Get Organised
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Get Organised

So there are a bunch of workers at a non-unionised company and the management don't pay well (probably minimum wage if they can) and there are a lot of other things that you are not happy about. Several of you feel the same way. So what can you do about it?
1. Make a group decision to join a union.
There is some value in joining a union as an individual - you will be entitled to a small benefit for long term sickness, legal advice and representation. However, we must point out that waiting until you are facing disciplinary action is not an option - most unions will insist that you have been a member for a certain period (typically up to 6 months) before they will authorise the the costs of representations that may lead to court proceedings.
But the real benefits don't come until there is a group of you in the same workplace with union recognition from the company. To get to that stage you will need to have 50% of the employees of a company in a particular location (or bargaining unit) belong to a single union. Actually, you can ask for union recognition with less than that, but the employer is entitled to refuse (and probably will). So the workers need to come to a majority agreement that they will join a union and seek recognition.
2. Which union to join?
Some industries are dominated by a particular union - so it is worth doing a bit of window shopping before you sign up. However, (and we are obviously a bit biased here) Unite can claim to be the biggest union in Britain with members in just about every type of job there is. They have more political influence than any other union (though sadly this is often less than the lobby from the business sector) and we can claim to be one of the oldest unions as well. Union membership in the UK Civil Aviation industry is overwhelmingly Unite (with around 44,000 members at Heathrow alone).
3. Recruitment
If a group of workers have decided that they want their workplace to become unionised, then there are specialist trade union officers called Organisers that can help. The following link shows how to get in touch with Unite's organisers at  www.unitetheunion.org/organising.aspx 
The advice of the organiser may depend on the size of the workplace, the nature of the work and whether or not other parts of the company are unionised. However, the objective of the organiser will always be to establish a framework where the membership is consulted in a structured way about important decisions such as relating to pay, working conditions and safety.
New members to the union will be placed in a Branch, which will meet at regular intervals (normally monthly) at which members and their representatives can discuss workplace issues, motions can be submitted and voted on and information and advice exchanged. Smaller bargaining units will not normally have their own branch, but be part of a composite branch with members from different companies.
4. Electing Representatives
Full time officials may act on behalf of members in certain ways in a workplace where there are no representatives, but this should only be a short term option. Any group of unionised workers needs to appoint people to speak on their behalf, to make the effort to go on training courses and to do a fair amount of work on behalf of the membership. The three main types of representative that have legal rights in the workplace are -
  • Shop Stewards
  • Health and Safety Representatives
  • Union Learning Representatives

Electing shop stewards and health and safety representatives will be the first step, as the ULR role is just as important but rather more specialised. Shop stewards are the main negotiators and H&S reps have certain additional legal rights that are important in establishing a relationship between the union and management. 

In larger workplaces with many representatives there may be a need for a more complex structure, which may involve electing a Chairperson, a Secretary, a Treasurer, a Women's Officer and so on.