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‘Empower’ event boosts activism

1 November 2013

On Saturday 12 October TSSA members from across four southern regions came together to talk about what we can do to change the world (well... at least to make a start).

The day looked at how TSSA is moving from a ‘service provider’ model of trade unionism to a ‘social movement’ model and how each of us as members can make a difference, even if only in a small way at first.

The first session looked at how trade unions and communities can work together. Professor Jane Holgate, a lecturer in industrial relations who has studied community/trade union coalitions in three continents gave several key messages:

The most effective coalitions are made up of people who do not agree on everything. If you only worked with those who already agree with you on everything, you would have a very small pool of potential partners. Therefore it is important to be clear about what you’re trying to achieve through the coalition, which shouldn’t be everything you’d ever wish for.

Most informal community organisations find the trade union culture quite odd, for example how arguing over ‘matters arising from the minutes’ can almost become a ritual.

Community partners are more interested in ‘what we are going to do’ than arguments about amending motions. We need to recognise these differences to ensure we are inclusive.

Southeastern Metro branch member Josey Grimshaw said, “The empowerment day really helped me pick up and polish some of my knowledge. For me, both the political session on the inefficiency of austerity and also the negotiation workshop, where we got to hone our skills as industrial relations reps were really useful.”

A number of break-out sessions helped members develop their knowledge and skills in particular areas, including:

  • Making the case against the austerity agenda – how the lack of investment in the productive economy is holding back the recovery. Our campaigns against refranchising, especially on c2c and East Coast.
  • Focusing on marginal parliamentary seats to help elect TSSA-friendly MPs.
  • Negotiating. What it is and how to do it successfully. The wide-ranging session even included a role play from ‘The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin’ as well as guidance on key negotiating tactics.
  • ‘Creating a sense of the union within the workplace’ and ‘What role can you play?’ were two sessions where local TSSA reps shared their experiences with colleagues about how to take the union forward.
  • A session on delivering on equalities included participation from a number of experts who are working with TSSA to explore the whole equalities agenda within the rail industry as a whole.

The second plenary saw Professor John Kelly discuss ‘mobilisation theory’ – in other words, working out why sometimes most people just accept things that make them angry and other times they organise to challenge them. Key answers included ‘finding who to blame’, which allows pressure to be built to hold someone responsible and then to negotiate with them. Giving people hope that change is achievable was another key driver for building participation in any campaign.

Josey adds, “In the final session we worked in groups organised by area and agreed some constructive ‘next steps’. As a result we have committed to strengthening our branch and drawing it together to be even more effective at meeting all of our needs – both for us individual members and as a whole. It was a really productive end to a great day.”


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