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Reflections on the AUT’s Developing Activists Network (DAN): Solidarity more real than imagined? Anne-marie Greene University of Warwick.

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Presentation on theme: "Reflections on the AUT’s Developing Activists Network (DAN): Solidarity more real than imagined? Anne-marie Greene University of Warwick."— Presentation transcript:

1 Reflections on the AUT’s Developing Activists Network (DAN): Solidarity more real than imagined? Anne-marie Greene University of Warwick

2 Background Growing body of research and academic writing ICTs and TUs still on the periphery? Lack of empirical examples Need to move beyond the theoretical and potential to the empirical and actual Martinez Lucio and Walker’s (2005) framework –Communication culture and communication strategies –Organisational Identity –Internal democratic and decision-making processes –Organisational contingencies based on new professionals and networks

3 The research Context of AUT Ongoing analysis of DAN project –Semi structured interview with 3 FTOs –Archive analysis of email discussion list Feb – August 2006 –Documentary analysis –Participant observation –Caveats

4 The development of DAN “create a network, support structure and development programme for newer activists. Activity will be geared towards building wider engagement in LAs and AUT structures and activity” (DAN Project Proposal May 2004) To identify and train new activists To equip activists to address new challenges in the workplace To renew AUT structures at all levels To refocus AUT campaigning and support to meet the needs of newer entrants to the sector E forms of communication at its core

5 Development of DAN Addition to membership forms: link to DAN website, email list and to LA structures Renew LAs: support and resources network. Council fringe meetings in 2005 and 2006 –1000 Dan activists –Over 50% female –100 LAs covered –Activist Summer School –Regional DAN days –Training Programme Email discussion list: ‘safe space’, lifeline for lay activists, encouraged informal offshoot groups

6 Analysis: Communication Strategies A different approach to communication as a key motivating feature Engender wider ‘cultural change’ –“Dan forms of communication” Multiple voices: break down sectarian barriers Three phases of participation: 1 st = new activists, 2 nd = experienced activists, 3 rd = new activists. Actively used: 279 participants in research period (193 men, 86 women)

7 Analysis: Communication Strategies Flatten communication hierarchies –Change the ways LAs do things Communications Officer post by Council 2006 Policy exchange –Change the ways the centre communicates (weekly email updates, hard copy and email letters from GS to members) Women’s Committee –Change individual behaviour –Participation on list by FTOs, Low level of intervention –Candid and frank views –Complement conventional activities

8 Analysis: Communication Strategies Context –Resource Issues –Technical support –Campaigns team –Support from top echelons

9 Analysis: Organisational Identity and Capacity Organising V Servicing? –“This isn’t organising versus anything else… it is I think a departure from organising because it is heavily service based and heavily resource based” –“I don’t agree that it is a departure from organising…yes it is servicing and resourcing, but through that servicing and resourcing we are creating organising” –“It’s not organising as it is currently described… kind of like ‘tell a child where the fridge is and they get fed when they find it’ is organising… we’re starting from a basis of very basic stuff, very basis servicing” Emphasis on basic servicing

10 Analysis: Internal democratic and decision-making processes The need for official support –“It went really badly wrong for me… I lost my political buy-in to it because in the end it got too big… the [network] conference was twice the size of the AGM… the legitimacy of it was a big problem…and the Campaign Officer brings with her the need to have political legitimacy to [DAN], so we have worked hard, and harder that I ever would have worked at getting branch buy in and as far as you can some official buy-in… making sure that we had some very strong political support at the top so that it wouldn’t die if either of us left” Legitimacy of the e-form Complex relationship between bureaucracy and democracy Not all about grass roots mobilisation: dis-integrative capacity

11 Analysis: Internal democratic and decision-making processes Accountability of Officials –Industrial action March-June 2006 –DAN list primary mode of communication –Multiple voices –Speed of communication –Links to conventional modes –Harsh criticism of leadership –Changes to decision-making –Changing nature of communicative space

12 “The reasons why these things fail in every union is because unions are in essence authoritarian and the problem with these things when they work is that they then become very difficult to manage… it is much more difficult to manage people who are moaning about the union from within than on the outside… it’s a nightmare officially but this is the price you pay for more engagement” “its profile is high.. take the recent pay dispute.. at some point in the discussion at all levels, someone will say ‘have you seen what so and said on the activist list’… it has shifted the terms of the debate for better or for worse, no doubt about that, as to how decisions are made”

13 Analysis: Internal democratic and decision-making processes Accountability of lay activists and members –DAN email list as an organiser’s tool –Force accountability on individuals acting unilaterally –Transparency in both directions –“People discussing how they are going to unseat you on a public forum has got to be preferable to not knowing about it” Context –Compatibility of LA structure with e-forms of communication.

14 Analysis: Organisational contingencies Innovations dependent on particular projects and individuals Younger, communication backgrounds, non- traditional routes to becoming an FTO –“This couldn’t work in [traditional trade union] structures… they might have a conference every so often that resolves that they need to use email to get more in touch with their members but it can’t work, it is too threatening. We don’t feel threatened by this… Feeling threatened is understandable but what it does mean is that you can’t grow… it’s a big issue for trade unions”

15 DAN Post Amalgamation Support from NATFHE but Possible culture clash? More formalised, regional, addition of FE DAN has to become less informal Change in tenor of discussions –Maintain gap between officials and ordinary members –“… for ex-NATFHE colleagues, [this LA] has been a significant critic of previous leaderships in past pay negotiations” –Old union affiliations

16 Discussion Interesting case study of a successful organising and servicing initiative that has e-forms of communication at its heart –Met objectives –Changed communication culture –Demonstrates many of ICTs’ potential advantages

17 Discussion BUT Communication not polyphonic all the time: spaces can become less safe depending on the time and the issue Threats and challenges to official structures: difficult to manage union identity and member control Importance of analysis of e-forms within their specific union context Importance of longitudinal analysis

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