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Union learning_ union recruitment and organising - Tulip Trade


  • pg 1
									Union learning,
union recruitment
and organising
Hannah Wood and Sian Moore
Working Lives Research Institute
Research paper 1
March 2007
This research paper was commissioned by the Trades
Union Congress to inform its policy development on
learning and organising. As such, it is not a statement
of TUC policy.
The paper is being disseminated through the TUC’s
unionlearn High Road project.
The project is part of a community programme called
Equal, a European Social Fund initiative that tests
and promotes new means of combating all forms of
discrimination and inequality in the labour market.
The GB Equal Support Unit is managed by ECOTEC.
Unionlearn is the TUC organisation that supports
union-led strategies on learning and skills. It helps
unions to open up learning and skills opportunities
for their members and also to develop trade union
education for their representatives and officers.

About the authors
Dr Sian Moore is Senior Research Fellow and Hannah
Wood is former Research Fellow at the Working Lives
Research Institute, London Metropolitan University.

Foreword                  2
Abstract                  3
Introduction              4
Aims                      4
Research methods          4
Findings                  5
Issues for unionlearn     15
Conclusions               16
Appendix – Case studies   17

                               Union learning, union recruitment and organising   

    This research paper presents the findings of a
    national union survey conducted by the Working
    Lives Research Institute on the dynamic between
    union learning and recruitment and organising. The
    paper is complemented by another piece of research
    commissioned by the TUC based on workplace
    case studies prepared by the Scottish Centre for
    Employment Research1 .
    It is good to see evidence that unions are working to
    promote practical links between their learning and
    organising agendas. Many unions are doing this by
    creating learning organiser posts. There is, however, a
    feeling from learning officers that there still needs to
    be more integration of union learning into core union
    business. Almost all unions aim to integrate union
    learning representatives (ULRs) into local branch
    and workplace structures and there is a general
    recognition that recruitment is part of their role, but
    arrangements are mostly informal.
    There is endorsement from learning officers of
    the role of unionlearn in promoting links between
    union learning and recruitment. The paper suggests
    a number of important issues to be addressed in
    respect to its role, which unionlearn will consider
    carefully when implementing its strategic plan.

    Liz Smith
    Director, unionlearn

     Organising to Learn/Learning to Organise: Three Case Studies on the Effects of Union-Led Workplace Learning. Findlay, P.
    Thompson, P. and Warhurst, C. Scottish Centre for Employment Research. Unionlearn Research Paper 2. 2007


This report explores the links being made within        There is evidence that unions are working to
trade unions between union learning, membership         promote practical links between learning and
recruitment and workplace organisation. It              organising agendas in terms of both full-time
identifies whether and how unions are evaluating        and lay officer structures, and through training.
union learning activity in terms of recruitment and     Despite this, learning officers claim that the
organising. It finds that unions are developing         rate of progress on integrating union learning
systems to collect information on the wider impact of   into core union business remains a concern.
union learning. Union learning officers believe that
union learning has a positive impact on workplace
recruitment and the generation of new activists.

                                                            Union learning, union recruitment and organising   

    Recent research has highlighted the potential of              Research methods
    union learning activity for union renewal (Moore and
    Wood, 2005; Wallis et al, 2005), yet so far there is little   The research is based upon a purposive sample of
    concrete evidence of:                                         15 trade unions: Amicus, BSU, Community, Connect,
                                                                  CWU, GMB, NASUWT, NUJ, NUT, PCS, Prospect, T&G,
    (i) strategic attempts by unions to link union learning       UCATT, Unison and Usdaw. The unions involved
        with recruitment and organising;                          were proposed by the TUC. A letter from the general
    (ii) the dynamic between union learning and                   secretary of the TUC was sent to general secretaries
         organising within unions in terms of structures,         asking them to nominate two officers to be
         training, communication and relationships at both        interviewed, one involved in union learning and the
         officer and lay levels; and                              other in organising activity. The research instrument
                                                                  was telephone interviews using separate, but
    (iii) whether and how unions are evaluating union             complementary, semi-structured questionnaires for
          learning in terms of recruitment and organisation.      officers involved in union learning and those involved
                                                                  in organising. Interviews were carried out between
    Aims                                                          April and July 2006. They took on average 30-45
                                                                  minutes and were recorded and transcribed.
    This paper presents the findings of research
                                                                  The unions in the sample are diverse in terms of their
    conducted for the TUC by the Working Lives Research
                                                                  size; the smallest union (BSU) has around 3,000
    Institute (WLRI) on the dynamic between union
                                                                  members while the largest (Amicus and Unison)
    learning and recruitment and organising.
                                                                  have upwards of one million members. The sample
    The project aimed to:                                         covers a broad range of occupational groups and
                                                                  sectors including manufacturing, transport, health,
    • explore links being made within trade unions (and
                                                                  local government, the civil service, retail, distribution,
      at different levels of the union) between union
                                                                  communications, the finance sector and teaching.
      learning, membership recruitment and workplace
                                                                  Three unions in the sample are large, multi-sector
                                                                  unions (Amicus, GMB, T&G). Two are large public
    • discover whether unions are measuring or evaluating         sector unions (PCS, Unison). Seven are smaller unions
      union learning activity in terms of recruitment             or have a specialist or professional/managerial
      and organising, and the means by which they are             membership (BSA, Community, Connect, NASUWT,
      doing so;                                                   NUJ, NUT, Prospect). The unions are also diverse in
                                                                  terms of their experiences of union learning. Although
     and to                                                       most unions in the sample have several years
    • identify models and practices that unions are               experience of involvement in Union Learning Fund
      using to integrate learning and recruitment and             (ULF) projects and activities (e.g. Amicus, CWU, T&G,
      organising work.                                            Unison), one union (Connect) launched its first union
                                                                  learning project in Spring 2006.
                                                                  The research is supplemented by relevant information
                                                                  from trade union publications and websites.


The respondents                                                      Institutional support for learning
Interviews have been conducted with union learning/                  Unions have diverse arrangements for supporting and
education officers in twelve unions: Amicus, BSU,                    managing union learning activities. In larger unions
Connect, CWU, NASUWT, NUJ, NUT, PCS, Prospect,                       this usually involves a small number of union staff who
T&G, Unison and Usdaw; and with eight officers                       combine union learning with other responsibilities,
involved in organising (in BSU, Connect, Community,                  such as representative education, along with a
GMB, NASUWT, Prospect, T&G and Usdaw). In three                      larger team of dedicated (usually externally funded)
unions organising officers were at general secretary                 union learning project/field workers (some unions,
or assistant general secretary level. In most cases                  including two large and one smaller professional
interviewees were nominated by general secretaries                   union have regional learning organisers). In at least
in response to the request from the TUC. Five unions                 two public sector unions there is a commitment to
nominated two officers for interview, one involved                   making union learning posts permanent positions,
in union learning and one involved in organising                     financially supported by the union itself rather
(BSU, Connect, NASUWT, T&G, Usdaw). Three unions                     than by external funding. In smaller unions there
nominated a learning officer only (CWU, NUJ, UCATT).                 tends to be one officer or project manager (funded
One union (GMB) nominated an organising officer                      by the Union Learning Fund) who has dedicated
only, on the basis that there is no national union                   responsibility for union learning projects.
learning contact.
In unions where there was no response from the                       Measuring the impact of
general secretary, officers were approached directly                 union learning
(this included Amicus, Unison, Prospect, NUT
                                                                     Union learning officers were asked about steps
and PCS). In four cases this was through contacts
                                                                     the union is taking to measure the impact of union
with the WLRI Union Learning Network2, which, it
                                                                     learning, what measures are used, and how the
was suggested, might have concrete examples of
                                                                     information is collected and reported.
recruitment and organisation as a result of union
learning activity.                                                   The focus of monitoring activity tends to be on
In most unions where there was no response from                      learning outputs, i.e. numbers of ULRs trained and
the general secretary it was easier to arrange                       in post, the number of learning centres and access
interviews with learning officers than with organising               points developed, and the number of learners
officers and one organising officer refused an                       enrolled and completing courses. Ten out of twelve
interview on the basis that union learning was                       unions in the sample collect such information3. All
not part of her remit. This suggests that there                      unions with projects funded by the ULF or Learning
are still unions where learning and organising                       and Skills Council (LSC) report information about
are not seen as integrated areas of work.                            progress against agreed targets and outcomes to
                                                                     the funding body. The information reported varies

 The WLRI network was set up in 2004 as part of an EU-funded research project into the impact of union learning. It consists of
national officers involved in union learning in five trade unions.
  One small union is currently in the process of developing a monitoring and reporting system. In a general union, although
information is probably collected at regional level for funding bodies, there are currently no mechanisms for collecting information
centrally (all ULF/LSC projects are bid for and managed at regional level).

                                                                           Union learning, union recruitment and organising            
    between unions and will depend on the aims and             ULRs to communicate information about their activities
    objectives of the project, but it often includes the       to the union at national level. In one general union an
    number of ULRs recruited, trained and active (ten out      organising officer stated that he is currently undertaking
    of twelve unions); numbers of learning centres and         a review of the union’s learning initiatives and projects,
    learning access points established (five out of twelve     which to date have been run and managed at regional
    unions mentioned this), and the number of learners         level. This involves discussions with regional secretaries,
    enrolled and completing courses (eight out of twelve       regional education officers and regional learning
    unions). In some cases this also includes information      project officers. It aims to assess the impacts, including
    on learning agreements (four unions report that            organising outcomes, of union learning.
    they collect information on learning agreements
                                                               In terms of specifically measuring membership and
    established with employers).
                                                               recruitment outcomes, at least two unions (large
    In addition to information required by the funding body,   and small) have developed membership forms that
    one public sector union also collects information about    identify whether new members join as a result of
    the profile of ULRs, in terms of gender, ethnicity and     contact with a ULR. It is recognised that this method
    age. It also receives some information about learners      may not capture all new members recruited as a
    accessing courses from the learning providers that the     result of union learning activities, but it will at least
    union has developed partnerships with (such as the         give some indication of the impact ULRs are having
    Workers’ Education Association).                           on membership.
    In at least five unions (three large and two medium-       One private sector union has developed a database
    sized) information is collected from ULRs and/or           that enables it to track the impact of learning
    learning providers by project workers or learning          initiatives on membership at workplace/site level.
    organisers. Information may then be reported to            This database covers most of the union’s medium
    the union centrally through activity reports and           and large workplaces, and provides information on
    learning team or project meetings, where it is collated    membership recruited at particular sites, in particular
    and passed to the funding body. In smaller unions          time frames. The database also shows the training
    information tends to be collected by the union             record of ULRs, safety reps and shop stewards.
    learning officer through meetings with ULRs and,           Similarly, in a smaller professional union recruitment
    in at least two cases, through ULR surveys. In one         is monitored on an ongoing basis and is tracked
    professional union information is collected through        against learning activities and initiatives at branch
    course evaluations and regular ULR surveys, but the        level. A large union is in the process of formalising the
    union learning officer pointed out that the response       monitoring of recruitment through Union Learning.
    from ULRs is often low and there are concerns
                                                               Learning officers acknowledge, however, that there
    about burdening ULRs with bureaucratic reporting
                                                               are difficulties with attempting to capture evidence of
    procedures (this concern was also highlighted by two
                                                               a direct causal relationship between union learning
    other union learning officers).
                                                               and increased membership:
    A number of unions were in the process of developing
    or improving their reporting systems. One large public     “It’s difficult because the learning initiatives we
    sector union is developing systems that will enable        are involved in may take a while to feed through
    the union to report information from ULRs about their      the system. It’s not necessarily just about enrolling
    activities. The information will be collected by project   people onto courses, it’s about raising awareness,
    workers and online through a dedicated webpage.            professional development, things like that, so it’s
    One small union is also developing a website (‘online      much more difficult to measure the impact in that
    management information system’) which will enable          way.” (Learning officer, professional union)

“One of the things we are trying to tackle at            Perspectives on union learning and
the moment is how you track or identify how
somebody joined the union. If they happen
                                                         recruitment and organising
to fill in a different form from the one the ULR         This section focuses on officer perceptions of the
gave them, even though it might have been the            relationship between union learning and recruitment
learning rep talking to them that encouraged             and organising. Respondents were asked whether
them to join, you’ve no way of knowing. And              they considered there to be a relationship between
because there will be a number of reasons why            union learning and workplace organisation,
somebody joins, this might just be the thing that        and were then asked to describe it. All 12 union
tips the balance, so it’s a very difficult thing to      learning officers interviewed said that there is
monitor.” (Learning officer, public sector union)        a relationship, but there was some variation in
                                                         emphasis. In the strongest articulation of the link
Although unions are evaluating union learning in its     one learning officer, whose job was to liaise with
wider sense, it appears that concrete measures of        the National Organising Department, stated:
recruitment and organising activity are more rare.
However, this is something that unions seem to want      “Lifelong learning is another method of organising
to address. At least seven union learning officers       workers. It is not something in its own right, but
said that this information is important, but they also   something to exploit.” (National learning organiser
recognised it is problematic and not easy to capture.    large union)
At this stage such measures are seen in terms of
the number of members recruited as the result of         In all cases learning officers recognised the potential
a union learning initiative rather than in terms of      of union learning for workplace recruitment,
measures that might capture organising activity at       although organising officers were not so convinced.
workplace level – there was very little mention of       In a number of cases learning officers expressed
how organisation as opposed to recruitment might         the view that union learning may alter workers’
be measured and the TUC might want to support the        perceptions of the role of the union as well as
development of such organisational outcomes.             raise the profile of the union in the workplace and
                                                         thus have a positive impact on membership:

                                                         “It changes members’ perceptions of the union and
                                                         the role the union will have in their personal and
                                                         professional lives. We think it has a strong retention
                                                         and probably recruitment impact as well.” (Union
                                                         learning officer, professional union)
                                                         In at least five unions (three large and two medium-
                                                         sized, covering both the public and private sector)
                                                         recruitment was described as being a planned,
                                                         deliberate outcome of learning activity, but in two
                                                         smaller professional unions membership growth was
                                                         described as being a possible (although desirable)
                                                         “It often does generate some people to join, but
                                                         we don’t see it primarily as a way of recruiting
                                                         people. It’s more as a start to generating activity

                                                             Union learning, union recruitment and organising      
    and interest in the union.” (Organising officer,         members to take on a union role or take a more active
    professional union)                                      interest in the union.
    One officer stated that learning is unique as a union    Three learning officers stated that learning
    activity because it puts the union in regular contact    strengthens the union role in the workplace by
    with ordinary members:                                   promoting relationships with employers:

    “One branch secretary said to me recently: ‘What         “Union learning constitutes another front of
    other service that the union offers puts us in touch     engagement with the employer, another level of
    with ten per cent of our ordinary members – not          engagement, and consequently it needs to be
    active members – on a regular basis?’ He saw that        part of the organising agenda.” (Learning officer,
    regular contact in the learning centre as a learning     medium size private sector union)
    rep, and I think that says a lot.” (Learning officer,    The points discussed above suggest that union learning
    medium size private sector union)                        officers are linking union learning to recruitment
                                                             activity and possibly also to an organising model
    Most union learning officers perceived union learning    of trade unionism where the focus is on promoting
    as an issue or activity linked to union organising:      activity, organising around issues in the workplace,
    “Union learning needs to become another tool in          and raising demands. However, union learning was
    the toolbox of union organising.” (Learning officer,     also associated with a servicing model (although this
    medium size private sector union)                        was not necessarily counterposed to recruitment and
                                                             organising) and six union learning officers made the
    One way in which it contributes to organising is in      point that union learning is a positive membership
    terms of generating new activists. Eight learning        service, although one organising officer qualified this
    officers highlighted this:                               by stating that it is not yet a universal benefit.
    “If we’re going to take the union and grow and           Interestingly, the research suggests that officers
    get a new generation of people involved then             involved in organising may be more tentative than
    learning is an excellent way to engage with them.”       learning organisers about the relationship between
    (Learning officer, public sector union)                  union learning and organising, particularly in terms of
                                                             recruitment. While one organiser was convinced that
    “Workplace learning contributes strongly to              union learning widens the bargaining agenda, provides
    organising in that it brings people into contact         opportunities to engage with workers in new ways, and
    with the union – not just recruitment but getting        boosts the number of activists in the union, she was
    people to become active.” (Learning officer, public      much more cautious about the impact on recruitment:
    sector union)
                                                             “While you can use the learning agenda [as a
    Officers noted that union learning not only attracts     recruitment tool] it’s not necessarily the first
    new workplace activists through the ULR role, but that   issue that will engage workers… I wouldn’t want
    ULRs may also go on to take wider roles in the union.    union learning to be seen as a way to organise
    In the words of one officer:                             the unorganised. I think that has to be a range of
                                                             things and the organising model is fundamental
    “We want our learning reps to become stewards            to that, although the learning agenda clearly links
    and grow because it’s a good way of getting new          in.” (Organising officer, general union)
    stewards.” (Learning officer, general union)
                                                             Four out of seven officers involved in organising
    Two union learning officers suggested that the           said they would like to see more evidence of the link
    presence of an active ULR can encourage other            between activity around learning and recruitment:

“There are examples of people claiming ones and              “ULRs are coming under pressure from the funding
twos and threes all over the place who’ve joined, but        regime to individualise rather than collectivise,
there’s no information that I’m aware of on major            and that is the tension we have. So I don’t
recruitment as a result of the learning rep initiative. It   know whether they currently make much of a
tends to be a couple of individuals here and there.”         contribution [to organising], but potentially they
(Organising officer, general union)                          could.” (Organising officer, medium size union)
Another organiser appeared to recognise the                  Possibly because of wider scepticism within the union,
potential, but felt it was too early to judge:               six learning officers interviewed perceived that there
                                                             is still work to be done to integrate union learning and
“If the union learning reps project takes off the
                                                             organising agendas. As one officer put it:
ground then the effect will be for people to have
a different perception of the union in their own             “I don’t think there has been a full understanding
workplace. That should have a positive effect on             of what the learning agenda offers in terms of
organising and recruitment.” (Organising officer,            building workplace organisation. They have
medium size private and public sector union)                 tended to run on parallel lines and need to be
One organising officer pointed out that the                  more interlinked. Learning needs to come in from
potential link between union learning, organising            the cold… It’s not as peripheral as it once was but
and recruitment is not automatic and needs to be             is still not seen as a core union issue. Until the
consciously worked at:                                       decision makers and the opinion formers accept
                                                             it as a core issue we won’t get the benefits that
“If we leave learning reps working on their own,             learning could bring.” (Learning officer, private
then there’s a tendency for them to just do their            and public sector union)
role in a very narrow focus… We’ve got to actually
                                                             Another officer reflected a widely held sentiment
go out there and work at making the organising
                                                             among learning officers:
link with lifelong learning, but where we do we are
very successful at achieving membership growth               “[Union learning] needs to be an activity like any
on the back of learning programmes.” (Organising             other that feeds into the core job.” (Learning
officer, medium size private sector union)                   officer, professional union)
Interviews with organising officers also reflect the
perception of a possible tension within union learning
between promoting individual employability and
the wider collective role of trade unions within the
workplace (also suggested in previous research, for
example Moore and Wood, 2005):

“The problem with learning is that it’s such an
individual thing and workplace organisation
tends to flow from collective workplace
issues. There are some circumstances where
learning issues can be collective, for example,
language issues in a large group that need
help, but the problem with it is that it tends to
be individually focussed and I think the jury’s
still out.” (Organising officer, general union)

                                                                 Union learning, union recruitment and organising       
     The relationship between                                    “What I would like to see happen is for our regional
                                                                 organisers to see negotiating and organising
     union learning and recruitment                              around learning as part of their day-to-day activity,
     and organising                                              as they would about… any other workplace issue.
     This section focuses on evidence of the practical           At the moment it’s still seen as something a bit
     links that unions are making between learning and           specialist – a bit kind of: ‘Oh, we have people over
     organising work. It looks at the existence of structural    there who deal with that’. The challenge for us is
     or organisational relationships within unions between       to well and truly mainstream this agenda so that
     the two activities and examples of activities that bring    people see it as part of their day-to-day work just
     union learning and organising issues together.              like any other organising or negotiating issue.”
                                                                 (Learning officer, public sector union)
     Seven out of ten union learning officers stated
     that close working relationships are developing             Interviews suggest that in smaller unions channels of
     between union education/learning departments and            communication between officers involved in learning
     organising departments at national level:                   and officers involved in organising may be less
                                                                 complex and easier to establish, possibly because
     “We work together with the organising                       there is a smaller full-time staff.
     department at national level… what we also do is
     where we are having an organising campaign… we              The fact that some unions (generally larger unions)
     provide the training for new stewards and activists         are creating ‘learning organiser’ posts at regional
     thrown up by that campaign and it always includes           and national level suggests that unions are moving
     lifelong learning. We do liaise a lot, but there’s          towards formal and strategic recognition of the links
     no need for us to set up a separate activity. We            between learning and organising. In at least one
     don’t need anything to be set up because we work            union, learning organisers (previously known as
     together now.” (Learning officer, general union)            learning project workers or field workers) are now part
                                                                 of the organising team.
     Five union learning officers also mentioned that union
                                                                 In terms of lay structures, almost all unions report
     learning project workers and/or learning organisers
                                                                 that the aim is for ULRs to be fully integrated into
     are expected to work closely with organisers on a
                                                                 local branch and workplace structures. However, it
     day-to-day basis at regional level. Two learning officers
                                                                 is recognised that this does not always happen in
     reported that union learning organisers and/or project
                                                                 practice. In a large private sector union, for example,
     workers report to regional secretaries and are part of
                                                                 the ULR role is formally recognised in the rulebook
     the regional team. However, three learning officers
                                                                 and ULRs are entitled to attend equality and
     highlighted that although it may be ideal for learning
                                                                 women’s conferences, but they are not entitled to
     officers to be integrated into regional teams and to work
                                                                 be delegates at industrial conferences. In a medium
     closely with organisers, the extent to which this happens
                                                                 sized private sector union, ULRs are seen as part of a
     in practice can vary. In the words of two officers:
                                                                 team including workplace representatives/stewards
     “I encourage regional learning organisers to                and health and safety representatives and the union
     go along to full-time officer team briefings                has developed a strategy that aims to promote this
     and talk about the learning agenda. Some                    approach within all its branches.
     have a standing invitation, others have
     had to be a bit more pushy.” (Learning
     officer, private and public sector union)

Dissemination                                               The ULR role in recruitment
The majority of unions have established information         Overwhelmingly, union learning officers agree that
systems targeted at ULRs. In ten out of twelve unions,      ULRs should and do play a role in recruitment. In
information is disseminated to ULRs through ULR             one large union it is the union’s policy (recognised in
networks and mailing lists. Ten unions produce              recent conference policy and communicated through
newsletters and publications aimed at ULRs and              the union’s ULR handbook and guide for full-time
information is also reported to other activists and the     officers), that all learning activities should have an
wider membership through union magazines and                organising outcome:
websites. In one large union a national newsletter
disseminates best practice in terms of where union          “It is… a central role of all representatives to help
learning has been effective in building the union: case     build our workplace and community organisation,
studies demonstrate the value of union learning and         to recruit new members and hold onto these
bring together learning and organising.                     through first class representation, services and
                                                            benefits. Learning and skills and the role of the
In most cases, information on union learning activities     ULR should very much be seen as part of these
is reported to the national executive committee and         objectives.” (Learning Reps Handbook, 2006)
wider membership through annual conference reports
(eight out of ten union learning officers said this was     One medium sized private sector union passed a
the case). Some unions (three private sector) reported      motion at its 2006 conference formally recognising
that they are developing structures and committees          that recruitment and organising are part of the
at regional, branch and company, site or workplace          ULR role. A public sector union also gives such
level where union learning activities and issues are        recognition. In the remaining nine unions it appears
reported and discussed:                                     that recruitment is not formally recognised (in terms
                                                            of policy) as a ULR function. Nevertheless, three union
“We are moving towards having committees,                   learning officers stated that this aspect of the role is
constituted under our existing regional structures,         understood by officials and activists involved in the
reporting to the regional secretary and relevant            learning agenda. A further four state that it is reflected
regional committee. That is how we feel we are              in practice. Two organising officers raised concerns
really going to embed learning in the future.”              about this aspect of the ULR role:
(Union learning officer, medium size private and
public sector union)                                        “They are a different sort of animal from the
                                                            people we have as reps in the broader sense of
The interviews also reveal that unions are attempting       the word. And the fact that we are attracting a
to disseminate information about learning activity          different group of people is incredibly healthy and
throughout the wider union and at different levels of       encouraging. For example, a higher number of
the union. This includes briefing and dissemination         women and a higher number of ethnic minorities
events (at national and regional level) aimed at            are coming forward as ULRs, which is superb. It is
full-time officers, activists and ULRs (four unions cite    because they are coming in as ULRs that they are
examples of such events); training for full-time officers   attracted. If we added things on then I think we
(three unions mentioned this); and regional seminars        may cut off that supply. We need to address the
and conferences (three unions). In one private sector       issue of development as ULRs first, keep in touch
union all organisers receive a guide to union learning      with them, and then at the appropriate point start
when they join.                                             to develop them in areas such as recruitment.”
                                                            (Organising officer, professional union)

                                                                Union learning, union recruitment and organising         
     Another organiser suggested that ULRs should only          Union learning and non-members
     be involved in recruitment if it is part of the wider
     branch organising strategy:                                In terms of building the union in the workplace, one
                                                                issue is whether non-members get access to union
     “[There may be a problem] if it’s just ad hoc              learning. The links between union learning and non-
     based on education without any reference to why            members appear to be fairly complex. In one large
     people should become union members. But [it’s              private sector union learning is offered to the entire
     best done] in a joined-up way with the branch…             workforce. Non-members will be asked to join the
     because I do think what [ULRs] are offering                union, but the starting point is always that all workers
     is something relevant to working people.”                  have the chance to take part in courses arranged by
     (Organising officer, general union)                        the union. Two private sector unions and one with
                                                                both private and public sector members, have no
     Although there seems to be a general recognition           formal position on this – ULRs will decide on the right
     of the importance of recruitment and organising in         approach to take in their workplace:
     the ULR role, especially among learning officers, in
     practice it is not generally part of ULR training. In      “We don’t have a hard and fast policy. The
     two exceptions – one largely private and one largely       reason is that in some cases, depending on
     public sector – ULR training includes a focus on           local circumstances, it is a way of connecting
     organising, i.e. how to recruit, how to communicate        with non-members and bringing them
     with members and how to communicate with                   into the union. It [depends on] the overall
     branches. In the public sector union ULRs are also         recruitment and organising strategy of
     encouraged to attend introductory courses for new          the branch.” (Learning officer, medium
     representatives where these issues are covered in          size public and private sector union)
     more detail.                                               One small professional union draws a distinction
     In two unions – one public and one private sector          between the union’s learning programmes and the
     – organising was described as being ‘implicit’ in ULR      ULR role. Its Continuing Professional Development
     training materials and course discussions, but there       (CPD) programme and ICT skills courses are open to
     were plans to develop this to make it more explicit.       all workers, whether they are members or not. The
     At least three other unions (one large and two small)      ULR role is more problematic and it is recognised
     have plans to develop their ULR training to include        that there may be a difference between the union’s
     more emphasis on recruitment and organising and            formal position – that the ULR represents and
     another small union has run organising courses for         provides a service to members – and what may be
     ULRs in the past.                                          happening in practice.

     At the same time, union learning is being                  “There are places where local authorities are
     incorporated into courses for other union activists        brokering local deals where ULRs will represent
     in six unions. Unions also run conferences and             all members of all unions in schools… What we
     seminars on union learning issues at regional and          say nationally is that you represent members
     national level aimed at branch officers and activists,     in your union… the people who have elected
     as well as ULRs. Officers from two large private sector    you, not members in other unions, even though
     unions mentioned that union learning is currently          pragmatically that may be happening on the
     incorporated into full-time officer training and seven     ground.” (Learning officer, professional union)
     out of twelve union learning officers stated that they     Another professional union promotes union learning
     would like to see this developed further in their union.   to non-members through general information and

taster sessions, with the specific aim of encouraging    Examples of recruitment through
recruitment. This is not defined as a formal policy,
but is described as a ‘pragmatic decision’ that
                                                         union learning
is consistent with the union’s approach to other         Eleven out of twelve union learning officers said they
services, such as pensions and finance.                  were aware of concrete examples where the union
In a large public sector union, programmes that are      has recruited new members through union learning
funded by the union are available to members only.       activities. Five provided examples of branches or
Workplace initiatives delivered in partnership with      workplaces where this had happened, and three
employers and part-funded by employers are made          referred to examples reported in union publications.
available to the entire workforce. A private sector      Two referred to colleagues who would be able to
union’s approach is similar in that, where union         provide examples. A number of these examples can
learning is funded by the union, it is for members       be found in the Appendix.
only. If it is in partnership with the employer, there
are several positions that the union may take. They      Learning and organising
include members-only learning; learning available        and the TUC
to all staff with course fees waived or reduced
for members; learning where members are given            All learning officers interviewed agreed that the
priority; and learning where courses are offered         TUC should be promoting learning as an organising
to all staff but are clearly promoted as unionlearn      issue. Eight officers stated that the TUC performs a
initiatives. The local context will determine which      useful function in promoting the learning agenda,
position is adopted, although the union is clear that    disseminating information across unions and
the preferred model is the ‘members only’ one.           facilitating the exchange of information and good
                                                         practice through ULR networks. Three learning
                                                         officers and four organisers stated that the TUC
                                                         should continue to develop this work.
                                                         Three learning officers said that they would
                                                         like to see more information and development
                                                         material aimed specifically at professional,
                                                         specialist and managerial unions:

                                                         “I know the TUC has produced some case studies,
                                                         and they are good, but they are not always
                                                         closely relevant to our members.” (Learning
                                                         officer, professional union)

                                                         “We’ve had stop/start support for specialist unions.
                                                         We had some seminars and networking of unions
                                                         providing professional development and other
                                                         teaching organisations and that has certainly
                                                         been very useful, but there’s no clear continuation
                                                         of that programme… there has not been ongoing
                                                         support for specialist unions, but the opportunity
                                                         to network and share ideas is very important.”
                                                         (Learning officer, professional union)

                                                            Union learning, union recruitment and organising      
     Another three learning officers stated that they would     “The TUC has a role in ensuring that unions
     like to see more evidence of the benefits of learning to   understand that at some point the learning
     unions as organisations and in terms of the organising     agenda has to become our agenda. The Union
     agenda. One officer suggested that a guide or booklet      Learning Fund has provided a nice safety net… but
     could be produced on the benefits of learning to           we need to get serious.” (Learning officer, medium
     unions, along similar lines to the booklet recently        private and public sector union)
     produced on the benefits of learning to employers.
                                                                Six learning officers stated that the key area of work
     One learning officer noted that while the TUC can          is integrating union learning in core union business:
     support unions in developing links between learning
     and organising, it should not dictate whether and          “Integrating the role of the learning rep more
     how this should be done:                                   closely with the union agenda as a whole is crucial
                                                                for the future development of the role… It’s about
     “It’s down to unions themselves to decide how to           ensuring at all levels that this sort of integration
     organise and… link their campaigns with learning,          takes place, within training and within unions’
     or not as the case may be. The TUC can help and            democratic structures, so that ULRs continue
     support, particularly through training, full-time          to play a vital role and are supported and taken
     officers and reps, but I think that is the limit of        seriously.” (Learning officer, private and public
     what it should do.” (Learning officer, medium size         sector union)
     public and private sector union)
                                                                In order to generalise learning throughout the
     It was also acknowledged by officers that the TUC          union, training was highlighted as an area for
     cannot organise around learning on a union’s behalf        further work by five union learning officers. One
     and that this can only be done by activists on the         officer emphasised the need to develop the TUC
     ground. In the words of one officer:                       representatives’ programme so that it covers
     “Background information is good – it’s the kind            learning issues and three officers felt that organiser
     of thing we need to be equipping our branch reps           training should be developed to provide more
     and our organisers [with] to feel confident to go in       emphasis on learning. One officer suggested that
     and talk to employers. Our role and the TUC’s role         the TUC could organise ad hoc courses, briefings
     is to help reps do that, not to go in and do it for        and seminars specifically on learning and organising
     them.” (Learning officer, public sector union)             for senior union officers and workplace activists.
                                                                Two officers mentioned that ULR courses should be
     Two learning officers stressed that the TUC should work    developed to include organising.
     more closely with unions at local/workplace level:
                                                                On the whole the organising officers were less
     “For me it’s crucial that whatever the TUC does, it        likely to offer suggestions for the TUC. They are less
     does it in concert with the union involved in the          likely to be critical of the work the TUC is doing in
     workplace. That’s the only way we can sustain              terms of the learning agenda, but the interviews
     [learning] into the future and mainstream it.”             suggest that organisers are less familiar with what
     (Learning officer, public sector union)                    this work involves. This could indicate that there is a
                                                                role for the TUC in improving communications with
     One officer felt that an important role for                organising officers on learning issues and promoting
     the TUC lies in encouraging unions to take                 networks between learning and organising officers
     ownership of the learning agenda:                          across affiliates.

Issues for unionlearn

The interviews highlighted a number of areas   • a review of ULR training to include a greater
of potential work for unionlearn, including:     emphasis on recruitment and organising;
                                               • a review of full time officer (FTO),
                                                 organiser and activist training to include
                                                 a greater emphasis on learning;
                                               • collection/dissemination of evidence of the
                                                 benefits of union learning to trade union
                                                 recruitment and organisation, including on the
                                                 impact of learning initiatives on membership,
                                                 activism, union profile, branch and workplace
                                                 activity, and union/employer relationships;
                                               • the development of measures which
                                                 reflect recruitment and organising
                                                 gains from union learning;
                                               • more practical examples of links being made
                                                 between learning and organising agendas;
                                               • support for the development of a clearer
                                                 understanding of how union learning forms part
                                                 of an integrated industrial role for unions and the
                                                 identification of models of integration;
                                               • a greater focus on union learning in terms of
                                                 professional, specialist and managerial unions.

                                                   Union learning, union recruitment and organising    

     This research illustrates the positive measures             Unions are evaluating union learning in its wider
     unions are taking to integrate union learning with          sense, but this generally means measuring union
     the wider union agenda, in particular recruitment           learning in terms of the recruitment of members,
     and organisation.                                           although learning officers emphasised that it is not
                                                                 always possible to identify a causal relationship
     The creation in some major unions of ‘learning
                                                                 between the two. Measures of organising activity or
     organiser’ posts at regional and national level
                                                                 bargaining are rare and this is something unions may
     suggests that unions are moving towards a formal and
                                                                 wish to develop. One respondent stated that union
     strategic recognition of the links between learning
                                                                 learning is not yet a universal benefit for members
     and organising.
                                                                 and this raises the issue of how union learning can be
     There is also progress in terms of training; ULR training   used as an organising tool in workplaces where there
     increasingly reflects recruitment and organising, while     is no union recognition or existing relationship with
     in some unions, full-time officer, organiser and activist   the employer.
     training is starting to include more emphasis on
                                                                 Finally, there is endorsement among learning officers
     learning. This is something that learning officers are
                                                                 for the role of the TUC, and unionlearn in particular,
     keen to develop, and there was a consensus that ULRs
                                                                 in promoting the links between union learning and
     have a role to play in recruitment, although this is not
                                                                 recruitment and organisation. In particular, officers
     generally reflected
                                                                 see a role for the TUC in providing evidence of the
     in formal policy.
                                                                 benefits of union learning to unions; in encouraging
     The integration of ULRs into the union at workplace         unions to take ownership of the learning agenda; and
     level has been identified in previous research as an        in promoting the integration of union learning into
     issue (Wood et al, 2005). In terms of lay structures,       core trade union business.
     almost all unions report that the aim is for ULRs to be
     fully incorporated into local branch and workplace
     structures. This is often informal policy, although in
     some unions the ULR role is recognised in the union
     rulebook and ULRs have rights to representation
     within union structures. However, there is variation
     between unions and learning officers reported that
     integration does not always happen in practice.
     Learning officers have two perspectives of union
     learning, firstly as an issue to recruit and organise
     workers around and secondly as a service or benefit
     provided to members. Organising officers were more
     sceptical about the links between union learning and
     organising. A number perceived a possible tension
     within union learning between promoting individual
     employability and the wider collective role of unions
     in the workplace. In some cases organising officers
     wanted concrete evidence of the impact union
     learning had on organising and how it fits with the
     collective bargaining agenda.

Appendix Case studies

CWU – Royal Mail Delivery Office                     agenda, and with some of the other workplace
Stoke-on-Trent                                       issues we’ve had to deal with recently, we’ve
                                                     actually seen people not in the union signing up.
“There is widespread support throughout this
branch for the learning centre initiative and a      Some of the other reps have done the ULR
very good structure in place in terms of a lead      training now and I’m trying to encourage them
ULR who is closely integrated into his branch.       to become ULRs but they haven’t been able to
The ULR has used learning activity not only to       give that commitment yet. I’m hoping to get at
recruit learning reps, but also to recruit new IR    least one other ULR in place here and to raise the
reps as well. He has used the learning agenda        profile of the role.” (Amicus, ULR and Father of
to make contact with non-members, so he’s            the Chapel)
used it for the recruitment of members as well.
There is strong evidence that they have also
                                                     Amicus – Non-profit sector
got new activists in the branch as a result.
Quite often, if there hasn’t been a particular       “There are a number of campaigns in the non-
problem at a workplace, there won’t have             profit sector at the moment and learning is one
been a union visit for a long time. The learning     of them. The aim is to include learning as part of
agenda is a way of making contact with existing      a wider package of union issues. It is difficult to
members, potential members and potential             provide concrete examples of outcomes in terms
activists.” (CWU, union education officer)           of numbers of members recruited because of the
                                                     way the work is organised and shared with other
 Amicus – Print company, Leeds                       officers and organisers.

“The union is seen by most people as something       The union recently conducted a national survey
you pay for and don’t actually see much for. Even    of members and reps in the non-profit sector
when you do your job as a rep and have successes     to capture data around experiences of learning
on a political level it’s just seen as doing your    and training in the sector. The results show that
job. But since we did the learning open day and      access to learning and development is very
started promoting learning opportunities here,       restricted, as the nature of the sector means that
people have seen they can go to the branch – it      organisations are often dependent on short-term
has really raised the profile of the union. It’s a   funding so that other priorities push learning off
more positive profile for the union.                 the agenda. It is hoped that the survey will form
                                                     the basis for a national campaign around learning
When we had the learning open day, with the          in the sector.” (Learning organiser, Amicus)
local college coming in, I covered all the work
areas myself. I went round and spoke to people
                                                     Usdaw – Morrisons, Nottingham
here that I’d never spoken to before. I made
myself known and made people aware of the            “When I do inductions I go through each of
learning agenda, and they were really interested.    the services Usdaw has to offer, whether it’s
We’ve had a good response.                           representation at work, legal services or the
                                                     financial benefits available. What I have noticed
Before that it was a fairly unionised workplace
                                                     is that people become most animated and
anyway – not necessarily in the lower skilled
                                                     interested when I talk about learning and in
areas – but with the advent of the learning

                                                       Union learning, union recruitment and organising    
     particular the fantastic ‘Checkout Learning’             Unison – ESOL
     project which is taking place in Nottingham.
                                                              “Unison ran a campaign among street cleaning
     It seems that most people would like to learn and        staff, the majority of whom were French Algerian.
     the accessible and affordable courses on offer           A prominent component of that campaign was
     allows Morrison’s staff that opportunity. Linking        the promotion of ESOL courses to be run jointly
     into ‘Checkout Learning’ and using it in                 with the employer. The agreement was that the
                                                              employer would give an hour’s paid release and
     the induction package makes me more confident            the employee would provide an hour of their
     in selling Usdaw. The other change is that I’m           time, so all-in-all we provided two hours for an
     not just discussing negative items associated            ESOL course per week.
     with work, but something positive that members
     want.” (Usdaw Shop Steward)                              The idea of having ESOL courses had been
                                                              floated for a couple of years. I think the main
     The Checkout Learning project has been used to           catalyst for it coming together was when we
     successfully recruit existing members of staff who       employed a French interpreter who was able to
     were previously reluctant to join the union. In the      translate what the organiser was saying to the
     words of one learner:                                    staff. That really made a difference.
     “The offer of learning was the main reason I
                                                              The impact [on the union] has been huge.
     reconsidered and joined Usdaw. Learning is key
                                                              Membership levels have risen, we’ve got a couple
     to progression and Usdaw are helping me to do
                                                              of new active stewards, confidence is growing
     that. Not only is the course fun, but it is helping
                                                              among the workforce and we are just about to
     me in my job as it is easier to communicate with
                                                              enter into negotiations for a wage increase.
     deaf or hard of hearing customers when they
     come into store.”                                        Most of the staff are Entry Level One which is very
                                                              basic. Courses are due to finish at the end of this
     T&G – First Bus                                          month and we are having an awards ceremony for
                                                              learners in September while at the same time trying
     Union Learning has provided training for drivers in      to convince the employer to invest more, continue
     its Learning Centre in South Yorkshire. Induction        the courses and put more resources into it. Another
     training for all new staff is held in the learning       thing we want to address is that within the actual
     centres, allowing workers to meet with union             classes we need to have a union component so that
     activists. The union has encouraged non-activists to     we are offering them language and communication
     become ULRs, so that only 30 per cent of ULRs also       development, but also teaching them something
     hold other union responsibilities, expanding T&G         about how a trade union works, how Unison works
     representation by 70 per cent.                           and how it benefits those who are involved.”
                                                              (Unison regional organiser)
     Source – T&G Union Learning Representative Newsletter,
     September 00

Unison – London region                                T&G – Betts, Colchester

“Learning is so tangible that people really do        Union Learning has been used to provide workers at
think: ‘If it wasn’t for the trade union I wouldn’t   Betts in Colchester, which manufactures toothpaste
be getting the opportunity to have this learning      tubes, with access to learning opportunities. The
and development’. They make a direct link and         project has increased T&G membership by five per
because they feel empowered they get enthused         cent throughout the factory, reaching 90 per cent on
and become vocal and visible in the workplace.        one shift. The local rep reports that it has increased
Whether they become learning reps or not they         morale in the workplace and improved the union’s
start to generate a positive feeling about the        relationship with management. Union learning has
union. I’m seeing more and more examples where        also been used to develop the skills of union reps
learning literally changes peoples lives; where       and establish and produce a T&G newsletter, raising
people cannot read or write. We get them on the       the union’s profile and promoting recruitment.
first Communication at Work course and they are       Source – T&G Union Learning Representative Newsletter,
writing at the end of it.                             September 00

Unison’s strategy has been clear from the outset
                                                      T&G – Arriva bus depot, Speke
– ULRs must be linked into the branch; they
must be part of the branch education team, so         A learning centre was established at the Speke
you’ll have the branch education officer and the      bus depot in Merseyside in February 2006, using
lifelong learning co-ordinator. This means you’ve     a former training room. Courses were established
got support for the learning reps and it enables      through Knowsley and Liverpool Community
branches to start development plans that link         College. The centre is used four evenings each
learning and organising and start thinking about      week with between 50 and 100 of the 371 drivers
the whole collective approach. We’ve got a huge       on a course at any one time. One key success is
amount to do around that. We’ve got branches          the 40 Polish drivers studying English as a second
where it is working pretty well and others where      language. The shop steward and ULR at the depot
you’ve got learner reps that aren’t tapped into the   believes that the learning centre established at
branch at all.” (Unison, learning organiser)          the bus depot has had a positive impact on the
                                                      morale of workers and staff turnover as well as a
Unison – Portsmouth Health                            ‘dramatically increased’ union retention. The union
                                                      organiser says:
“A lot of the case studies reported at the recent
                                                      “I could be working seven days a week
lifelong learning conference talk about how
                                                      for the union, but some members will say
learning has helped to regenerate branches.
                                                      that the T&G does nothing for them. This
Portsmouth Health branch was one where
                                                      T&G Learning Centre changes all that.”
they reported on how they had increased their
                                                      (T&G region six learning organiser)
membership by around 30 per cent through a
learning campaign. It was just learning reps          The local Arriva manager is supportive of the T&G’s
going out, talking to people about their learning     education provision and points to a substantial
need and then asking them if they were in a union     reduction of training costs due to the reduction in
before signing them up.” (Union learning officer)     staff turnover.
                                                      Source – T&G Union Learning Representative Newsletter,
                                                      September 00

                                                         Union learning, union recruitment and organising      
     T&G - Sainsbury’s, Hams Hall
     Learning is a key organising tool in the T&G’s ‘100%
     campaign’ at Sainsbury’s distribution centre at
     Hams Hall. Stewards negotiated paid release for 100
     employees each year to attend courses run by the
     local college, giving employees opportunities to gain
     recognised qualifications, including the European
     Computer Driving License courses and an on-site
     ESOL programme. Over a year T&G membership
     increased by 500 and the number of stewards
     increased from eight to twelve, in addition to eight
     ULRs and six dedicated safety reps.
     Source – T&G Union Learning Representative Newsletter,
     September 00

Wallis, E., and Stuart, M., (2004) ‘Trade Unions,
Partnership and the Learning Agenda: Evidence from
a seven country European study’ in Trade Unions and
Training: Issues and International Perspectives,
Ed. Cooney R and Stuart, M, National Key Centre in
Industrial Relations.
Wood, H. and Moore, S. (2005), The Union Learning
Experience: National Surveys of Union Officers and
ULRs, Working Lives Research Institute,
Published by unionlearn
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