UNISON does some things well but occasionally it does things so badly I have to break rank and say what I really think: that recruitment campaign is just awful.
On the NEC we regularly hear about boosts in recruitment figures due to this campaign and I now bite my tongue. So I've decided to put on record my irritation with the appalling recruitment materials we've been subjected to over the last couple of years.
Any UNISON rep on the ground knows what I mean - those terrible green and white leaflets that advertise UNISON, 'for as little as £1.30p a month'!
Cheap as chips?
Any trade unionist knows that most public sector workers are very likely to be paying much more than that for their subs, so why sell union membership as cheap as chips when in reality it's not?
It may be cheaper than some people like to claim: I know an anti-union worker who refuses to join because of the cost of what he claims was his old union membership fees back in the days of the closed shop, and every time I hear his excuse he inflates the price to an absurd level. Exaggerating the low cost just as dramatically, though, is just as dishonest.
A helpline for cleaner teeth!
The thing about these leaflets/ adverts aren't just that they're disingenuous about cost - and most people can see straight through that - which is bad enough. The thing is, we're not really advertising a trade union at all. It's an ad for a service model, like an insurance policy. A cross between the Citizens' Advice Bureau and the RAC, as another NEC member put it.
The TV advert above, which is on constant loop in the HQ, really makes me wince: that boy with the irritatingly white toothy grin. A 'helpline for advice' ... 'Exclusive member discounts'! In this world, the 'union' is just something that you may have to call on when you need help but not participate in. Like a credit 'union'.
Language is important. UNISON is not even described as a 'trade union'. And if you want to find the word 'organise' in their especially designed website to 'join UNISON', you will be hard pressed. I tried it with a search to check I wasn't missing some hard to reach segment of the website that encouraged you to get involved or become a rep.
Where are the bits about voting, having your say? About turning up to meetings and engaging; about democracy and participation? There is nothing about those things we talk about when we have 'organising agenda' motions at National Delegates Conference every year.
Why pretend to members?
I heard others who've agreed with these criticisms of these leaflets when they came out and the best response I could get was from an organiser who said you have to have face-to-face conversations about all of that stuff whilst getting them to fill in the (less than perfect) forms. OK, but the union makes a big deal out of the fact an increasing number of new members joining online - which discourages face to face conversations.
I've heard others complain about the resources taken away from the very services they're advertising in order to focus on regular recruitment drives in regions. Mind you I've heard some of the same people praise the ingenuity of having an advertorial in the Metro once they get onto the NEC (but how quickly people can pull rank once they're in a room with Dave Prentis is another story)...
The union leadership often points to low turn outs in industrial action ballots. These service model recruitment forms hardly help on that front do they? If you join online after seeing an advert in the Metro or on day time TV for some financial advice and a dental plan, then why would you bother to vote when a ballot comes in the post.
I've raised these criticisms on the NEC and on the Higher Ed Service Group Executive when the leaflets were new, so it's not as if I'm going behind anyone's back here.
When I first set this blog up I said I would report back here as often as I could. It's been difficult (especially since becoming a dad) to keep up full reports of each meeting but there is my penny's worth on the new recruitment material which for the last couple of years have been a common theme.
I should add that one thing I do like about the new forms is they have the Direct Debit part embedded in all forms now, which is handy for recruiting privatised workers who are not likely to be able to pay via deductions at work ('check-off'). Mind you it took two years to get them translated into other languages, which considering the number of migrant workers in outsourced sectors is a 'no brainer' - and something I'd been harping on about like a scratched record for four years on the NEC.
And in fairness the HE service group have created modified forms for our sector which highlights the two percent pay settlement we won due to strike action last year.
I've got a few other themes I'll get off my chest at some point before June...