Reps in some areas have already gathered to reflect on the recent national pay ballot result, and talk about how to move forward with the organising work that was done during the voting campaign.
A wealth of positive work was done in groups and branches in the run up to the ballot, including recruiting new joiners and activists, joint working between branches, mapping the membership, and increased visibility and communication with members.
Here are a few observations from reps in the Department for Transport, Whitehall, and Canary Wharf, where reps across various employer groups in the new government hub have been working together more since they moved into the same building.
Katie Leslie, from BEIS London & South Branch, said their Whitehall-based reps’ group - including HMRC, DWP, MoJ, DfT and DH – had “stepped up the activity, and in live time”.
“We were using WhatsApp instead of relying on people checking their emails, so we knew where help was needed and when.
In BEIS we organised suffragette-themed leafleting sessions and, through the WhatsApp group, two women who’d come down for a meeting from Glasgow came early specifically to help us and get involved. It was great. So we were not only working around Whitehall but also across the UK.
We also recruited new members and reps. It really highlighted to us the need to be visible and how lots of people had just never been asked if they’d like to join a union, let alone get active.
I learned that we have to take back power and be grass roots again. I think we always knew this but it’s really doubled down our efforts to be visible, friendly and engaged.
On the pay campaign specifically we are going to be seeking legal advice on a possible challenge to BEIS on our pay offer. We are also inviting all the organising groups to our events and activities and asking them to share with their members.”
Ofgem branch organiser Moshe, who works at Canary Wharf, said there several benefits to the different department reps working together:
“It brings more people together. This benefits members because they meet more people and there is a greater turn out at some of our events. The main tactical advantage is that there are some issues that affect the building as a whole, and so it’s useful to campaign on these together.
There was some increase in coordinated work because of the strike ballot. The full time PCS staff organised a meeting at a local venue for members in all departments to talk about the strike.
The main way we worked together was that Ofgem staff handed out leaflets about pay in the lobby, to staff in all departments.
We made a video about the strike – creating it involved about ten people, all of whom increased their knowledge of and engagement with the union as a result.
During the ballot campaign we recruited about 15 new members. We learned that organising basically takes work, and can often demand working in your own free time on union activity.
The result, and my experience campaigning, made it look to me like PCS membership is largely uninvolved with union activity and campaigns. I think [we were] hurrying to get the message out to people that they need to vote. A preferable scenario would be that a large proportion of members are involved in union action, and therefore aware of the pay campaign and its progress. Such people would not need much persuading to vote or try to get others to do so. I think that this could be built up with a long term strategy of focusing on, and encouraging involvement, in local campaigns, so that each member is able to see the benefits of union activity local to them.
We will carry on instigating local campaigns, with the dual aim of winning workplace improvements and winning new members and getting existing members more active.
We think that this will provide a stronger base with more people willing to campaign actively for the pay campaign, as well as act as reps and get involved in collective bargaining.”
Steve Collington, DfT East Midlands Branch, based in Nottingham, said while the overall ballot result was a bit disappointing, work continues to communicate with and represent members on issues affecting them.
“The work isn’t finished and neither are we. We had to remind members (and a few reps) that even in the 21st century, only a postal ballot with greater than 50% participation and majority can legally address a national issue. This is more than you need to change government or a national referendum outcome.
We’re currently entering pay negotiations. We’re looking at equality issues around pay and unreachable maximums as well as consolidated pay rises for members as pensions are often overlooked until needed. Our recruitment rose as a direct result of this ballot.
Ensuring members are fully engaged with the issue is our biggest challenge in the coming months. Pay is common to all of us, yet distractions abound. There are also clearly different expectations based on who and where you are. That’s something we need to consider in the coming campaign.
We’d like to remind members it’s not over until we say it’s over and together, we are stronger.”