Organizing Success

Tips to Organizing Effectively and Successfully

Amidst declining union membership, educating the working class on the benefits and effects of labour organizing improves the overall quality of life for working class people. Organizing helps to build collective power and give working people a stronger force to bring about change. Working class people cannot wait until more favourable governments come to power and bolster the demand of the working class. Improvements in labour laws, working conditions, and labour market regulations can be brought forth most effectively and efficiently through the mobilization by unions.

Organizing the unorganized

How can unions reach a broader and more diverse population of workers? 

Unions can consider hiring people with lived experiences, diverse backgrounds, and demographic characteristics to connect with the target demographics. For example, if you are organizing a group of housekeepers who mostly are from Mexico, it would be helpful to have an organizer who speaks Spanish and understands the verbal/non-verbal cues of the culture. As the workforce in BC becomes more ethnically and racially diverse, the people who lead organizing campaigns should reflect the target audience of unorganized workers. Additionally, unions should consider hiring women, people of colour, and youth to communicate and build strong relationships with workers. Commonly, there is a lack of union members who are women, people of colour, or youths, making it more difficult to recruit existing members to develop into organizers. A potential solution for unions is to look into recruiting organizers who gained experience in organizing through social movements and political activism. 

The People that Unions are organizing compromises limited occupations, commonly including those in the nursing, support staff, healthcare, and construction sectors. The common factor in these jobs are that they are female-dominated and/or service sector jobs in the private sector. Unions have a weaker presence in the private sector and more organizing is needed to build strength. People of colour, women, youths, and other traditionally marginalized folks in the labour market have greater strength in numbers by being organized. Therefore, strategic organization requires the recognition of gender and the rise of private sector organization.  

Reforming internal union structures and practices

There is no one-sit-fits-all model for unionization because organizing strategies different by various contexts such as sector, occupation, and other work demographics. Moreover, there is inconsistency and lag in the current organization model, promoting reforms in internal union structures and practices. There is need for innovation and some examples are described below: 

  • To increase the resource pool and the diversity of organizers, unions can combine resources to organize larger campaigns. For instance, multiple unions in the construction sector can collaborate on organization campaigns within fixed geographical areas of the province. 
  • Unions are training rank-and-file workers as organizers and moving away from exclusively paid full-time organizing staff. These workers organize workplaces by volunteering their time or while on paid time-off from their regular job by the union. The advantage of deploying rank-and-file organizers is that it increases the success of union certification rates when organizers closely resemble the workforce being organized. 
  • To move towards this new model of organizing, extensive training and education is needed. 
    • Firstly, training and education is needed to welcome change and grow appreciation for diverse union membership, change attitudes of restrictive membership, and reduce resistance from existing union members and leaders. Existing members worry about the dilution of resources available for existing members and new members challenging the positions of existing leaders. 
    • Secondly, training and education is needed to familiarize members with how to successfully organize (see “The Guide to the Law of Organizing in British Columbia” in the additional resources section). 
  • Building an inside organizing committees of workers who take accountability and responsibility for the organizing drive is proven to increase the success rate of organizing by more than 62% to 71% [1]. The committees are most effective when they include workers from various work areas and gender/racial/ethnic groupings found in the workplace for reasons like:
    • The committee of workers themselves understand the particular needs and motivated to respond to the problems in the workplace
    • The committee of workers may already have a high trust relationship with their other colleagues
    • There is better communication between the union and workers 
  • Union organizing should not be a secretive strategy because it can reduce union’s ability to respond to employer misinformation, build a network of supporters, and reinforce union organizing as something to be ashamed of. Unions may see the benefits of letting employers, workers, and other important stakeholders know when carrying out organizing. The common barrier to organizing is fear, but unions should undertake clear solutions to address change since organizing in secrecy does not tackle this issue head on. A better solution can include informing the employer through a legal letter that employees are organizing and advising them of workers’ rights to organize. Most importantly, the right of workers to join a union without intimidation, threat, discrimination, and/or other punitive actions. This reinforces the union’s stance to protect workers who are organizing, while simultaneously informing employers that their actions are being monitored. 

Rethinking Traditional Union Political Power and Activism

How can unions improve union structures and practices to retain union activists that they have successfully organized?

  • Unions should not only represent a small privileged section of the working class, because that reduces the political power and poorly leverages collective power of the working class. Actionable steps to build equity, diversity, and inclusion and preserve the success of organizing efforts include: 
    • Increasing the diversity of women and BIPOC members in leadership positions
    • Leading initiatives for broader social justice, societal, and cultural change
    • Offering unique training and education to women and BIPOC members
    • Incorporating more inclusive language in collective agreements, publications, and other communication materials
    • Relaxing rules of orders to be less “bureaucratic” in local meetings to increase participation and activism from members. 
  • Reforming bargaining means understanding how to bargain for dispersed bargaining units. In particular, unions who bargain for smaller groups of workers employed by small employers might find it difficult to negotiate on the high costs of benefits. As bargaining remains one of the top reasons employees organize and join unionize, unions must find creative ways to reform bargaining to help ensure employees benefit the most from unionization. Coordinated bargaining on the company or sector level might be a solution.

[1] Yates. (2002). Expanding Labour’s Horizons: Union Organizing and Strategic Change in Canada. Just Labour.