresh from some intensive discussions with the Chair and Board of Unions21, her vibe, as we sit down to record the latest UnionDues podcast, is one of “can’t wait to get started.”
And there is a lot to get stuck into. These are exciting times for the activism-orientated think tank (my description)/inclusive and collaborative space for unions (Unions21 mission statement). With 24 supporter organisations spread across 12 time zones, and plenty more in the pipeline, Becky is clear that her role as the organisation’s Executive Director is to thread together the diverse strands of activity into a coherent overarching message and strategy.
Unions need good governance
But those strands are both fascinating and vital. Take U21’s work on union governance – unshowy but essential for union success in world where the presumption that individual members and the collective instinctively understand each other is breaking down.
So the work on governance, Becky explains, starts with self-awareness that the principal decision making bodies of each union need to act as a Board, with members accountable for the things only Boards can do.
And as Becky readily admits, it’s one thing to get the concept over to a possibly sceptical audience, but quite another to achieve the necessary cultural change.
Getting to and staying at that point of inflection – where concept becomes a new standard operating process – in turn generates other workstreams. Take the innovative work being done on the experience of union members before they join, as they join and once they’ve joined. Understanding of this is, the argument goes, crucial to making recruitment and organising work as effective as possible, and also key to encouraging members to take the next step and become active in some (any!) way.
UXD for Unions?!?
With this in mind, U21 works with Finnish organisational design (my description again) expert Antti Maki to develop the notion of UXD for unions – that’s User Experience Design to you and I, and you heard it here first (unless you are actively engaged in U21, of course!).
The cultural change in unions that UXD can generate should not be sniffed at, but it is just one part of a larger jigsaw. Becky and I consider what else affects that culture, for good and ill.
For example, workers who are self-organising in the UK, US, Canada, New Zealand, across the EU have many characteristics in common, despite considerable variations in the legal framework within which unions have to operate. Does this mean that no matter what constraints are placed on union activity, union organising can ultimately prevail?
“We shall overcome…..”
Becky points to the way in which UK unions have overcome the balloting thresh-holds brought in as part of the 2016 Trade Union Act – but the picture is not clear cut as we shall see in our episode on the Minimum Service Levels Act, later in this series.
We also touch on a range of other individuals and organisations who are contributing to this work, like MASS LBP on “democratic innovation” Nisreen Mansour on the possibilities generated by the Welsh Government’s recent pro-social; partnership legalisation. And here is a link to seafarers’ union Nautlilus.
#thought4theweek – knowledge is power
Now listening closely to all that was ProfessorMelanie Simms from the University of Glasgow and is her #thought4theweek this time, Mel reflects on some of the key ingredients for union success that Becky and I spoke about – in particular the importance of knowledge and social partnership. A real case of Knowledge is Power – and a nameheck next time for the first person to correctly identify who first coined that phrase.
Finally, if you wish to revisit the Unions21 podcast, co-hosted by Becky and yours truly, all episodes are still available wherever you get your podcasts, or on the Unions21 site.
Access this and all episodes at bit.ly/DuesUnion