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29 November 2012

Tough times for union branches - but they are adapting

The bigger the union branch, the more likely it is to be healthy and active, according to a two-part series of articles on branches in different unions published in Labour Research magazine.
The articles are based on a Labour Research Department survey of 350 branches across 15 national unions. The first looks at how branches are faring, and confirms that many branches have had a tough time in recent years. This goes for both public and private sector branches.

Only half describe themselves as active and healthy. Almost two in five branches say officer posts have become harder to fill over the last five years, and a third have seen membership decline.

Not all bad news

However, this still leaves a significant proportion faring well or at least functioning adequately. A third say membership has increased in the last five years and another third say it is stable. Only one in eight branches says they are not very active and healthy, with the rest giving a neutral response.

Some have been able to renew themselves in recent years. For example, one branch official said: "We elected a complete new stewards' committee last October". We now challenge management on all matters that concern our members. Our workplace branch is now vibrant and very proactive."

Merging can be positive

The survey finds that branches are increasingly likely to merge in the next couple of years. This could be a sound strategy, as it also finds big branches are twice as likely as small ones to say they are active and healthy. Large branches are also far more likely than small ones to think they will be active and healthy over the next couple of years.

Real meetings vs virtual networks

The second article looks at whether the traditional cornerstone of branch activity - the branch meeting - is holding up in an era of Facebook and video conferencing. It reveals that most branches still hold open meetings, and finds ample examples of what makes for a successful and vibrant branch meeting. Ironically, they have been helped in this by increased government attacks and austerity.


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