Wednesday, 13 November 2013

There is a Better Way - Organise (1)

Guest blog by Graeme Ewart, Unite Deputy Convenor on their fight for recognition at GE Caledonian, Prestwick

When I joined a union I did it as many do, to belong, to be part of something bigger.

Perhaps I was spurred on by the takeover of my company by a huge multinational like GE. My colleagues and myself knew our unionised sister site in Wales had better terms and conditions and we had become disillusioned with our Works Council that had proven to be  nothing more than a tick box exercise, a powerless non-negotiating body and at best only a tool for communication .
Our workplace was a typical non-union workplace; low pensionable pay topped up with large shift allowance and loads of overtime. It took five years from being bought by GE for enough people to think the time was right to make the move to recognition. To be honest looking back we weren’t ready as a workforce and our Union at the time the AEEU should’ve realised that, the divisive issues on the shop floor were played upon by the Burke Group, the union busters hired by GE.
Turning the clock forward 9 years we had changed as a workforce, our average age was 54, priorities focused more on important issues; pensionable pay for one. Our union had changed as well not just in name, Unite now had a focus on organising workforces in a way that harnessed their energy and channelled it in a positive, constructive manner.
We started focusing on the things we had in common as opposed to the things that kept us apart. So when our campaign went live we were ready, positive, resolute and focused on a goal. We were fighting to be treated fairly and receive the normal pensionable salary within our industry, a fight more important than ever as GE were making draconian changes to our pension scheme.
Union busting tactics were used again, workers were threatened with a world of if’s, but’s and maybe’s, doom and gloom and threats of lack of investment if recognition was secured!
We countered with a private Facebook group backed up with a text network. Our ever growing membership was mapped accurately. We confronted every half-truth, we named and shamed managers publicly for scaremongering, we raised grievances locally and across the pond to headquarters, petitions and newsletters were circulated.
The rule was, the louder the better,
We posted company’s profits, always positive and always good news; we knew we could achieve more as empowered workers in a recognised site; not just for our benefit but for our customers and GE too. Organisers call it innoculation telling the workforce what the employers will do do before they do it and countering.
Our maps were so accurate that when we went to CAC ballot for recognition we knew we would win; our activist network and workforce were battle hardened, immune to anything thrown at them.
As a recognised site we have gained a lot of respect, management know we’re a determined empowered workforce who will stand up for what we believe is right.
In conclusion this wasn’t a fluke and can be repeated anywhere, there’s no such thing as a non-member,  only potential members;  get organised, listen, allay their fears, communicate with them by any means possible and attempt to address their issues.
This is how we grow our union membership; Unions are the future not the past! People don’t expect a magic wand to be waved and all will be well, but they want to  seek realistic negotiated solutions.

For more information on the 2012 recognition campaign  watch the video Vote Yes, Vote Unite  .
Stick to the motto that we still use. STRONGER TOGETHER!!!
Graeme Ewart
Unite Deputy Convenor

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