You’ll be amazed when Chris Williams, a union rep at the Open University and member of UCUCommons, reveals the One Weird Trick for winning this dispute.
It’s fun to say “The union’s us! We are the union!”, and it’s also true, But at times like this, when our (democratically elected) negotiators are doing their thing, and we just have to wait and see what they can get for us, it’s much more difficult than usual.
So, if you’re like me and want to win this dispute, for your colleagues, for the people you care for, and for yourself (it’s allowed!), there’s a certain feeling of helplessness going on. How can we help get a result? If this was a football match, we could at least cheer or wave inflatables.
The way to win is to keep getting stronger, and keep adopting new ways of working. If management can see steadily increasing membership, increasing support, strike funds getting stronger, branch reps knowing more and more of their legal rights . . . they don’t know how much stronger we might get, what we might get good at next. Thus they don’t how much more difficult it might be to beat us in the future. To avoid the risk of losing badly in the future, they will settle, in an attempt to put us back in the box. We never convince them with our arguments; we only ever convince them with the power that we can deploy. Or, they think we might deploy.
What could you do to help? Here’s my One (OK Eleven) Weird Trick(s).
— campaign: luckily UCU comms are giving us stuff we can do. Blitz your MP/MSP/AM with messages (this sometimes works surprisingly well: it’s how we began the process of getting Senedd on side, for example), forward that message, etc. It seldom takes more than 10 mins and it never involves getting cold.
— resilience: if our local committees have a person shadowing each role, we’re not brought to a halt by illness or family crisis. Can you phone a friend?
— coverage: as our percentage of members in every part of our institutions gets higher, more and more units ‘flip’ from being places where only the headbangers strike, to being places where it’s the done thing. Recruitment is good, and when the union’s fighting (ie this year) more people join.
— comms: if you’ve got four people up to speed on the branch’s social media strategy, you’ve got someone on call to respond to your local management when they try it on. After a bit, management realise this too, and get worried.
— reps structure: branches with members in lots of departments can find out a lot more about what’s going on. This is very important when it comes to making ASOS effective and protecting members who are doing it.
— bureaucracy: if the branch committee can keep on top of the routine work, then they will also be able to have time to help co-ordinate our industrial action. Anyone fancy a boring afternoon volunteering in the office cleaning up a spreadsheet?
— casework: this doesn’t stop when we take industrial action. The more caseworkers a branch can mobilise, the quicker it can come to members’ aid on an individual level.
— making stuff: nobody likes being on strike but quite a few of us are really fond of combining a branch social with a placard-waterproofing or banner-painting session. Check out the ‘Placard Sticks’ account for tips.
— heads-up: not everyone in a branch has to get involved with UCU’s regional structure, its liberation groups, with factions (e.g. IBL, UCULeft, or the best one, Commons) or with the NEC. But it’s probably a good idea for a few people in every branch to have some involvement in some of this, so that as a branch you’ve got more than one way of understanding, and communicating, what’s going on.
— plan: When your branch has a recruitment drive, or goes on strike, or sets up structures to support ASOS, or decides to campaign on an issue, has it got a plan? You can always write the plan for these events early, in order to get the maximum time for preparation.
— train: There’s a lot of UCU training out there, and it’s really good to do. Once you’ve done it, your productivity as an activist increases and thus you can knock off earlier, should you so choose.
So what then must we do?
Anyone in their right mind will currently be thinking “Yeah, but Chris I can’t do all this on my own and I’m knackered already.”
It’s OK. You don’t have to do all of this. If you’re already doing something, you just need to keep doing that.
If you’re already doing it but burning out, you just need to stop — there’s other people who will step up, you have done your bit and deserve a rest.
But – can you make sure you plug one more person into it?
Can you recruit a mate to the rank and file membership of the union? Can you tap the shoulder of someone you know who’s a member, and ask if they’d ever considered being a rep or caseworker? Do you know anyone who’d be cert for the comms team? Maybe the person who got into helping out on the picket line last time round could take a turn as picket supervisor for next time to give someone a rest?
In other words, go down your mental list of fellow union members you know — particularly the ones who aren’t doing any branch activity as yet — and think: ‘which of those eleven things above can I draw their attention to?’
If everyone who took a bit of action last time round recruits another member or organises a member into one activity, we’ve got these disputes in the bag. Not only that, but we will also be in a much better position to intervene in our workplaces, and make them better places for everyone.
The union is us. We are the union.