This is another episode in my series about organising and what I’ve learnt during my time working with the union. I’ve forgotten what number we’re up to, but this is the first one I’ve written in more than three months, I think. We’re approaching the end of the school year which will also be the end of my first year as an organiser, and I think there are a few things that I’m gradually coming to understand about the role. I think that I have – finally – stopped comparing the job to teaching – the two roles, although related in the sense that they are both about education at their heart – are completely different, and such comparisons, while interesting in the first instance, are unhelpful with a bit more experience.
I’m also beginning to understand that being an organiser is all about the soft skills – it’s about leadership, but a very different kind of leadership than that which is usually exhibited in education. Rather, it is about building consensus before action, and encouraging people to act in their own interests and according to their own wishes, rather than following a vision that’s been defined for them.
So, here are a few thoughts:
1. It’s all about grey areas
Whenever there is a dispute -and it happens far more regularly than I ever imagined – it’s generally over some ill-defined clause in the agreement. Very rarely is it cut and dried – although one should never overestimate the intelligence – or lack of it – of some employers. This means that it becomes a matter of argument, of wrangling, of letters being exchanged back and forth and ultimately a bit of brinksmanship. This influences how much you can do.
2. You can’t do everything.
People like to be in a union, but some seem to think that the only purpose of the union is to protect them from their poor decisions. Teaching is an incredibly difficult job: it requires intelligence, passion and commitment. As an organiser, my job is to support members in doing their job – through PD, through Industrial matters, through organising and through servicing. But – and it’s important to realise this – organisers cannot help everyone. We can ensure that due process takes place, but we can’t change the workplace without your help.
3. The more you do, the more there is to do.
This is something that I’ve really only learnt in the last few weeks. Organisers need to go looking for work. They need to get into schools and talk to members – not waiting for members to come and see them. Organisers need to find organising opportunities for themselves.