UNI Europa’s EPOC programme brings together affiliated unions to organise in a coordinated and effective way by building workers’ power. This year has seen a lot of support work with affiliates in building sustainable structures towards defending, extending and (re)building collective bargaining. As another strange year comes to a close, we review the year of growth with EPOC and reflect on the challenges ahead.
Despite a challenging context, EPOC has gone from strength to strength throughout 2021. The year began very strongly with three more unions going through the EPOC Advanced Organising Programme in January. Fellesforbundet is the largest private sector trade union in Norway and is affiliated to UNI Europa via the Graphical & Packaging sector. GMB is a large general union from the UK affiliated to most UNI sectors, while FSU is the Irish affiliate of UNI Finance. These training programmes led to pilot campaigns being identified to be immediately rolled out in both Norway and the UK.
There were two priority areas for Fellesforbundet and EPOC to target. Firstly, the union wanted to identify a large employer that all of the trained organisers could be involved in, and secondly, we wanted to develop a programme of work to build union power in the Oslo Graphical Union (which is one of the 80 or so local unions that make up the federation Fellesforbundet), in particular by pushing into the advertising sector.
For GMB, the priority area was the care sector and so the initial training programme was followed up in February with buy-in meetings with the leaderships of two of their regions. As a result, an agreement was reached to launch a pilot campaign in a major chain of care homes in England and Wales.
In February and March, we held the first EPOC Network meetings of the year. The first was led by FSU Ireland where we heard about the brilliant work that the union has done in one of the four big banks in the country during Covid-19. They outlined how a relatively small union with few staff, reliant on elected volunteer officers and activists in the workplace could not only retain membership levels but grow in these conditions with the right strategy and tactics. In the second EPOC Network event IG BAU led the discussion on how they won a major pay increase for over 700,000 cleaners by adopting a sectoral organising strategy and building for negotiations by developing power at the base. Throughout the year EPOC’s deep engagement continued with IGBAU and a detailed organising plan was developed by the officials with the support of EPOC in November 2021 will be continuing throughout 2022.
In the run up to UNI Europa’s 5th Conference, March and April saw the first buy-in meetings with two additional unions: GPA in Austria and NAF in Norway. Two very different unions in very different industrial relations systems and, significantly, very different approaches to concluding and enacting collective agreements at both company and sectoral level. Discussions with GPA quickly identified the ICTS sector as a prime place to identify and roll out a pilot project, while with NAF the proposed target was in the property services sector in order to run a coordinated campaign with Fellesforbundet.
May and June saw the conclusion of an extensive buy-in process with our first Swedish affiliate in EPOC as Fastighets agreed to come on board and plans were developed over the summer to roll out in the autumn. The Advanced Organising Programme with the union’s organising department ran through late August and September before a shorter programme on organising and collective bargaining strategy with the union leadership.
After a successful buy-in and advanced organising training with the official and activists, the pilot project in ICTS sector with Verdi Berlin was agreed. A detailed plan was put together after training in June 2021. EPOC’s work with Verdi on the pilot campaign will continue in 2022.
EPOC’s work to build lead organiser capacity with Mandate (Ireland) continued in 2021. In one EPOC Network call, organisers made excellent presentation about their successful result in how to gather contacts through digital campaigning methods under Covid.
The successes didn’t stop while everyone was on holiday. In August GMB in the Midland and East Coast region reported a fantastic victory in defeating fire-and-rehire at Synergy LMS in Derby using some of the techniques picked up from the EPOC training programme (identifying leaders, identifying issues and using choke points etc).
In September, EPOC was in Oslo to deliver two sessions with Fellesforbundet. The first a half day training on strategy and integrating organising into sectoral collective bargaining negotiations with senior officials, followed by a session with all the organisers of the 80 local unions at the union’s annual conference for locals.
October started to see great leaps forward in the GPA pilot campaign at a major ICTS company in Vienna. Advanced Organising training had taken place over the summer with the organisers, followed by a more targeted programme for the works councillors in the company who wanted to drive the union forward. Through systematic organising one-to-ones the small team, managed to complete over 270 workplace surveys over a short period of time. At the time of writing, plans are underway for the first recruitment drive in the company on the basis of collective issues and actions identified by the campaign.
Much of October and November were taken by the planning, execution of follow-up of the FES – EPOC Network Strategy Sessions. Here, over the course of three half-day workshops, we explored in detail how to develop an organising and collective bargaining strategy, how to get buy-in across a union for a strategy and how to roll it out. This was based on experience gained over recent years and was provided in five languages with the great support of the FES Competence Centre on the Future of Work.
The way forward
No doubt 2021 has been a very busy year with fantastic progress and 2022 is shaping up to be no different. Already we have plans in place for early part of 2022. These include taking EPOC into France and Spain for the first time with discussions with affiliated unions there currently underway and plans emerging.
Work will continue with all the unions mentioned above. In particular we will have a big job to work with FSU to roll-out the strategy that was so successful in their pilot campaign (see above) across all four major banks, plus the creative industries that the union has been moving into in recent years. Indeed, the success of the pilots was important to convincing the wider union to establish an organising team within the union to work in a systematic way to build union power across the sector. The first part of 2022 will mean training these organisers and working with them step-by-step to put the strategy in place.
What is also clear for all of us is that 2022 will not be the covid-free future we had all hoped for. We must continue to find creative ways to build union power and work together to defend, extend and (re)build collective bargaining. Here’s to more success in the New Year.
The EPOC programme brings together UNI Europa affiliates 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.