Learning, Organising, Winning
Almost 100 attendees made their way to the Centre for Life in Newcastle on Wednesday 27 June to participate in a very practical seminar on building rep capacity and embedding learning into wider union work.
Unionlearn Union Development Co-ordinator, Beth Farhat, began by setting the scene and context of this work and crystallising the direct link between union learning, skills and development, union organisation and economic growth.
Unfortunately, our region has the highest unemployment rate in the country, currently standing at 11.4% with an average of 9 jobseekers per vacancy. This, coupled with more imminent job losses only serves to reinforce the importance and need for a skilled workforce in the region; not only for those in work to remain so and progress, but having the right skills and abilities to secure another job. Therefore, it is about supporting members to develop their potential and remain employable as well as being included in the collective role of the trade union in the workplace.
Carl Roper, TUC National Organiser, began his scene-setting by drawing a picture of where trade unions are at the present time and why it is so important to draw on every aspect of union activity as a tool to bolster capacity and change the 10 year decline in membership for the better. Currently there are 6.4 million members in the UK with average union density standing at 26%. He also highlighted the very effective nature of the learning and skills agenda at raising awareness around the good work of trade unions and altering perceptions:'There is no better story than that of learning and skills to promote the benefits of trade unions and re-set the narrative.'
This was underpinned with some very salient points about people with positive experiences being the best exponents of what we do, and Reps being the most valuable - and often underrated - resources that unions have also illustrated the need for increased capacity. It is their time, knowledge experience and expertise which is invaluable in supporting current members and recruiting new ones. Along with the inherent challenges of raising awareness of what unions, increasing memberships there is also the very pertinent need to ensure that people don't just join up, but join in.
The three case studies featured illustrated the correlation and efficacy of reps and joined-up working practically and 'on the ground', with Simone Lampon of PCS saying, 'Activists can be borne of good learning experiences.' Simone herself started out as a learner, then ULR and has progressed to Branch Learning Co-ordinator with a wider union role. Tracy Maddison extolled the virtues of a strategic approach to their learning, noting that in terms of contacts with members/non-members and visibility, the learning team were at the forefront of union activity in their workplace. John Clark, Unite ULR at Electrolux talked about the signing of their Learning Agreement having the potential to progress the company as a whole and increasing the learning agenda as a whole bettering the union-employer relationship for the benefit of members, colleagues and business.
In response to demand from unions, reps and other stakeholders, the northern TUC and unionlearn are also constantly developing innovative ways to support and develop reps including the following: TU Ed add-on modules, e-notes and online courses. In our region the Bitesize Briefing programme has been running for almost a year which is a series of 2 hour sessions covering a wide range of rep-led topics/updates to enable them to be more effective in their role(s).
The unique placement and expert knowledge of our reps is key to supporting existing members - and also the acquisition of new ones who witness the comprehensive and professional services they receive. This in turn strengthens unions, allowing them to offer even more benefits for their members in terms of partnership working and bargaining at every level.
Briefing document (700 words) issued 3 Jul 2012
This page http://www.tuc.org.uk/union/tuc-21169-f0.cfm
printed 25 May 2013 at 06:23 hrs by 184.108.40.206