15 July 2021

DVLA: ‘How we have stayed united and organised’

Branch rep Louise Phillips on how they have kept going since April, and on being inspired by a series of ‘Organising for Power’ training workshops.

“I think a big factor in keeping members going through such a long dispute is reassurance, and not letting people get intimidated. All sorts of lies and gossip are being deliberately spread in an attempt to intimidate members and dissuade them from striking. We make sure we are always available for members to speak to us, because if they can't ask a question, they might be frightened, and they won't go on strike.

Our branch chair Sarah is absolutely fabulous and has really kept everything going because she's so positive with her attitude, no matter what's happened. She has had a lot of abuse directed at her, but if the rest of us are positive and we keep her supported she'll be okay. We keep on reiterating that we are a team and no one person should take it on their own shoulders.

We discuss things, including when things are going wrong; I think without doing that we lose our strength. We are all very different people from all sorts of backgrounds. We argue, but I think the different perspectives help. We’ve already got a really broad spectrum of members’ perspectives before we go into any meeting; we're ready for any question that comes up.

We make sure we present a united front. We have had so many BEC meetings to make sure of that. We make sure everyone knows what’s happening and we vote on everything.

Because of the Covid crisis, we're not even allowed to go to different floors or work zones to talk to people. It is a massive problem, so we are relying heavily on our meetings. We've got a Facebook group as well which is very successful. People ask questions on there and it means we can reach people that might be on shift at the contact centre. WhatsApp has been amazing as well for keeping in touch.

Mapping branch advocates

We have tried to make sure that we've got as many advocates, reps or BEC members covering as big an area as possible so that members have got someone to speak to. It’s still a work in progress.

I’ve just been on a six-week series of workshops, called Organising for Power, and it was amazing (see more below).

One of the things they talked about a lot was mapping. Our workplace is a nightmare for mapping so I’m trying an experiment to overcome some of these issues caused by Covid, as well as the fact that the DVLA has always been notorious for frequently moving people around.

I'm trying to do a ‘free-flowing’ mapping exercise of PCS Advocates. I have got targets for people I want to try and get as advocates. 

Instead of mapping people by the department they work in, I am just naming teams of people. I have started a chart with sticky notes showing what floor they work on. Then if they get moved I just physically move the sticky note. I can see where the gaps are – so if a team moves and that means we no longer have an advocate there, I’ll make sure whoever takes their place has an advocate.

If we still have a gap in PCS representation, I'll find out who works in that department, we’ll have a look on Facebook to see who has asked or answered questions and whether any of them work there, and target a member who has engaged with the union, or who has had help. If they have actively asked us to do something to help, I feel that they're more likely to want to give back.

Organising for Power

Jane McAlevey has run a lot of campaigns over her life and has published many books. In these workshops she trains people on how to set up unions or how to organise themselves very effectively. It’s not just workers – they might be tenants or people fighting for their land rights. 

We worked through different scenarios and talked about how to encourage people to be able to use their voice.

It was amazing; thousands of people from across the world were watching this, and then we went off in groups and worked with people from across the UK.

The last one was incredible because we got to go off into groups with people from other countries. There were women there from Albania who were just starting to organise a union from scratch. It was absolutely fantastic. It gave you an insight into how other people were organised and it made you understand that we've got things tough, but we can work our way around our issues.

And it was great to speak to people who had had very real fights and very real difficulties, and they pushed and pushed and pushed. They had so many barriers but they still kept on. 

It just gave me that impetus to go ‘right okay we need to carry on, we need to carry on’.”