Abigail Rumsey, a Prospect delegate at the TUC young workers’ conference, reflects on why the union must embrace technology as part of its organising strategy.
The second day of the young workers’ conference in London this weekend was opened by Antonia Bance, head of campaigns and communications at the TUC.
She has been tasked with working out how to make unions relevant to Britain’s young core workers.
The TUC, along with an organisation called Good Innovation, has been conducting user research of the type usually associated with developing a new app or website, to find out what young workers need from a union.
They used WhatsApp diaries and conducted interviews and found that, despite working in horrendous conditions – including physical fights for work, 24-hour shifts and unflexible rotas – these workers still had not considered the relevance of unions to them.
Prospect’s young professionals will be keeping a close eye on the outcomes of this research but I don’t think we should be waiting around until this project has finished.
Prospect represents workers in areas different from the core fields of hospitality, social care and retail that the TUC is looking at and, while we may find common ground, it is possible that we will require a much different strategy to engage young people in our work areas.
It is clear that innovation is the only way that we will be able to push our trade unions into the 21st century. Yes, we’ve already had 17 years to do this but I don’t think the processes we currently have in place have progressed much from those used in the 1990s.
The use of digital to engage with customers, which is perhaps how we should start to view potential union members, is now something that society expects.
We will need to approach this innovation task with open-mindedness – the union of the future may look completely different to the union of the past century that we have grown attached to. We will need to embrace technology, not just with an electronic survey here and there, but in every part of our organising strategy.
The regular woman on the street is attached to her smartphone and does so much on it: banking; shopping; socialising; reporting crime; navigating the world on public transport, by car or by foot. Unions need to be right in there, too.
I will be going to an IT developers’ conference in Oxford with some of my Prospect colleagues to find out what people working in the IT sector require from a union. These people very much represent what the future of work may look like – remote working, job transience, high technological integration. We will be looking for new ideas for how to connect with this workforce and how we might innovate our union.
- Main photo shows Prospect’s delegation – left to right, Gary Best (Babcock), Samuel Oyaletor (BT), Abigail Rumsey (CABI), Dan Fahey (London and South East Regional). PHOTOGRAPHER: Simon Nightingale, BECTU organiser
Abigail Rumsey is vice-chair of Prospect’s young professionals’ network committee and works for the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI)