Union activism: alive and kicking

posted by Scott McKenzie

One of my earliest memories is of wandering down Sauchiehall Street on a grey, cold Saturday afternoon. It was the early ’80’s and there were lots of striking miners with placards. I can only have been 8 years old but for some reason I decided to put my pocket money into one of the collection jars. This was an unusal act of unselfishness from a notoriously tight-fisted youngster.

Sadly the collection jars were not so unsual. I grew up in the West of Scotland at a  time where the traditional industries were in terminal decline. Industrial action was common. Union activism a way of life.

In the intervening decades that way of life has come to feel anachronistic for most people in the UK. Excluding the occasional Tube strike.

The NUS demonstration on Wednesday which culminated in the stormy scenes at the Conservative HQ at Millbank may signal something of a return.

In recent weeks we have seen action at the BBC, Fire Brigade and London Underground. The long-standing BA dispute rumbles on. Representatives of Public Sector unions are unlikely to sit still as 500,000 of their colleagues lose their jobs.

These are turbulent times. And interesting times to be a communications practitioner. What value can we add to resolving these disputes? What advice should we give our leaders?

My boss Richard Millar was asked about this on CIPR TV earlier this week. I liked his answer which is essentially communications strategies around managing disputes can be boiled down to two approaches:

1) Escalate the conflict and win – which is what BA have sought to do

2) Escalation the communications and win – essentially be more open, transparent and responsive than the Union. Become the credible source of information.

There has been a lot of recent debate about the value of internal communications. Some have gone as far to say that it is dead.

 Many commentators thought the same about Union activism. I wonder if it will turn out to be an equally inaccurate diagnosis.

Add a comment