Over the last number of years the STUC and its affiliated unions have worked together with community groups to herald a new era of community trade unionism where working together has brought results for both trade unions and communities and positively contributed to councils and politicians changing course on key decisions.
Much of what has been achieved in Scotland has been done so under the broad umbrella of the STUC “There is a Better Way Campaign” which has been the mobilising engine for groups that may not have had the opportunity to work together. This is a key ingredient that unions bring to cross community/union campaigns, namely good organisation and planning resources, as well as a degree of political steerage.
In Edinburgh in 2010 unions and community groups successfully opposed and helped change a council plan to privatise bin collection services throughout the city, community groups fuelled the campaign and debated in various city locations and unions provided the gel to pull the campaign together uniting a number of different political voices and views that crucially gave the campaign real bite.
The most vocal and active union in this campaign in Edinburgh was UNISON who held meetings in libraries, community centres and branch offices, this built important trust between community activists and trade unionists. From this successful campaign came a joint unions and community conference under the STUC There is a Better Way banner where 150 delegates met, discussed, debated and agreed a charter for action on tackling poverty in the city, this type of joint trade union and community group action is not only important in its outcomes but also in the discussions developing around how trade unions not only support members but contribute to community campaigns in areas where members and their families and neighbours live.
The UNITE union has recently launched its community membership initiative with reduced membership costs – the Unite branches in Edinburgh offer five key reasons for becoming a UNITE community member, they are:
Campaign for the rights of volunteers
Work with the UNITE Voluntary Sector Branch
Identify issues that matter to your community
Campaign against cuts and for good services
Organise and lobby on behalf of your community
UNITE make it clear in these points that unions want to influence not only in workplaces but in communities too.
One of the successes of the STUC There is a Better Way Campaign is increased union influence in key political decisions at all levels, this has begun to be achieved in Edinburgh as well as other localities and nationally– UNITE and their community membership will also be part of the growing number of key persuaders in this arena. A large factor for unions in the next few years may be stagnant union membership in work places due to the lack of economic growth, high unemployment and continued privatisation – community campaigning gives unions the opportunity for increased influence despite membership remaining steady in numbers terms. The STUC campaign, the Unite Community membership, the UNISON community campaigning approach and the recent GMB student membership at St. Andrews University tackle this issue not only head on but also rather cleverly and appropriately in people’s homes, learning environments and communities where the effects of current policies are being felt every bit as much as in workplaces.