I started working in the voluntary sector in 1994. We were expected to work all hours.
Entitlements to holiday and sick pay weren’t guaranteed.
In one workplace, the pay scale hadn’t gone up in seven years!
Voluntary sector workers help people in distress so you aren’t meant to think about your own needs.
There were no unions but one person was in Unison. I suggested we all join and we started recruiting.
There was some resistance. Some people felt pensions were an individual matter, for example.
But it became easier as we won things.
I went on to work at a big charity. There was a group of low-paid workers in stressful jobs—answering all the calls, doing all the admin and reception.
They were very open to unions. Everybody met during work time and agreed that we would have one. So we joined Unison and got management to give us organising time.
The director said we should all be in different unions—communications people should be in the NUJ and so on.
I said, “That is a matter for us”. And that was the end of it.
It’s important that I was a socialist. I knew that workers would disagree on some things, but we were all in the same boat, being exploited.
If you want to organise at work, ask people how they feel about the job.
Ask questions. Is there a union here? Have you ever been in a union? Bring in articles where people have joined a union and won things.
Don’t be put off by initial resistance. Many, many times the person who’s been resistant has ended up coming to me for advice.
Always be open and patient because people will come round.
We can’t conjure up unions by magic. This is the only way to do it.