Organising Language – Top Tips

Trade unions have specific techniques for getting our messages across effectively to our audiences. We call this Organising Language.

If we use this powerful language, we have a higher chance of our words being understood as we mean them, and, crucially, for the “receiver” to act on them. i.e. rather than to be read passively, the reader will use the words as inspiration to go out and do things.

1. Avoid the “3rd Party fallacy” - avoid referring to the union as a separate entity. Use “us” or ”we”. Whether you are a rep, a member, or a PCS employee, you are PCS!

It is tempting to think a trade union may appear more powerful, if it is thought of as some kind of monolithic, immovable object. However, that plays into the perception that the union is a bureaucracy that has different interests to that of its members. Think of how the media uses “3rd party” phrases like “union barons” to deliberately alienate workers from their union.

It is more powerful to build the understanding that the union is its members. It is empowering and motivational for us to understand that when we act in the unions interests we are acting in the interests of ourselves and all of our colleagues.

Try wherever possible to use collective rather than individual phrases.

2. Use everyday language - not ‘union jargon’; specialist words have the effect of putting-off outsiders. Many organisations and professions (think of the church, the law, or medicine) develop their own language because it is necessary to define specific terms. However unions are for every worker - we must be open and inclusive! Avoid phrases like standing orders, bargaining, resolutions or delegate that not every worker will automatically understand. Long words don’t impress – they confuse.

3. Touch emotions – as well as using simple, everyday language, you should also aim to engage readers’ hearts as well as minds. Show your passion. How does the issue effect members? How will poor pay or long hours affect their family, friends, colleagues, and the wider community?  

4. Convey urgency - this is important stuff, and needs sorting NOW!  

5. Keep it short – It is often tempting to include every bit of information about an issue in a Briefing. Don’t! The clue is in the name – keep it brief! Most members and non-members, like you, are busy and won’t read past the first page.

6. End with an ask – a union communication is pointless if it is passive. Give the  reader an action that you want them to do. End every leaflet, social media post, newsletter or briefing with something you want the reader to do, e.g. join PCS, ask a friend to join, become an advocate, attend  a meeting, sign a petition, complete a survey, vote in a ballot.

 

Examples –

 

“Servicing” Language

Organising Language

PCS can win

We can win 

Our members have received poor pay awards for ten years. PCS recommends balloting its members for action.

We’ve had no decent rises for ten years. We need to take action!

A resolution has been passed by the union’s Annual Delegate Conference to carry this forward

Reps at our conference voted to act on this issue

PCS believe that the only option the union have left is to ballot its members with a view to taking industrial action

We have no option now but to ballot members to strike

PCS reps are an essential part of its organisation, and work to protect and support its members

Reps are the heart & soul of our union…and our eyes & ears in the workplace!

 

Give it a go yourself!

Take a look at the following phrases, found in real union ‘briefings’ and leaflets. Try ‘translating’ them into more powerful Organising (and Campaigning) Language.

“Servicing” Language

Organising Language

Your branch officers encourage you to join the union – it’s a good insurance policy in case you get into trouble at work

 

We want to hear from you as members, so we can negotiate the best deal for everyone

 

The Department have written to PCS to advise there may be reductions in headcount - the union assures members that consultation will take place with you.

 

The PCS full time officer will meet the branch shortly and advise officers of the current PCS position

 

The union would like to reassure all members that we will not allow management to take your rights away

 

 

This web piece is adapted from an Activity in the 1-day PCS Media & Comms workshop, 2020.

You will find more resources at https://www.pcs.org.uk/top-tips-for-communicating

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