Unions are about more than numbers, and gain strength from diversity

1 Sep

1 September 2017

Trade unions are about more than numbers

“It’s a numbers game’.. Your strength depends on your numbers”, according to an article on the new “superunion” in TES. Really? Surely, trade unions are not a ‘game’ and are about more than ‘numbers’.

A union’s “strength” depends not only on “numbers”, or on national campaigns – important though they are – but also on the quality of its support for individual members.

Many people who are not in a union, particularly younger professionals, are often unaware of the range and type of work that unions undertake. The traditional image of strikes, disruption, noisy demos, mass rallies and placards does not reflect the daily reality of one-to-one support and advice that individual members receive when they face problems in the workplace, feel vulnerable and turn to their union for help.

As the only education union to have been awarded the Customer First Standard, Voice prides itself on providing a personal level of support and ensuring that individual voices can be heard and stand out from the crowd.

Size is not an indicator of an ability to respond to change. “Leverage” is also created by several organisations working together on a campaign or issue, demonstrating the strength of a wider, more representative and democratic set of voices, rather than just one.

Unions: not ‘divide and rule’, but strength from diversity

In an opinion article on the TES website, Howard Stevenson argues that “divisions within the teaching profession itself, most obviously in the form a divided teacher union movement”, have weakened the position of teachers, although no evidence is presented.

In a democracy, we need diversity of views and choice, and, far from ‘divide and rule’, we would argue for ‘strength from diversity’.

Different unions, while sharing a common purpose, operate in different ways, so providing choice. Voice, for example, was founded on the principle of not taking industrial action. That doesn’t mean that those organisations cannot co-operate, and the education and childcare unions do work together on issues such as teachers’ pay and asbestos in schools, while retaining their distinct identities. 

Diversity and choice bring their own strength to the negotiating table. Multiple organisations working together on a campaign or issue demonstrate the strength of a wider, more representative and democratic set of voices, rather than just one, monolithic, voice.

It is easier for governments and the media to portray a large organisation as being “resistant to change” than several organisations with diverse memberships.

Big isn’t necessarily beautiful. Size is not an indicator of agility or an ability to respond to a changing landscape.

Voice will continue to work with our fellow unions across the UK, in our regular meetings with government and on joint campaigns such as funding, workload and accountability.

Tag: unions

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