Organising strategy

StrategyA draft of the branch’s 2018 organising strategy is being sent to members, who are urged to read and discuss it ahead of our Annual General Meeting on 1 March.

It outlines Bootle Taxes Branch’s key organising objectives for the coming year, as we strive to keep building our strength with both in-house and outsourced workers.

The AGM will vote on the strategy, and it’s vital that the final agreed plan is put in to action throughout the branch. Support for reps will be available to help put the strategy into practice.

Read the strategy below or download as a PDF here.

FOREWORD

2017 was busy year for the branch, from an organising perspective. The biggest event within that, of course, was the pay ballot. But alongside that we also had the merger of the two Bootle HMRC branches into a single Bootle Taxes Branch, massive recruitment into PT Operations in particular and the ongoing impact of movement and restructuring within the department as a whole.

I think it’s fair to say that we met those challenges well. We recruited not only a massive amount of new members, but new reps and activists as well. We’ve increased our visible presence across the branch, and made headway into areas where we’ve previously not had a PCS presence.

But there are still challenges. The pay ballot result was the best PCS has ever had at a national level, but it has highlighted where we still have some distance to go in organising. This strategy is aimed at plugging the gaps where we have them, increasing confidence where we need to, and continuing the push to make the branch more active, more inclusive and more combative, which ultimately means strengthening the membership to take the lead at a grassroots level.

This Organising Strategy outlines the key objectives for the branch in the coming year, but obviously the important part is actually putting it into practice. Please take the time to have a read and to discuss it with your colleagues, so that we can all do our bit to make the aspirations set out below a reality.

Phil Dickens
Branch Organiser

OUR APPROACH TO ORGANISING

PCS is an organising union. Our ability to stop the employer’s attacks or to win positive gains is decided by how strong we are as a collective. Put simply, that means our ability to credibly threaten disruption if we don’t get our way.

Organising is about getting into such a position of strength. To do this, we need to increase our membership – but not simply by offering free pens and lanyards if they fill in a form. We need to build a membership that is well informed, actively involved in the union and directing reps on what issues to take up. A membership ready to take action if it doesn’t get its own way.

As a branch, we are committed to the recruitment and representation of our members who are both directly employed by HMRC and outsourced to private companies. Our objectives for 2018 are therefore applicable to all our members across the branch as a whole.

Civil Servants

PCS members working for HMRC have now been on the receiving end of a drive to worsen our pay and conditions for the better part of a decade.

AA grade staff will need an uplift in April to bring their pay up to the minimum wage. Our in-house guards are facing privatisation. PT Ops staff face the continued contact centre-isation of their work and we know an attack on flexi cannot be far off. In Benefits & Credits, the spectre of a move to Universal Credit still looms like the Sword of Damocles. Staff in the Estates Hub have been told their work is moving to Nottingham and Tax Academy Learning Design jobs are going to Manchester. Everywhere, the Attendance Management policy wreaks havoc. Then of course there are the redundancies that may come from a wholesale move out of Bootle into India Buildings.

Strong union organisation is the answer to these attacks. We have seen this in recent PCS victories that have, amongst other things, saved offices from closure, prevented privatisation in areas such as the Land Registry and overturned dismissals.

Outsourced and ancillary staff

The majority of cleaning staff in the branch are employed by ISS, and back in 2015/16 we were able to organise them and win a considerable victory when their bosses tried to take hours off them to pay for a rise in the minimum wage. This demonstrated that even a relatively small group of members could exercise considerable leverage if well organised and willing to take action.

Other groups of workers are in a similarly precarious position but not employed by ISS; private sector guards covering Comben House, Litherland House and the Triad, cleaners and shop staff employed by Carillion in St John’s House, and even in-house guards in St John’s House, who are low paid and facing potential privatisation.

This presents us with an organising opportunity across a number of different employers. We have a successful model to build upon, both based on our own experience with ISS and on the work of unions like the BFAWU, IWW, IWGB and UVW in organising similarly precarious workers. If we can do it right, then we have the chance to help these groups of workers to organise and win considerable improvements.

PRINCIPLES OF ORGANISING

It is important to have a common and consistent understanding of what organising means in PCS, grounded in ongoing academic research and best practice from our own union and other unions.

PCS is committed to seven principles which underpin our approach to organising. These principles are:

  • Active / engaged membership: Our union is only as strong as its members. All members should feel that it is their union and we want the union to deliver on issues that matter to us as members. To help us to do this, members must recognise that this means we are all key to delivery and success. Non-members will join if they see that PCS are able to achieve more together.
  • Democracy: In order for PCS to be truly representative of our members and democratic in approach, we need clear structures to ensure that our voices can be heard and taken into account.
  • Equality: Equality is at the heart of everything we do as a union. It is central to the way we organise and campaign to ensure that we are representative of, and representing all of, our members. We are committed to our currently under-represented members to ensure that they not only have a voice in our structures, but are encouraged and supported to play as full and active role as they want to.
  • Campaigning: Campaigning should be used to build support for our work and to allow us to communicate our messages both within the union and beyond to the wider community. Our approach to campaigning in PCS can increase our power, increase our political support, widen our media coverage and increase our leverage over employers to help us achieve our aims.
  • Communication: Communication is essential to ensuring that everyone at every level of the union understands what is happening in our workplaces and in the union as a whole. Communication is a two-way process and is crucial to ensuring that our members and reps have the latest news and information available to them.
  • Power: The power we have through PCS to influence decisions is ultimately derived from our members and our willingness to undertake activities which increase our membership strength and help us to build alliances with other organisations and groups where we share a common view.
  • Education: High quality training is essential to give our activists the skills, knowledge and confidence to lead and represent our members. We are committed, through our ULF projects, to the principle of workers’ life-long learning, using our bargaining and campaigning strengths to advocate, for example, for quality apprenticeships, on-the-job training, and career development training.

Branch structure

We have done a lot of work over the past couple of years to shore up our branch structures in order to ensure that they are as representative as possible. This has included merging the local branches in Bootle, setting up new committees for new business streams and restructuring our office committees to reflect business changes. This work will continue where we identify changes that can support our organising objectives.

2018 ORGANISING OBJECTIVES

Objective 1: There will be a PCS presence in every section of the branch
A: One or more trained union representatives in every line of business
B: Outsourced and ancillary staff fully represented on the Branch Executive Committee
C: A PCS union advocate for every team, wing or section

Bootle Taxes Branch represents members across a wide variety of business areas. Due to PT Ops being the largest of these, and many others being smaller and more discrete, it can be too easy to overlook some areas. Our aim is to ensure that every area is properly represented, and key to that is ensuring there are representatives working within every area.

The Branch currently has the most reps of any branch within Revenue & Customs Group, possibly within the union as a whole. This can only be seen as a sign of how well we have done in encouraging members to take up activist roles, and yet the fact that many of those reps take on multiple posts and that there are gaps in representation shows that we still have some way to go.

Because of their size, some areas will only require a single office representative. In order to ensure that those reps are not left isolated and that the branch as a whole doesn’t overlook them, we will also need to ensure that they take up a seat on the Branch Executive Committee as well. This is particularly important for the representation of outsourced members and members in ancillary roles, which despite being the smallest areas can often face the most issues and difficulties.

Underpinning this, we are also aiming to properly utilise the PCS advocate role. This gives us a much wider pool of activists who can provide intelligence on what is happening in all areas, help handing out leaflets and disseminating information to members, and support in our recruitment and organisation efforts. Our aim is to ensure that there is an advocate for every team, wing or section (depending on varying building layouts) within the branch.

Increasing the number of people taking up active roles in the union, and filling in all the gaps so no areas go unrepresented is vital to building a strong, well-organised branch.

Objective 2: Improve and increase direct communication with reps members
A: Maintain a database of personal contact information for reps so that committees can communicate independently of HMRC email systems
B: Ensure that we have up to date personal contact information for all members
C: Ensure that we have adequate plans for distribution of leaflets and briefings in all local constituencies

We have three priorities in terms of improving our communications in the coming year.

We need to be sure that all of our rep committees can communicate and function even without access to HMRC systems. We will be doing this by building a database of reps’ contact information and using both personal email and things such as WhatsApp Groups to put committees in touch with one another. This is not only important for when we aren’t allowed to send information via work email, such as if there is industrial action, but also to address work systems simply not working.

Making sure that all activists are in touch with one another and that communication doesn’t need to go through one specific person also mitigates the risk of an “old boys’ club” developing and ensures nobody is excluded.

We need to be sure that all members have supplied their personal contact information so that they can receive direct communication from the Group and national union. Collecting personal contact information from members and encouraging members to update information is what we might term ‘entry level’ organising and is an excellent way of deploying union advocates and members who support the union to talk to members.

Most importantly, we need to be sure that all members in all parts of the branch receive information from the branch when we distribute handouts. If there is something we need to distribute outside of work we need enough reps to be able to cover all entrances at the times when members are coming in and going out so that nobody is missed. If there is something we can drop on desks, we need to cover all sections and all teams so that there are no gaps.

Objective 3: The Branch structure will promote participation from members and reflect the diversity of our membership
A: Ensure young members, black members, disabled members, LGBT members and women members are adequately represented at branch level
B: Increase the involvement of the branch in equality structures and events and work to promote participation in these from our membership
C: The branch structure will facilitate and encourage participation in union activity

Equality needs to be at the heart of everything we do as a union. If we take an honest assessment of our branch organising efforts, it is here that we have perhaps the largest job of work to do in order to achieve our objectives.

We need to see our equality representatives taking on a bigger role within the branch, supported by the other branch officers. This includes mapping out the diversity of the workforce and reaching out directly to young members, black members, disabled members, LGBT members and women members in order to address under-representation.

PCS’s national equality networks (Women’s Forum; Disabled Members’ Forum; Young Members’ Network; Black Members’ Committee; Proud – National LGBT Committee) are the engine room and leading instigators for driving the practical measures we deploy for tackling under-representation in our union. We need to ensure that the branch is working with these networks, promoting them and getting members actively involved in the work they do.

Objective 4: Each constituency will have a local organiser and will aim to:
A: Retain existing members and recruit non-members
B: Improve density levels across the branch
C: Proactively identify new activists and ensure all activists receive full training
D: Integrating Health & Safety and Union Learning Reps into organising, mapping and recruitment

Our aim is to move the focus of organising to an office and constituency level, in order to build an organising committee to support the work of the Branch Organiser and the Branch Assistant Organiser.

Having a local organiser within each constituency of the branch allows us to lay out the foundations of that organising committee. It also underpins the principle that organising isn’t simply something done by the Branch Organiser but is integral to all of our activity as a union. It allows us to map the workplace, to recruit new members and activists and to improve our density levels and our strength.

Recruiting new members feeds in directly to the fundamental requirement to increase union density – where we have union density below 50%, PCS is vulnerable to being derecognised. It is a key responsibility of branches to mentor and develop their new reps. This support should include ensuring all activists are aware of the trade union education programme, and that everyone has been adequately trained.

Involving Health & Safety and Union Learning Reps in this activity is also important. Their roles offer a unique insight which can help with gathering data, access to members and activity that generates members’ interest. This also increases the cross-over and interaction between reps in various roles so that those in other positions aren’t set apart from the office representatives engages in industrial relations and personal cases.

Objective 5: Increased collectivisation of members’ issues and identification of collective solutions to empower members and increase direct participation
A: All reps to receive training in workplace organising techniques
B: Personal case workers to communicate regularly and identify common problems with common causes
C: Encourage meetings of members with common problems to discuss and enact collective solutions
D: Promote an approach where members are supported to take collective activity to address issues wherever possible

All PCS activists should be organisers. This cannot be done all at once, but by ensuring that training in the methods and skills needed for effective organising is available to all reps we can start to push towards that goal.

The primary task of an organiser is to build more organisers and the way to do this is to constantly replace yourself. We need to ensure that the knowledge and experience we build up is shared rather than hoarded.

The aim of all of our organising efforts should be to tilt the balance of power in the workplace from the bosses to the workers. This places us in a much better position to win both for individual members and collectively – but to do this we have to know our strength and the leverage that gives us.

A key element of shifting the workplace balance of power is collectivising grievances. Where multiple members are affected by the same issue, we should be seeking as far as possible to bring them together and highlight that issue. This could be the basis for collective grievances, for example if one manager was bullying a number of staff. But equally it could be the basis for localised disputes, where members taking some form of collective (non-industrial) action could exert the pressure needed to stop management acting out of turn.

The latter is important because it gives members a taste of their own collective strength, and demonstrates clearly to others that we are organising and winning. This gives us leverage when future issues crop up, and increases the confidence of the workforce, and where it is possible we should be looking to put it into practice.

CONCLUSION

The strategy set out in this document is an ambitious one. It is based upon recognising how far we have come in terms of the branch’s organisation but still casting a critical eye on what we can do better rather than being content to rest on our laurels. This, if done right, puts us in a much stronger position in order to both deliver on group and national campaigns and to make gains for members at a local level as well.

Using campaigns around specific issues in order to recruit and get more members actively participating is the most basic principle of workplace organising. When we’re active, we retain and gain members whilst inactivity only allows people to grow apathetic and/or disillusioned.

The two key points that we should take from this are the simplest. First that we recruit and grow by picking winnable battles and by winning them through collective action. And second that all activists should organise in such a way as to continually replace ourselves. We can never say for certainty that there won’t be setbacks, but if we’re doing this then we know we’re on the right path.

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