EPOC Network: Organising for retention and growth under COVID-19

Tuesday 2 March 2021

How do unions ensure that they can still grow despite the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic? What organising methods and techniques are effective when most workers are working from home? These were the central questions of this month’s EPOC Network discussion meeting, “Organising for retention and growth under COVID-19”.  

Gareth Murphy, Head of Industrial Relations and Campaigns at FSU, UNI’s finance affiliate in Ireland, addressed February’s EPOC Network discussion meeting and gave an overview of the infill campaign that the union has run in one of the big four banks in the country during Covid-19. He outlined how a relatively small union with few staff, reliant on elected volunteer officers and shop stewards in the workplace could not only retain membership levels but grow in these conditions with the right strategy and tactics.

Since joining EPOC, the flagship organising centre for UNI affiliates in western Europe, FSU has continued on its journey to refocus its efforts developing workplace leaders to boost worker (and especially member) participation in their trade union and its everyday fightsBy using participatory, systematic and structured organising approaches FSU has had significant success. Building collective power to face the challenges thrown at bank workers by the current conditions.

Other challenges highlighted by Murphy for unions like FSU included the absence in Ireland of an organising academy or coordinated training across unions, and the breakdown and ultimate failure of the country’s traditional ‘partnership’ model. Add to this the growing role of US multinationals and strategic human resource management approaches to union avoidance.  

Despite all of these challenges and the impending threat of the closure of the entire operations of the bank in the Republic of Ireland, FSU has identified a new cadre of activists and leaders and seen a significant increase in membership by working carefully and deliberately in rolling out its organising campaign.  

The EPOC programme brings together unions from across northern and western Europe to organise in a coordinated and effective way by building workers’ power. Its remit is to defend, extend and (re)build collective bargaining by providing support to affiliates in building sustainable structures. Online meetings of the network take place monthly. If your union is interested in getting involved in EPOC, contact Erkan Ersoy or Ben Egan for more information. 

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