par planet labor
To recruit new members and strengthen the union’s role on the workplace, the members of the trade union confederation LO is multiplying initiatives. Several unions in Copenhagen are testing a system used in Britain and the US. A loan which turns out to be very efficient and brings the union back to its old values.
Harald Børsting promised to get back to the source when he was elected president of the LO union six months ago. The goal: stop the ‘member hemorrhage’ LO has been undergoing since 1996. The situation is so threatening that, without efficient remedy soon, the number of members could go below the one-million threshold. As soon as his mandate began, the new chair started strengthening local units and supporting staff representatives on the workplace. « We are building a big experimental laboratory, where we develop new concepts and try different approaches » Mr. Børsting the U4 daily, adding that LO should give all its members the possibility to talk about their experience and support the recruitment of new members in the different unions.
New outfit for old values. One of the methods introduced by several unions in Copenhagen is proving to be working. Getting unionists out of their office, it gives the union back to workers. Paradoxically, this measure was borrowed from the British union T&G and the American union SEIU, countries where unionism is less important than in Denmark, but where this method enabled them to increase their members significantly. The system is simple: a unionist trained to development, called organizer, visits the sites to organize the workers and boost union members on the workplace. He talks with the employees and identifies the future ‘leaders’ he will train later on, so they can organize their colleagues. As Bo Rosschou, vice-president of the capital city’s house painters unions (Malernes Fagforening Storkøbenhavn) and organizer himself, told U4, « Members must be involved in organization on the workplace, and then they feel like they belong to the union ». Following this method, the union introduced a safety plan which led to the creation of occupational safety units on more than 50 sites.
Back in the field. The HK/Service Hovedstaden union introduced this method in the three branches where it was the weakest: health, call centers and transportation… successfully. The first test took place in an airport with several hundreds of employees, and only 60 of them belonged to a trade union. Now they have six active leaders and, as early as February, the union took in more than 50 new members. And this is only the beginning, said Søren Hallum Andersen, an organizer who, at the end of April, conducted the first Danish training on this method. 11 interns from seven unions in Copenhagen learned the theoretical and practical tricks of this ‘union reconquest’.
What cost? This new system generates costs which the union must pay if it wants to change. This cost is real because the trade unions which use it already saved up to 10% of their total budget, like HK/Service Hovedstaden. The cost is also political, because the role of service provider which Danish unionism has built needs to be revised. Several experts observe in these tests – although still only limited to the capital – the beginning of a change of mindsets towards more activism and less red tape.
Planet Labor, May 22, 2008, No. 080417 – www.planetlabor.com