Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Unite Member no. 32806414: Workplace Representative and Health & Safety Representative. And proud of it

I saw this article today in the Guardian. It seemed to me that Mr Gall was rather missing the point of trade unionism. The commenters on his piece seemed also to be concentrating on union leaders and officials rather than workplace representatives (they used to call us Shop Stewards back in the days when Britain had a manufacturing industry). More than a few of them seemed to be taking the line that trade unions were impotent or irrelevant, so I posted this comment:

A lot of commenters seem to believe that "the unions" comprise only fat-cat union bosses and put-upon dupes of members. May I point out, as a member of Unite, that whatever one's opinion of our Joint General Secretaries (and the members certainly express a variety of opinions on them) it's not generally Derek Simpson or Tony Woodley who gets involved when a member has a problem, whether that's a redundancy notice or a bullying manager. Most of the work of unions is done by workplace representatives like me, who aren't union employees, just members. It's union reps who get safety issues in factories sorted out. It's union reps who represent members in disciplinary hearings, and advise them when they have issues with their managers. It's union reps who work every day to try to get working conditions improved, or at least not degraded. If forging constructive relationships with senior management means we get advance notice of planned restructuring and can help manage it to avoid compulsory job losses, then we do that. If it means we can help draft disciplinary and appraisal rules to ensure there are robust appeal procedures built in, we do that too. Just because we're not constantly walking out and picketing doesn't mean we're not fighting job losses: after all, the best time to fight planned job cuts is when they're still on the drawing board. And in any case, even in the finance industry where I work, job cuts are by no stretch of the imagination the only threat to our members. We have bullying, harrassment, management who try to bend the rules, abusive calls to call centres, armed raiders, requests for staff to relocate or change shift patterns...... Irrelevant unions? Not to the members who come to me for help, we're not.

If Gregor Gall doesn't see unions on the plate, perhaps he should remember that not every effective trade unionist - nor every effective baseball player - is a striker. See all those faces in the outfield, watching to make sure they don't drop a ball? That would be us.

Amused to see (some twelve hours later) that nobody has actually responded to that comment (though unionista makes a point about the need for workplace involvement). I'll say it again: full-time union officials are valuable, no question about that - but if you have no people among the workforce prepared to get involved and fight for their colleagues, you're pretty much wasting your time. I'm not making any grandiose claims here regarding my own significance: I have colleagues whose records of union work far exceed my own in both quantity and quality. But I believe - dammit, I know - that I have personally made a difference to the quality of some people's working lives. That means as much to me as any IT accomplishment (and I've done my bit for my employer's profits over the decades). Anyway, please take my comment as it was intended: not as any kind of personal ego-trip, but a plea for the union workplace representative not to be overlooked.


At 15 January, 2009 10:34, Blogger J.J said...

Completely agree with you Rob and as some one with very good reason to be profoundly grateful for my union membership I can only thank you and those like you who are there when colleagues need advice and support.

At 16 January, 2009 18:20, Blogger JoeinVegas said...

My kids are all in unions (all different ones). They all talk about the imcompetance of the top levels, but all praise the guy in the shop that helps out.
Keep going Rob.


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