Ballot training session: what reps got out of it


Reps enthusiastically embraced a series of recent training sessions run by PCS on how to successfully win an industrial action ballot.


Here’s what a few of our reps took away from the sessions:

Elliot Nathan, Leeds R&C branch

The key things I learned were to:

  • Use a project-planning approach, and plan ahead.
  • Break the task down into ‘bite-size’ chunks or steps.
  • Identify who is responsible for getting each stage done.
  • Make the stages easy to identify and assign to specific reps by using a kind of flow chart.
  • Have conversations with members and non-members using open questions that encourage them to examine their own pre-conceived view of the union/ballot/strikes.
  • Not just rely on ‘facts’ to counter someone else’s viewpoint.

Kay Gilchrist Ward, DWP Sunderland branch

I was talking to a non-member shortly after this training session.

The best thing I took from the event was stopping myself from jumping in to defend why I thought she should be in PCS. I actually tried out the technique we had discussed, of listening and telling her I could understand why she had been against joining in the past.

I spoke to her for a good 30 minutes, trying to not talk at her but empathising with her experiences and explaining that things maybe weren't handled so well in the past, as she felt like she was being dictated to by the rep.

We engaged fully about how things can be improved, and how I could help her look at things differently.  I went through the listening and ‘not judging’ technique and helped her understand a little more about what others think about being in the union and the positives people have mentioned to me. She asked me to give her five good reasons as to why she should join – I said I could only give her my experiences of good things that have happened in the past. I did say I totally understood and respected her decision, either way, and if she ever needed any more questions answered all she needed to do was come and see me. 

I felt as though I was able to give her a fully-informed choice and it was a nice way to find about my colleague a little more as well.

She has completed the application form to join. Positive outcome achieved.

Claire McInally, DWP Greater Glasgow

The workshop was particularly good at condensing many of the challenges we have as reps when it comes to a ballot for industrial action. From the lack of time we have to regularly being told ‘the union does nothing for me’, the session was very useful in providing us with potential solutions.

The talking union session was particularly useful. We were asked to consider responses we sometimes get from members such as ‘I agree with the strike but personally I can’t afford to lose the money’ or ‘I don’t think striking will achieve anything’. We looked at ways we can respond to this by not only reminding members of the hardship fund and providing examples of where strike action has been successful, but by actually listening to members and asking more questions, ie having conversations without a blanket response.

An example might be ‘why don’t you think striking will achieve anything?’ and actively listening to the response and responding with another question as opposed to ‘telling’ the member they are wrong, as this can often make people feel insulted or patronised.

“Our biggest challenge is the people who are undecided, or will make their mind up later, or aren’t really ‘interested’.”

Another fantastic part of the session was where we looked at the membership as split into ‘types’. Between ‘active opposition’ and ‘active supporters’, there were three sections – passive supporters, those who are neutral, and passive opposers. I found this particularly helpful as many of us have spent too long concentrating on people who are either vehemently against the union/strike action or those who will undoubtedly support the strike action.

This session highlighted that, while it is important to have conversations with everyone, our biggest challenge is the people who are undecided, or will make their mind up later, or aren’t really ‘interested’.

I’m now much more likely to have conversations with such members. I might start with asking, politely ‘have you voted yet?’ and then, depending on the response, start asking more questions and offering support along the way…. yes we must always remind people there is a hardship fund but it is equally important to listen to people’s concerns and offer support at the same time. After all, we are amidst the height of austerity. Many of our members are in debt with payday loans, rent arrears, mortgage payments and overdraft charges. Some of our members are using food banks. These are the very people who genuinely can’t afford to lose pay and therefore the very people we need to strike for to win the pay rise. These people are you and I.   

Nadine Gorman, DFID

My biggest take-aways from the Saturday sessions were:

  • My branch is not yet well organised, so when discussing this with other members in a group, we came up with the idea of “branch buddies” – where a strong/well organised branch in the same locality could lend support to a less organised branch, through various different methods.
  • Connecting with members from other branches is really inspirational, you can draw on skills and experience from others.

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