Shock! Gig Economy Is Not The Only Show In Town

 

The future workforce of Britain – where the jobs of the future are  going to be and what they are like – has been spotlighted by new research. And the findings will surprise you.

The Changing World of Work, by NIESR’s Jonny Runge (edited by Becky Wright), will be premiered at the Unions21 conference tomorrow.  In a landscape over-populated by talk of robotics, artificial intelligence and the use of technology, one universal truth is that certain industries will rise, and others will begin or continue their descent in the labour market.

This gives three inescapable questions:

  • Where will workers of the near future be?
  • How will they be represented at work?
  • What changes will we need to make in light of the future of work?

For trade unions, the questions are all the more pressing – existential really, given the low levels of union membership amongst the young and also amongst certain sectors pf the economy – retail, hospitality, and social care – especially when the predominant form of employment is precarious.

There are challenges to an “establishment” view that unions are technophobes and laggards when it comes to connecting with the so-called “Young Core Workers”. There is excellent work being done by the TUC and the Good Innovations outfit.  But a key point of the new research is that crucial as it is, we should not put all our eggs in the one Gig economy basket.

This is interesting and innovative territory, and it seems to me to be well-founded.  Runge and Wright have identified and tried to extrapolate  five key  influences on the labour market – demography (growing and ageing population will lead to increase demand/consumption in particular sectors), technology (automation of certain human-only occupations will take place,  but  the extent is arguable), productivity (and what is the post-crash stagnation  become entrenched in the short  to medium term), globalisation (certainly a factor,  but its impact now obscured by resurgent nationalism and protectionism), and changing contractual arrangements of certain services (from, yes,  worker-status contracts (as opposed to employee status), demands  for  a better work-life balance, and  the rise of the “collaborative economy”).

Clearly there is a degree of uncertainty about some of these influences, but using data from the estimable UKCES, Runge and Wright have identified three industries with expected high employment growth – the retail trade (surprised?) hospitality and management services.

Collectively, these three sectors will see employment growth by an estimated 900,000 jobs in the period to 2024, accounting for half of all the new jobs in the UK economy is this period.  There is a noticeable decline in self-employment, a growth in those in workers in these sectors with at least a first degree, and  no dramatic change in the balance between part-time and full-time working, or between percentages of men and women employed.

Three “ones to watch” are also suggested – Construction, Social Work and Information Technology, who between them are projected to add over 600,000 jobs between now and 2024.

The report concludes with a brief over view of UKCES employment projections for over 70 industries, with a preliminary view on the likely impact of Brexit.

From the perspective or worker representation and employee voice, this analysis – with its detailed demographic, hours-worked and occupational breakdown – is very helpful indeed.  The snapshots of the level of  union membership and collective bargaining  give grounds for cautions optimism  that there is a platform for trade union growth in each sector.

Runge and Wright give us the answer to the first of our three questions, and paint a vivid picture of the dynamics and challenges of union organising in these sectors.

Whether it is the overall constructive engagement with workforces that is part of the Taylor review, or practical questions of the extent to which unions focus on particular sectors, geographies and roles, the Changing World of Work is an important contribution.

The Changing World of Work can be downloaded here.

Full disclosure:  I am a board member of Unions21, on whose website this piece also appears

Budget 17: Tax Is The Biggest Elephant In The Room

We just have to talk about tax.

For a brief moment it looked like we were going to cross the Rubicon into a sensible discussion.  Surrey County Council’s plan to put proposals for a 15% increase in council tax – in order to pay for social care – to a local referendum seemed to be a break-through moment.

But in one blink it was gone. The “blink” seemed to be central  government’s,  whose so-called “sweetheart deal” on extra funding has been revealed by clandestine recordings of a meeting of the council’s ruling Conservative group.

Once again a debate on tax was dragged back into the political never-never land.

Until yesterday, when the Chancellor’s decision to raise National Insurance contributions for the self-employed catapulted tax back into the spotlight.  Outrage has followed.

Howe dare such a dirty trick – allegedly breaking a manifesto commitment –   be played on our “wealth creators,” who because they are self-employed are particularly vulnerable.

This furore is over a modest increase – from 9% to eventually 11%, meaning on average £240 per annum extra, with exemptions for the lowest earners and still below the Class 2 (or employee) rate of 12%. 

All this points to the inability to have a sensible, rational reasoned debate on taxation as being the biggest elephant in a room full of these beasts.

In fact, you can’t move in the room for elephants on taxation. Huge great issues that dare not speak their name.

Desperate under-funding of adult social care is one. Endemic tax avoidance is another (not much from the Taxpayers’ Alliance  on this, strangely).   The inescapable fact that for some things there is no free-market solution (take your pick from the Armed Forces to a national high-speed broadband network). We just pretend that they are not there because the discussion would have to involve talking about tax.

The latest row is indeed both symptomatic and depressing. A large slew of tax avoidance activity surrounds so-called bogus self-employment.  As finance journalist Paul Lewis quipped “Set yourself up as a company and take dividends:  low tax and no NICs at all.”

And significant  workers in the  ever-expanding “gig”  economy,  are effectively told  to  be self-employed as a  condition of getting the irregular jobs  they do.

But the bottom line is that the government needs money to run public services and things that the private sector either can’t or doesn’t want to do.  That money comes predominantly from taxation in one form or another.  To have turned taxation into the most sacred of all sacred cows is an act of supreme folly and self-delusion. We cheat ourselves by not talking about tax or condemning those who do.

This piece also appears in The Huffington Post

 

 

The APR* May Be Dead But Watch Out For What Follows

*Annual Performance Review. Photocredit: http://www.flytrapcare.com

Earlier this year, Accenture boss Pierre Nanterme announced with a flourish the death of annual performance reviews.  As I read his rationale I found myself nodding in agreement, but by the end I was more anxious than reassured.

From an employee and union perspective Performance Management is a big big deal – even more so in a deregulated labour market with increasing emphasis on basic pay and pay progression being linked to performance.

Put any ten union reps in a room and we will quickly  come up  with just about the same “top five”  of poor performance management  regimes – inappropriate target setting,  seeking constant improvements when the employee doesn’t have the means to achieve them,  “levelling” or a  lack of transparency/objectivity,  discriminatory  practices , and their use as means to manage our members out of employment.

We all will have had to face the sometimes awful, life-changing or, tragically, even life-ending, consequences of bad performance management.

Without wanting to state the obvious, this is bad for our members but also for the employer who risks productivity and reputation by pursuing misplaced methods.

So when M Nanterme asserts that “the traditional annual review process does not justify the cost, effort or outcome…the process can actually demotivate the vey people that companies want to retain and develop, “ I want to read more.  (I also want to invite him to a Unions21 event to expand and debate this some more).

Reading on, it seems that M Nanterme may be one of those employers who can see things the same way as we do: “No longer will we rely on forced rankings and comparisons of employees…..no longer will we fill out time-consuming assessment forms that focus upon the past. It’s not what we need.”

So far, so reassuringly good.  But it is one thing to identify a problem, and quite another to solve it. And this is where I start getting nervy.

If our same ten reps standing in a room turned their attention to what a good performance management system would look like, I think it would be less likely that we would come up with the same visions. In an ideal world, would we have PM at all, still less determine anything to do with pay on the basis of it?

But recognising that we do not necessarily have all the answers doesn’t debar us from a critical review of the post-APR world.

“Our job as leaders is to create the right environment for the new [millennial] generation to flourish in their careers…..the focus is on the future and how through frequent, timely and individualised coaching decisions – people can improve their performance….” says M Nanterme.

Two immediate issues, don’t you think?:  What is the concept of a “career” in the future world of work?  And just how “frequent, timely and individualised” is the new way of working?

Fortunately, M  Nanterme gives us a further insight: “The change we are making at Accenture puts people at the center [sic]…our people are looking for real-time, on-demand conversations to define priorities and to get and to give feedback….This new approach is entirely digitally-enabled so that conversations can happen anywhere, anytime and on any device.  This is the new world all of us are operating in – with fluid feedback at the point of need.”

Well let’s just stop right there.  A “Martini” approach to performance review. How alluring. Rather like a Venus Fly Trap to an unfortunate insect. Where are the limits to and control on such an all-enveloping utterly invasive mode of assessment? Whose “need” are we talking about?  What means do employees have to ensure that the commitment their employer expects from them is reciprocated?

That is the real and pressing challenge in what M. Nanterme is championing. Every instinct points to anxiety – that the reality of such a scheme will be assessment on a granular scale, 24/7/365.  The savings from digitalising and automating this function will accrue to employers but not employees.  And further automation means that algorythms will present irresistible opportunities for further savings – only for the lack of control and responsiveness from managers that so many 21st century workers have complained about for years to increase still further.

From there it is but a short step to a dystopian “Black Mirror” future where life chances and experiences are predicated on measures you can neither see nor alter.

I warmly and genuinely invite Pierre and his colleagues at Accenture to tell us it isn’t so?

 

This post first appeared on the Unions21 website

IPSO’s Rebuke And The Sun’s Setting Standards

The so-called “Hijab-gate” row regarding the on-screen appearance of C4 newsreader Fatima Manji at the time of the Nice truck terror incident continues.

As Press Gazette has reported, press regulator IPSO has upheld a complaint that an article in The Sun (a member of IPSO) had inaccurately reported the numbers of refugees in Calais lying about their ages as part of an application to enter the UK. The newspaper was obliged to print a correction in print and on-line versions, and had failed to do the latter. Careless would be one, kind, description of this, er, oversight.

But twinned with this was a public criticism for IPSO Board Member Trevor Kavanagh – a senior Sun journalist – for criticising Ms Manji whilst she was pursuing a complaint against the Sun.

It’s worth citing the ruling on this from IPSO in full. After noting that Mr Kavanagh has no role in considering individual complaints, it said:

“IPSO is committed to ensuring that individuals who believe that they have been wronged by the press are able to seek proper redress without fear of retribution or victimisation. In this instance, public comments by an IPSO board member brought the strength of this commitment into question. This should not have happened.”

Mr Kavanagh has apologised and IPSO-sceptics Hacked Off has demanded his removal.  No surprises anywhere there.

But the Sun has form for being somewhat cavalier when it comes to the standards IPSO promote and that, through their membership, they have signed up to.  The ‘paper seemed to “declare war” on IPSO in a row over reports of the Queen’s position on Brexit. Its mealy-mouthed apology to Jeremy Corbyn  also attracted criticism.

So the question is fairly asked: How many “strikes” before you are “out” – out in this case meaning the involvement of IPSO’s still evolving Standards arm.

Hacked Off and others traduced the PCC and, I think, unfairly berate and under-rate IPSO.  On the plus side, there is now at least an acknowledgement and some focus on Standards issues. Last week saw new work on an arbitration scheme, a form of alternative dispute resolution that many thought would not be possible.  And IPSO Chairman Alan Moses has done wonders in securing finance from tight-pursed newspaper groups on a more ambitious scale than the PCC could achieve.

And yet it would be foolish and complacent to believe that this is sufficient. The phobic and often contradictory stance of many IPSO-supporting newspapers is frightening and cannot be conducive to a healthy, inclusive, confident, politics and society.  The New York Times “truth” campaign  in response to President Trump’s attitude to news media also talks to our experience in the UK.

That Mr Kavanagh was rebuked and called out for it  is right and important. The fact it happened on a Friday afternoon is unfortunate. The fact he can still sit on IPSO’s board rightly raises eyebrows.  But the real problem is that he and his Sun colleagues thought what they did was entirely ok.

Self-regulation depends on high levels of buy-in, self-awareness and self-restraint from those regulated. I need say no more.

 

Full disclosure: I was a Press Complaints Commissioner from 2008 to 2014

Hey Eddie – You’re Having A Rucking Laugh Aren’t You?

England rugby coach Eddie Jones has spoken out against the tactics used by opponents Italy in Sunday’s international match. He said, variously, that “wasn’t rugby”, that “fans were cheated” and that they “should get their money back.”

At best this is sour-graped pedantry. Yes, England were outplayed in the first half and went in for the break 10-5 down. But they bossed the second period and ran out 36-15 victors – moving to the top of the 6 Nations’ table as a result.  At worse, if you will excuse my being blunt, this is simply cobblers.

England are on a great run; unbeaten in a year and 16 matches. Despite many reservations – including mine – about Jones’s tactics, the team has been transformed in fitness, determination and tactical nous.

So when Italy determinedly and pre-meditatedly tried to frustrate the men in white by refusing to form a ruck it was almost the equivalent, as commentators have been quick to point out, of bowling underarm in a cricket test match.

Tactically, it clearly threw a spanner in England’s works.  They seemed slow to comprehend what coach Connor O’Shea had put into play and then pondered what to do about it – prompting the best line of the tournament to date from match official Romaine Poite: “I am the referee not your coach.”

A few points here, aside from the overbearing fact of an England win:  First, the referee is in charge of the game.  If he didn’t see a problem, then the players have to just get on and deal with it. Second, England are one of the leading Rugby nations. No offence but Italy aren’t (yet). If this David needed a no-ruck strategy as their slingshot to challenge Goliath, then that is surely fair enough.

Third, it’s exciting. Although there are modifications to the rules all the time (it seems), there is little startling difference from one game to another.  The Italians should be applauded for daring to be innovative.  Certainly most of my friends and workmates who follow the sport agree.

And fourth, it is actually good for England to be challenged in this way.  To have to recognise and then work out how to counter such a strategy (not so very difficult – in theory anyway – you can contrive to pull people in in order to form a ruck) –it is a great learning exercise for a team that  is currently meeting just about every challenge  (New Zealand excepted, but I would hope that will come).

The young men I coach came up with their own bit of innovation on Sunday too: Taking a restart, the ball was kicked along ground, not up in the air. Totally flummoxed the opposition and we duly scored a valuable try. Not the orthodox way of doing things, but no objection from the referee.

I was pleased at this innovation and my opposite number took note of it for probable reproduction in his own training sessions.

That our national coach doesn’t have such a similarly positive outlook is a shame.

 

This article also appears in The Huffington Post

How Useful Are The Things You Forget?

Dedicated to anyone who has lost something precious and personal, especially a handbag

Losing your handbag.  Whether carelessness or theft, it’s a thump to the guts isn’t it?  You feel winded, shocked, angry, assaulted, upset. You curse and scold yourself. The realisation of what you have to cancel, replace, make do without, have lost forever can be head-spinning, nauseating.

But just how well do we know what we’ve got where? What is in the handbag now travelling solo on the Tube, and what is in the purse safely in your coat pocket? And what is somewhere else entirely – sometimes somewhere so safe that we’ve forgotten where it is all-together.

And as you start to regain some equilibrium in this chaotic sea, the realisation of the possible harm hits home.  Oh heavens – those James Freedman warnings of why driving  licence and keys and bank cards  should never be kept together,  how easy it is for a malcontent  to clear out your bank account, steal your identity, burgle your home.

But is not the real puzzler, not what you’ve lost but what you don’t know you’ve lost?  The personal nuggets in the corners of the pockets in your bag. The bit of paper with the PIN numbers you should never write down.  The folded up and folded again cheque you’ve been waiting to pass a bank to cash. The business card of a key contact. Your kid’s first tooth. A letter from your long-dead much-missed grandparent. The USB stick with those photos on it.

It could be something or it could be nothing, but the disconcerting and unnerving thing is that we don’t know, and so we don’t know how useful the things we forget can be – both to us and others.

Just like life really!

Unions Need Good Governance

Good governance in action? (Not the NEC, but the Russian Federation Council in session)

 

As trade unionists we demand, fairly, that the enterprises employing our members are run properly. We challenge bad management and expose the worst excesses – the Philip Greens and CityLinks and Sports Directs.  In short we champion good governance.

That is entirely correct, but do we do as we say others must?  What does good governance look like for trade unions?

It is an important question and not just because of the expectations we have of other employers.  Yes, other employers, because we are significant employers too.  And unions also are subject to the same commercial norms as every other business.  Yes – business, because if we spend more than we earn, we will go bust, just like any other business.

Well if only it were that simple. Because of course we are not just like any other company or even voluntary sector organisation. We have specific reporting and accounting responsibilities – the AR21 required by the Certification Officer for example.  We also have peculiar obligations under the so-called Lobbying Act.

Then there are the not-so-merry dances required by the Trade Union Act and the exposure to punitive legal action for failing to comply.

Whereas most firms in most sectors have their own regulatory jungle to cut through, the dynamics of unions give us a distinctive set of circumstances.  We are proud champions of democracy, but this sometimes leads to confusion or even conflict as to where authority lies – at head office or in branches.  Often it is at Conference – but only when conference is in session! And from an employment perspective, who should union managers talk to first about some big issue or other – their own staff side reps or the elected policy makers?

We champion diversity and inclusivity, but the numbers of employees or elected reps are rarely, if ever, in proportion with our membership in terms of age, gender, ethnicity (and so on). And attempts to press the issue, by the use of reserved seats, or the creation of bespoke networks or sections can be resisted, tokenistic or viewed as a distortion rather than a facilitator of union values.

And on top of all this, we have an electoral process for selecting leaders that seems – on the basis of turnout – to fail to engage the clear majority of union members.

We are, of course, like all membership organisations – struggling to reconcile what we do on organising and servicing. Except we can’t necessarily chose who to recruit or who, in a controversial legacy from the “closed shop”  (and how old does it make me feel to need to  hyperlink that!) era, who to expel. And we do seem to have attracted a stalker to rival the hostility of most of the mass media in the form of HMRC, who have thrust themselves upon a number of unions over the last couple of years.

This unique cocktail of circumstances and constraints actually makes good governance even more important.  Because some of the inevitable consequences of good governance are the very things unions need to survive today’s sometimes existential challenges: A strong, clear sense of purpose. An esprit de corps.  Clear lines of accountability and management. A “good to know” not “need to know” culture. Searching, identifying and sharing “best practice” being an expected virtue.

In my book, we need to go no further in the search for what “Good Governance” looks like in our world: It is summed up in these key outputs. And all of these characteristics are impervious to the servicing/organising conundrum, internal pension reform, hostile government, bad employers and “heart-sink” members. These are things that we can –should, must – do for ourselves.

I hope I will be caught in a metaphorical cloudburst of comments and contributions that show how good governance is the norm and not, as I fear, still mainly an aspiration.

And before anyone gets carried away,  let’s not forget that the union movement is the largest membership based outfit in the country and what we deliver for and with our members changes lives and society.

This piece also appears on the Unions21 website. The Unions 21 conference on 21 March will look at what unions can do  to increase capacity and extend our influence – including some essential elements of good governance. You can  find ourt more and register for a place at http://bit.ly/2kgUGbh

Needed: Our own Garibaldi to Trump Trumpism

 

(photocredit – author)

Inauguration Night saw a demonstration of several hundred in St Peter’s Square Manchester, where I happened to be. One of very many, and very understandable:  His election statements were incendiary, explicitly and xenophobic. And yet….

And yet, of course, he won.  “Down with Trump”. Is that what we are saying?  Down with the outcome of an election we lost. Down with the will of the people? Down with democracy?

We are in potentially dangerous territory here. If we are democrats, then we can’t just accept the results we like.

But of course, “we” may not all be democrats.  That shouldn’t be shocking. Didactic politics are not only the preserve of the (extreme) right.  So, fair enough, if you do not believe in democracy, there’s no problem rejecting its unpalatable outcomes.

But that’s not going to account for very many people.  So the rest of us are facing a wrestling match with our principles.

Well, refuge can be sought in a number of places: The election was fixed – most likely by Russian smears and internet interferences.  The electoral system is unfair – Hilary won the popular vote.  Votes were miscounted in key states.

All these positions would lead us to challenge the election – to call for a rerun.  That is a different tack to excoriating the victor.

Even if you accept – as most do – that Trump has torn up just about every precedent and norm in the political playbook and we are in truly exceptional circumstances, do we abandon democracy? States of Emergency and other similar suspensions of the people’s mandate are usually the work of governments under pressure and are either short-lived or a staging post to autocracy. So are we the people really saying democracy no longer applies?

But look again at the poster.  “Oppose Trump and his racism” the emphasis is added but important.  This is not about the man, nor his position as president – it is about the racism that was undeniably evident during his campaign. Other placards and posters proclaim that in the “US, Britain Everywhere, Stand Up to Racism.” That  “Black Lives Matter”. The objection here is to racism. It’s easy at present to see Trump and only Trump on the flip side of the racist coin, and understandable  how the demarcation line  between objecting to his racism and respect for a democratic process, can be blurred.

Roll forward twenty-four hours and across the UK there is a huge response by women motivated by Trump’s unambiguous sexism.

And there, in the space of those 24 hours, we see the ability of race and gender to act as a prism. To provide the common platform on which to hold the powerful to account.  What is missing from that troika is something that unites and motivates people on the basis of our shared economic experience or views about society in general.

You might call it a class-based view of the world, but whatever the label the absence of it is the crucial element in the context of our own politics.

Because with no shared set of experiences or shared view, where is the basis for a wide-ranging inclusive, community based approach?  Where is the basis of a Labour Party revival?

That’s why the NHS is so important – it remains the exemplar of a shared set of views and experiences.  It’s why in London, public transport is such a key concern and touchstone.

And we have a major, almost existential problem here.  Because the UK landscape is so impoverished,   commoditised,  ghettoised, and atomised it is  hard to  identify and sustain  the very shared experiences and  values that are  necessary  for  progressive populism.

Instead, what we have is internet-driven individualism with increasing xenophobia used to explain short-comings and hardships.

Progressives recognise the challenge and necessity of recapturing populist values from the right. But thinking on how this can be achieved is still developing – or is muddled. For example, hostility to “liberal elites”, so visible in Trump’s rhetoric is seeping from the right-wing into the mainstream,  requiring contributions  from  surprising  quarters to  remind us that the left needs to expose reactionary nonsense,  not  ape it.

As talk of a “progressive alliance” gains ground, especially in the run-up to the two Parliamentary by-elections on 23 February, does this provide a hopeful way forward? I am irresistibly drawn to the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland as a loose comparator.  Would it be possible for the centre and left in Britain – or even in England – to set aside deeply established tribalism to the extent necessary to capture power?  Despite the energy and intellectual fire-power of groups like Compass, I am not hopeful.

So step forward Momentum.  Let’s be quite clear – more than half a million people joining or supporting the: Labour party is a big deal.  They didn’t split off to form a UK version of Podemos or Syriza.  There has been a clear reconfiguration of the Labour Party, whether that is to your taste or not. So now comes the crunch time, where the stated aims of this group need to be implemented and hopefully validated.  It will be big ask, even without the current internal “policy debates.”  550,000 party members, sure, but only 20,000 in Momentum (with another 200,000 registered supporters).

What is the answer? Where is our salvation? An under-explored area is the devolution debate. This is seen by some as a last refuge/fertile opportunity to build bespoke, local alliances that engage with voters and can achieve electoral success.  The down side is that devolution, certainly in England, is becoming a case of responsibility being decentralised, without the accompanying power. But I like the idea of the left in Britain almost being reinvented and rejuvenated by this city-statism (but, oh,  who will be our Garibaldi?)

But one thing is undeniable: Those few hundred in Manchester and the several tens, hundreds of thousands in London and elsewhere. These are all expressions of hope.

So let me take you back to St Peter’s Square.  The crowd is bigger now – respectable for a cold-ish Friday night and growing. Someone’s brought a big drum. A smattering of incessant whistles, and a throaty growl of appreciation for each speaker. A harbinger for the even bigger demonstrations to follow.

We the people are entitled to say to elected representatives – especially those who exert influence over our lives – racism, sexism, hatefulness, should be no part of what they say or do.

Bang that drum a bit louder, sister. So everyone can hear and join in.

 

#HeartUnions is here – but we need more support!

 

The role of membership data as a crucial asset in unions’ comms and campaigning work is being increasingly understood.  There has always been an obligation, borne of legislation/litigation and common sense, to know who we are talking to and what their membership status is. But the ability to look in more detail at the interaction we have with our members has the potential for us to improve the quality that relationship exponentially.

For example, knowing the email addresses of members who access union on-line services (including websites) enables us to cross-reference that with demographic data to see how effective we are being at reaching certain groups.  This can be fine-tuned in a number of ways:  we could focus on reps rather than members in general.  We could drill down to a granular level to see how much time has been spent on which page of the site.  We can track usage to see when people visit, and what their navigational pathway is.

This means we can tailor and improve our communications   both to and from our members. That’s valuable and important but of course it is limited by the data we hold on website visitors. And the biggest constraint on that is that the fullest – and therefore most valuable – datasets will only be for members.

I readily recognise that there is an arguable point of principle here: We should only be concerned with members because it is their subs that fund what we do.  And by joining, they have signed up for a club (see my piece last week on branding) in a way that non-members or “outsiders” have not.

But with union membership  stubbornly stuck  at  around 6m, and  showing no signs of rapidly expanding,  and with coverage of collective agreements and density  at  depressed levels,  I would argue that  we should, indeed must,  use every opportunity  to  extend our reach  into the workforce.  Once we connect with people, as I have described above, all sorts of other things can become possible. But we have to establish a communication channel to do that.

This is where models of organising and membership come into play.  If we look at many pressure groups, such as Greenpeace, we see that structures that are orientated towards supporters rather than, or in addition to, members.  This two tiered  offering  sees  people  pay a lower  level  of subscriptions –  or possibly  no subscriptions at all –  to sign up.  Their access is restricted in comparison to full-rate members, but that is ok, because their expectation from us is much more basic. This arrangement certainly has lower barriers to entry – but also reduced powers of retention.

Members matter but supporters can play a crucial role too

What would the relationship be with supporters as opposed to members? Here’s my “starter for ten”: Basic generic employment law advice. Local contacts. Campaign material. Information on how to get involved. Calls to Action.  But something that is supporter-specific, an event of some description would be good.  This could be allied to a wider political goal such as the recent “JC4PM” tour, or an appeal to turn out for a local or national demo.

There will be endless permutations of possible and actual support-offerings, but the bottom line is surely this:  we need to reach out to and engage with people for whom a full-blown membership package will not be attractive. We simply cannot afford not to.

Many unions are already engaged in this task.  Forms of organising from Unite’s Community section to the IWGB are actively pursuing new forms of engagement. The NUS explicitly offers a two tier service with their “NUS Extra” programme.  Multi-party campaigns, consisting of unions and other friendly groups,  such as HealthCampaignsTogether and Schoolcuts.org.uk, have a particular focus on a supporter model of engagement, but here there is a specific set of policy objectives as opposed to explicitly promoting trade unions.

In all of this, I believe signposting and co-ordination is key.  There is little value in each TUC affiliate providing generic employment advice.  Partly because that would be duplication and partly because if we ae engaged in a battle for the future of the movement, we need a strong central coordinating body  like the TUC, as the default provider of  such  advice and bespoke centre-of- excellence.

The collection and use of data can give unions individually a key advantage in optimising communications and campaigning.  But it is in the collective space that there is even more to gain by bringing fundamental messages about trade unions to the wider population in a coordinated fashion.

As we enter #HeartUnions week, it is worth remembering that we have no divine right to be the voice of working people. But by aligning   membership strategies with developing an offering for supporters, we give ourselves a hugely enhanced future.

How we can use digital information is an ongoing area of investigation for Unions 21. You can catch up on all their work as well as hear some top level speakers on the key issues we face at the 2017 Unions 21 conference on 21 March. Details, including how to register are here.

This post also appears on the Unions21 website

Trump’s Travel Ban is a Revolution in Action (so what do we do?)

(photocredit: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

 

President Trump’s travel ban is clearly controversial – but I would argue it is also revolutionary. Here’s why.

The ban is a triumph of belief over fact.  The seven “proscribed” countries omit those which have harboured or generated the most murderous of foreign nationals to have assaulted the US and its citizens – like Saudi Arabia.

If we look to the stated aim of keeping America safe, the greatest threat to US citizens in the US is not any foreign national but their own fellow citizens – Over 1000 deaths due to home-grown gun crime for each life lost to terrorism.

And the blanket ban on all refugees is a strikingly obdurate, almost paranoid act against some of the most vulnerable people on the planet, which has unsurprisingly been termed “un-American.”   It may only be 90 days (initially) but that is absolute purgatory if your life is hanging by a thread on a day-to-day basis.

Hang on though – we might not like it but to “dump Trump” is to overturn democracy. Right?

Wrong.  It is easy to see how the office and person of the President is being confused with the policies of his administration.  There certainly should be a distinction between the two.  But the personal responsibility and accountability that Mr Trump has taken for the leadership of his administration makes it difficult to disentangle this.  Nevertheless, if he suddenly comes to his senses and changes tack,   I would happily welcome him round for a cup of tea. (I’ve not put the kettle on just yet though).

“Ok,” you say, “even  if it is legitimate to “dump Trump”, all he is doing is honouring an election pledge?”

I would make two points here: First, what you say to gain power is not what you do to keep power.  Thank you Machiavelli for distilling that universal truth. Second, whatever you may want to do, in the US there is the small matter of the Constitution.

And this is where it gets even more disturbing.  The Attorney General, arguably the  most senior, learned and respected custodian of constitutional wisdom outside of the US Supreme Court, says “Hold on – really not sure about this.”  And the President sacks her.  And the White House describes her act as one of “betrayal”.   Breitbart really has got its feet under the Presidential table, hasn’t it? Disagreement will be not tolerated and vilified.

Three concluding points:  Where is all this going to go? What has all this got to do with us in the UK? And what on earth do we do about it?

The President’s apparent desire to not just “drain the swamp” but to throw every baby in reach out with the bathwater is unlikely to deliver what his supporters want – jobs and security. The instability that his administration is both reacting to and furthering   is not constructive.

So Trump may not see out his term.  Then we have Vice-President Pence.  The US has a history of conservative VPs becoming progressive part-term Presidents (step forward LBJ).  But Pence’s election statements are just as worrying, in many ways, as his boss’s.  It doesn’t look good, but Congressional elections in 2018 will be an early indicator either way.

What’s it to do with us?  Well it’s a global world.  We didn’t have a vote, but the US administration affects us all deeply.  We have a right to say clearly “Not in our name” and “No state visit”. And we certainly need to choose our friends and trading partners with great care as we plan for Brexit Britain. As the Observer said last weekend on a possible US-UK deal last weekend – Trump doesn’t want free trade, he wants a free ride.  Disturbingly it sounds like some senior UK ministers would be happy to accommodate him.

And then finally, what on earth to we – as honest, decent, caring compassionate, democratic civilised British citizens?

We have a great challenge in our own country, the encouragement of intolerance and the schisms in society pre-date Trump’s inauguration.  The “serenity prayer” (non-religious version)  is never far from my mind. There are many things we cannot control, but some things we surely can:  How we chose to live our lives, the values we display as we go about our daily business. Courtesy, respect, compassion. Being inclusive, treating others as we wold wish to be treated.  These are not platitudes or homilies but the defining characteristics of progressive human society underpinned by one factor: Hope.

A better society starts, as it always has, with us as individuals. I’d say it’s just our human instinct to search and find those “sunlit uplands”  and you can’t change that.

To outgoing US Attorney General Sally Yates we say “thank you”