Organising to win 2: testing the strength of the membership

American union organiser Jane McAlevey spent two days intensively training a group of 26 full time PCS staff in some of the techniques and practical methods for organising members.  

Her main focus is on forming ‘high participation’ unions at workplace level. Part of the groundwork for this is building confidence and activity through very public actions and involvement of workers in negotiations en masse. She calls these ‘structure tests’.

What is a ‘structure test’?

Key to assessing the strength of your membership is to conduct a series of ‘structure tests’ – literally testing how strong the union structures are in a particular workplace or department.  The idea is that each test would require an incremental increase in members’ commitment to the union

How do you actually do it?

  • Petitions
    The way that Jane approaches structure tests is to start with something like a signed, hard-copy petition.  The wording of the petition would be deliberately kept very simple and very direct – for example, ‘All workers here deserve a pay rise …’.

    The aim would be to get as many members as possible in the building, or site, to sign the petition. Activists would be assigned specific numbers of signatories.  Once a critical mass of signatures have been gathered the union would then ‘go public’ – putting petitions on big boards and making a very public show of the support that the signatures represent

  • Photo-boards
    A follow-up structure test might then be to ask members to be photographed holding a supportive sign.  Once all photographs are gathered again these would be put together on a single, very large board, and at this point get members to be photographed with the board.  Again – only going public once a pre-agreed majority (eg 90%) had been photographed
  • ‘Big bargaining’
    A final structure test that Jane talked to PCS about, and uses all the time in her campaigns, is to get all members to come to negotiations with management – this is what she terms ‘big bargaining’. This has included having over 100 nursing and hospital staff at a set of negotiations, the aim being to make all negotiation public and transparent and to actively involve all members in the negotiating process.

    In many respects, whilst PCS may be some way off this type of big bargaining, the recent use of Facebook Live – in which Mark Serwotka talks directly to members about negotiations as they have just been conducted – is a forerunner to this.

Click here for our interview with Jane McAlevey: Organising to win: ‘We are patient, disciplined and methodical’.

Updated 6 December 2017

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