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Issue #1497      13 April 2011

Organising the future!

A major drive to extend the power and influence of Britain’s Communications Workers’ Union (CWU) in workplaces where the union is not currently recognised is currently underway – spearheaded by a special Organising Conference which took place in Manchester last week.

Around 50 activists from 15 distinct employment areas that are currently being targeted by the CWU took part in the two-day event which, it was hoped, will consolidate considerable gains that have been made in local organising and recruitment drives over recent months.

Amongst those present were activists from Virgin Media, Everything Everywhere, HeroTSC, Manpower, Rias, Sky, Talk Talk, Teletech, Cable & Wireless, Vodafone and UK Mail.

In most of those companies the CWU is not presently recognised for collective bargaining purposes – though in the ex-Telewest part of Virgin Media and Manpower the CWU already has long-established recognition agreements covering specific bargaining groups which the union is currently striving to expand.

Also present were activists from Adecco in Liverpool and BT Managed Services Ltd where the union has recently secured recognition. Those reps provided encouragement and advice to their unrecognised sector counterparts, outlining the strategies and recruitment advice that yielded success in their own areas.

A packed schedule of events was focussed on a series of workshops facilitated by organisers from the CWU’s national organising department – but began with a rousing welcome by CWU general secretary Billy Hayes.

Mr Hayes pointed out that, with just a quarter of UK employees working for employers that recognise trade unions, those in the unrecognised sector are in the vanguard of the wider movement’s efforts to reverse decades of membership decline.

“In many ways you are more in tune with the world of work than people in the recognised sector,” he said. “You know what it’s like to be in an environment where companies can introduce sweeping changes without employees having the safeguard of union intervention to mediate and challenge those proposals.

“In 1979 there were 12 million people in Britain in trade union membership and there’s no reason we can’t go back to that – but in order to get there we need to learn from and value your direct experience.”

Hayes stressed that there is “no ready-made template” about what it is to be a trade union activist – but that “certain traits” are virtually always present. “If you’re active in a trade union there’s a strong likelihood that you’ll be active in something else – you don’t just sort out problems at work. Above all, it’s a sense of social justice – the person on the bus who gets up and says ‘I don’t like what’s going on here’.

“I’m sure that everyone here today has had the experience of hearing others saying ‘someone should do something about this or that’ – and then everyone turning round and looking at you!

“We’re trying to tap into that spirt – and we’re trying to create leaders. Bad leaders create followers. We don’t want you to be followers of the CWU – we want you to be leaders, because good leaders create more and more leaders.

“We’ve got a difficult task ahead, but we’re up for that at the CWU – and above all we want you to extend our coverage and encourage new people to become trade unionists.”

Full coverage of the Conference will appear in the next issue of CWU Voice and on CWUTV – but already the event’s organisers are confident the event has given a renewed impetus to the union’s ongoing efforts to recruit and organise throughout the unrecognised telecommunications and postal sectors.

National organising secretary, John East, concluded: “This conference has brought together workplace organisers from right across the communications industries. Those present have learnt from the experience of each other and set up their own network of activists to share ideas and successes in building the CWU.

“The energy and enthusiasm of the participants is a fantastic inspiration to all in the CWU. The CWU organising department team will continue to work with these activists to help them to create strong groupings within each of their companies, able to influence the management practices in what can often be harsh regimes at work.”

He went on to say: “The CWU has set its sights on becoming the union of choice for all communication and financial services employees. This conference has given further impetus to that cause, as the activists present committed themselves to expand the union’s influence and to build tomorrow together.”  

Next article – Waiting for Samsung’s apology

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