Tag Archives: organising

Grassroots versus Advertising

17 May

by Becky Wright

Generally the forces that disagree with us have a wealth of monetary resources at their feet.  They can pour money into TV ads, into billboards and in reaching the powerful to support their aims and messages. What do we haveGrassroots to compare to change the way people think on our issues?

This question resurfaced while I was watching this article on the Rachel Maddow show.  In describing the Republican attack on the rights to abused women who have come to the US via marriage (and whose visas depended on this relationship), she outlines the relationship between the owners of sites that advertise mail order brides (who this law helps) and the groups who are lobbying to repeal the law. Half way through the piece, I began to consider again about the impact that money has on building support for campaigns coupled with a focus on slogans, messages and polling.

A while back I read David Plouffe’s Audacity to Win which described how their planned and ran the Obama election campaign.  With my organiser’s hat on, I found it a really interesting and thought-provoking book.  In his description of how they built a grassroots membership and activism and the importance of this to winning the election, I was struck at first by how this was very similar to an organising campaign rather than any elections I had witnessed.

What impact did this emphasis on people have on the campaign?  Profound in terms of leadership, and authenticity.  If there was a negative ad about Obama, the network of activists would refute it to their families, friends and colleagues.  While looking after the front lawn, they would talk to their neighbours about why they supported him and what he stood for that was in their interest.  What had the most impact on that person’s viewpoint and was able to effectively bring someone on board?  Was it the ad or the person they trusted and respected?  Often we overlook the power of human interactions and subtle leadership.  The person in the community, workplace or family who everyone looks to for guidance or trusts in analysis.  Get that person on board and despite the prevailing winds, a campaign will be in a good position.

I advise campaigners and organisers to look at structuring plans in five basic areas:

  • Goal: what are you trying to achieve (be specific!)
  • Organisational considerations: all of your resources plus what you know you’ll probably need.
  • Constituents:  Allies and opponents and who you want to campaign with/for.
  • Target: Who is the person that will make the decision you will get you what you want.
  • Tactics: Actions that will build up your organisation, and put pressure on your target.

I’m highlighting this because the order of the planning underlines where a campaign should put its emphasis.  Who is on your side and will be your advocates should come a long time before working out your slogan or title.  Groups as mentioned on the Maddow show have endless pots of money to spend on snazzy logos, slogans and ads.  When we try to compete on their terms we lose and overlook the most powerful resource that those of us on the progressive spectrum have – potential of people power.

There is a reason why astroturfing is so big in the US, it’s because those campaign groups have no organisation or people power and have to make it up.  We don’t.  Concentrate on how your campaign will build up your base rather than snazzy logos and slogans because the word of a trusted person is worth more than an ad.

Becky Wright Becky Wright,  Director of the TUC’s Organising Academy, also writes for Stronger Unions

Grassroots is being held at the TUC, Congress House, Great Russell St, London on 26 May.  To register go to http://grassrootsuk.org/register-to-come/ 

2011 Trade Union Membership Figures released

26 Apr

Yesterday, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) released their annual report on trade union membership which is taken from the annual Labour Force Survey (LFS) in the final quarter of 2011.  Carl Roper from the TUC blogged about the 2010 release here.

So, what were the figures and what do they mean for trade unions?

Headline figures

  • Across the whole workforce, union membership fell by 143,000 despite an increase in private sector membership (up by 43,000), and now stands at 6.4 million.  Union density (the percentage of workers who are union members) fell by 0.6% to 26%.
  • 31.2 % of all employees were covered by a collective bargaining arrangement, up from 30.8% and unions are now present in 44.9% of workplaces , down from 46%.

Getting a bigger break down in terms of private/public sector, the figures look more like this:

  • In the public sector, despite a membership fall of 186,000, union density rose by 0.2% to 56.5%; bargaining coverage rose by 3.3% to 67.8% and the amount of public sector workplaces where there is a trade union presence rose to 87.1% from 85.8%.
  • In the private sector, membership rose by 43,000 but density fell by 0.1%; bargaining coverage has been maintained, staying steady at 16.9% and union presence in workplaces fell to 28.5% from 29.6%.
  • In the male/female split, density remains higher amongst women employees (28.7%) than amongst male employees (23.4%).


These figures represent a mixed picture of decline and increase from the figures for 2010.  And the points I’d raise on the initial analysis of the figures are:

  1. We are seeing a continued fall in total union membership.  While the rise in private sector membership is welcome, total union membership continues to fall.  However, unlike the 1980s and 1990s, this fall is much shallower and the differentials in decline are much less pronounced.  The large decrease in membership should also be taken into the wider context of an overall loss of public sector jobs (369,000) in the same period.
  2. Decline in presence should be of concern for unions. 
  3. The picture on union density is mixed.  In 2011, overall density fell by 0.6% which is the norm since 1995 (it fell in all but three years).  However, public sector density rose slightly which is the first increase since 2000 and even in the private sector, which saw a fall of 0.1%, saw its smallest decline since 2000.
  4. Collective bargaining has risen.  The area where we had a real concern, saw a slight reversal of trend with the first increase in workers covered by collective agreements since 1998.  This is great news but we need to keep this trend going up to have an impact on worker wages. 

A mixed picture for us then with some positives which we didn’t have in 2010, but still one that shows that we need to work hard to continue to organise and unionise.  Look out for postings over the next week from our union contributors to see what it means for their sectors and unions.

Becky Wright

Becky Wright, Director, Organising Academy, TUC

Follow Becky on Twitter: @BeckyTUC

Becky also writes for Stronger Unions

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