Because workers are stronger together!
Organizing is a key priority for IndustriALL Global Union and part of nearly everything we do. Building union power through organizing helps us achieve our key goals. This includes a living wage, limits on precarious work, respect for human and trade union rights, healthier and safer workplaces, and more equitable societies.
And there is much work to be done. Only seven per cent of the nearly 3.3 billion workers around the world are members of free and independent unions. Even less are active members of their unions.
While there are exceptions, unions in many countries have seen declines in membership and influence in recent decades. The percentage of workers who are union members in OECD countries (38 of the wealthiest countries in the world) has decreased from 33 per cent in 1980 to 15 per cent in 2020. This is partly due to attempts by many governments and multinational corporations to undermine unions and attack workers’ rights.
Declining union presence in recent decades has led to increasing economic inequality throughout the world, and labour’s share of income has declined. To reverse these trends, unions around the world organize must more and more effectively than ever before.
Building workers’ power means making organizing a key priority.
This requires a culture change in unions. Unions must invest more time, effort and resources into recruiting new members and retaining existing ones. It also requires unions to focus on building solidarity and actively involving their members in all union matters.
IndustriALL is focused on supporting organizing by our affiliates. We hope this information, along with other organizing support from IndustriALL, will help your union grow larger and more powerful than ever before.
What is organizing and why should we organize?
Members are a union’s greatest resource. The more members, the more powerful the union can be.
- Organizing means growing union membership and density in sectors and workplaces, building solidarity among workers, and increasing the participation of workers in unions.
- Recruiting and retaining members are key to organizing. Capital and corporations have more money than unions, but unions’ power comes from their members.
- But only increasing a union’s membership is not enough. Organizing also involves building solidarity among workers and getting them involved and active in their union, working together to achieve common aims.
Unions are stronger when they organize and can gain the power and resources to:
- achieve better wages, benefits and conditions for members
- bargain effectively with multinational corporations
- hold larger pickets and strikes
- limit precarious work
- have healthier and safer workplaces
- protect workers against unfair dismissals and victimization
- better service existing members and recruit new ones
- network and campaign for workers’ rights worldwide
Unions that increase their membership, member solidarity, and member activism also gain political power. They can mobilize larger political demonstrations, have more impact on political decision making, and have a greater influence in legislation affecting workers and unions.
Economic inequality is generally lower where unions are well organized. Union organizing helps build strong unions and economies with fairer distributions of wealth and power.
IndustriALL organizing support
IndustriALL supports organizing projects around the globe, primarily in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The focus is on encouraging and enabling affiliates to develop a permanent organizing culture and to run their own organizing programs.
Together with affiliates, IndustriALL holds workshops, conferences, workplace visits and training to discuss and develop organizing plans. Support is provided for affiliates’ organizing drives including research, mapping, publications and materials. In some cases, IndustriALL projects provide financial support to fund organizers’ work.
IndustriALL represents workers in 14 industrial sectors, each with a sector action plan. All sector action plans include building union power through organizing as an objective. Each sector pursues this objective differently.
IndustriALL supports global union networks in over 20 multinational coorporations. Some of these are Global Works Councils, which are generally global union networks that the employer formally recognizes and is active in. Many global union networks commit to organize at workplaces within their company where there is no or weak union representation. They also mobilize solidarity support during organizing drives at their company.
IndustriALL does outreach to companies and countries and when necessary campaigns against them to support organizing. Affiliates frequently notify IndustriALL of companies and countries committing organizing rights abuses. The response is generally a letter to the company management or responsible government official demanding workers’ organizing rights are respected.
If the abuse continues, tactics to pressure companies and countries to respect workers’ organizing rights are used. This can include mobilizing solidarity support from other unions or from the company’s European Works Council, communicating with the company’s customers, online petitions, protests at the company’s annual meetings, and filing complaints at the International Labour Organization (ILO) and with the OECD.
IndustriALL works with affiliates to negotiate and implement Global Framework Agreements (GFA) with multinational companies. These agreements put in place high standards of trade union rights including organizing rights, creating opportunities for unions to organize across a company’s global operations and their suppliers. IndustriALL has signed nearly 50 GFAs.
Visit the Global Framework Agreements page to see which companies IndustriALL has signed GFAs with and to read the agreements.
Key principles for organizing
Following are some key principles that IndustriALL frequently promotes with affiliates to lay the groundwork for organizing success.
BUILD STRONG STRUCTURES
Strong union structures start at the workplace. This can be an organizing committee, steward structure, women’s committee, network of workplace communicators and activists, or whatever workplace union structures are needed. These structures provide opportunities for workers to actively participate in the union and build solidarity, and are critical for recruiting and retaining members.
Strong union structures are also required outside of the workplace to organize effectively. Individual workplace-level unions that are not a part of larger union structures are weak in a global economy. Federations of factory unions are stronger, and national unions can be stronger still. They better enable unions to mobilize the resources to run large, effective organizing programs.
When there are multiple unions in one sector in a country, they can often become stronger through merging into a sectoral union. In some cases, building strong unions with organizing power has been achieved through merging across multiple sectors.
In many countries where IndustriALL has several affiliates, they come together to form a national council. These councils provide a platform for affiliates to meet, discuss issues of national relevance and plan joint action. Many national councils decide which sectors are priority organizing targets and where organizing projects should be developed.
BE DEMOCRATIC AND TRANSPARENT
Workers are more likely to join unions and be active union members if the union has clear rules, inclusive structures, regular meetings and elections, and operates democratically. Unions can increase transparency and organizing success through regularly communicating with workers about the activities of the union.
Unity is a fundamental principal of unions. Workers are strong when they’re united. However, most unions have historically ignored or marginalized large segments of the workforce, despite the fact that these marginalized workers are usually the most exploited. These include women, racialized workers, LGBTQI+ workers, precarious workers, youth, non-manual workers and migrants.
The composition of the workforce has changed, but not all unions have adapted to this change. Unions must adopt active strategies to include and organize these marginalized groups. This often requires modifying existing structures or creating new ones.
To effectively organize women, racialized, LGBTQI+ and precarious workers, youth, non-manual workers and migrants, unions must be relevant to these groups and include them in all union structures, like leadership roles, staff, committees, and steward structures.
Unions must also focus on issues that are significant to these marginalized groups. When members of these groups are included in all union structures and programmes, unions are better able to do this.
COOPERATE AND COORDINATE
Workers and unions are stronger when they work together in solidarity. Unions can organize more effectively when they cooperate, coordinate and support each other’s organizing work.
Unions can also increase their organizing success by working cooperatively with the broader community. Showing how union organizing success benefits the broader community and offering direct solidarity support increases support from the community.
Multiple unions representing workers from the same sector should not compete to recruit the same workers at the same time at a workplace. This wastes limited resources and only leads to increased rivalry and conflicts between unions. Unions should reach an agreement to not compete with one another in this way. In almost all countries, there is no shortage of workers and workplaces to target for organizing.
IndustriALL supports projects that help unions around the world improve and increase organizing. However, it is critical for unions depending on IndustriALL support to become self-sustaining. Membership growth is often critical for this transition, but not enough on its own.
Becoming self-sustaining requires that unions develop and maintain an effective programme for regularly collecting enough dues to run the operations of the union at local, regional and national levels, including a strong organizing programme. It can also require increasing dues paid by members, or even decreasing dues for certain workers to get them to join the union. Sometimes unions are so small that being self-sustaining can only be achieved through merging with other unions.
Get prepared for organizing
Being realistic and prioritizing winnable targets does not mean targeting only permanent workers. IndustriALL affiliates around the world have succeeded in organizing precarious workers, a necessity as they are a large and growing part of the workforce.
Whether the aim is to organize a new union at a worksite, recruit more members at a worksite where there already is a union, or increase member solidarity and activism, it is important to be prepared.
There are a number of factors to consider in deciding which workers to target for organizing. Unions should select organizing targets that:
- will help build the union’s power. This could for instance be a large employer that has an impact on working conditions across the sector.
- are not already represented by or being targeted for organizing by other IndustriALL affiliates.
- are winnable, i.e. where the union has the resources and ability to achieve organizing success.
Unions should choose organizing targets with the aim of achieving density. Density refers to the proportion of a workforce that are union members. The higher the density, the more powerful the workers and union can become. In many countries, if a certain percentage of the workers at a worksite are union members, management must recognize the union and bargain with it. In other countries, management only bargains with the union if the union has the power to have an economic impact on the company. Often that power comes as a combination of high density and a large number of active members.
Building member density means not only organizing a large proportion of a worksite’s regular, full-time employees. It means organizing a large proportion of all the workers, including precarious ones.
If a union organizes at a dozen workplaces and recruits just a few members at each, it won’t build power. If the union instead targets fewer but strategic workplaces and reaches high member density at them, it can achieve real gains for the workers.
Organizing is strengthened when supported by strategic corporate research. This research analyses companies and identifies ways to put pressure on them to grant workers’ demands.
Prior to deciding which worksites to target for organizing, it’s important to map the sector and area in which the organizing will take place. This includes identifying worksite locations, numbers of workers, gender distribution of the workforce, the proportion of precarious or contract workers, other unions present, major customers, and other relevant info on the companies owning or sourcing from the workplaces.
Some workplaces have international links that can make an organizing drive more winnable. Having international links are not necessary to be a good organizing target, but they can be useful.
The following are some questions that help to determine whether a potential organizing target has international links that could be useful in an organizing campaign. Unions should seek answers to these questions before deciding on the organizing target and before beginning the organizing campaign:
Does the potential organizing target have:
- a Global Framework Agreement (GFA)? If so, IndustriALL may be able to prevent the target from opposing the organizing drive. Companies commit in GFAs to respect workers’ organizing rights. (For a list of companies with GFA’s with IndustriALL – https://www.industriall-union.org/global-framework-agreements )
- a customer with a GFA? If so, IndustriALL may be able to get this customer to pressure the target to not oppose the organizing drive. Companies often commit in GFAs to ensure that workers’ organizing rights are respected in their supply chains.
- a customer that is a major brand? If so, IndustriALL may be able to get this customer to pressure the target to not oppose the organizing drive. IndustriALL has relationships with many brands that commit to respect workers’ organizing rights in their supply chains. Also, major brands are sensitive to publicity and may act to prevent union-busting by a factory it purchases from.
- a global union network? If so, IndustriALL can seek support from the global union network in the organizing drive.
- a relationship with IndustriALL? A good way to find out is to run a search using the company (and parent company) name in the search bar on IndustriALL’s website.
- workplaces in other countries? If there are unions present at those workplaces, they could offer support in the organizing drive. So could unions at other workplaces of the company in the country where the organizing may take place.
Getting people involved in the planning increases their commitment and results in a more active, organized membership.
If the potential organizing target does have any of these kinds of international links, IndustriALL may be able to help take advantage of them. This could be through putting the organizing union in touch with other unions at the potential organizing target, or through outreach to the brand or to the company with the GFA. As much information as possible on international links should be gathered prior to contacting IndustriALL.
Develop a plan
Once a union has mapped an area and selected an organizing target or targets, it should develop a plan for the organizing campaign. The plan should identify what needs to be done, who is responsible for what, and when they need to do it by. It should also identify what resources will be needed to carry out the plan.
The more workers that participate in developing and implementing the organizing plan, the more powerful the plan. Spreading the work around to more people also ensures nobody is overloaded.
The organizing plan should include benchmarks, or goals to be achieved by a specific date. These include for instance the number of workers to have as supporters by a certain date, the number of workers to have contact information for by a certain date, and so on. Clear benchmarks help to determine whether the organizing campaign is on track or whether adjustments need to be made.
Organizing plans must be flexible so that they can be adapted as unexpected situations arise. The union or organizing committee should periodically review the plan and adjust it as needed.
COMPONENTS OF AN ORGANIZING PLAN
- identify worker leaders
- build organizing committee
- develop list of workers
- organize meetings
- identify issues to mobilize around
- education program
- communications program
Let’s organize more effectively than ever before! IndustriALL is ready to offer support and the time to organize is NOW. As always, workers are stronger together.
With only seven per cent of the world’s workers members of free and independent unions, and even fewer active members, organizing can seem like an overwhelming task. It is not.
IndustriALL affiliates around the world are stepping up to the challenge and coming up with innovative organizing solutions in diverse environments.
For more info on developing and implementing an organizing plan, contact:
Walton Pantland IndustriALL Campaigns and Organizing Director wpantland