Defying the odds, Camden Unison grows

Five branch officers and stewards attended a recent meeting of UNISON’s local government committee for the Greater London region, which includes some 40 branches. At the meeting we received details about total membership figures for the London local government branches as well as recruitment figures both for our region and UNISON across its 13 regions.

The raw numbers make for sobering reading with total recruitment for the months between January and September 2010 and the same nine-month period this year down by nearly a third (60,163 v 41,193). For London branches the decline in recruitment is not quite so dramatic but still substantial and virtually all branches in councils across the capital reported an absolute fall in membership.
 
Of course, this sharp drop in numbers recruited is far from surprising, given the scale of job loss that has been witnessed nationally and, frankly, the paucity of resistance to the cuts across most of the country, but there was a modest ray of light.  The figures reported orally at the meeting on Thursday 15 November for Greater London’s 40 or so branches indicated that only three recorded higher membership figures for September 2012 when compared with the same month last year AND Camden UNISON was one of those, with the official figure for branch membership rising from rising from 3,247 to 3,276. It’s no pleasure to add that the figure of 29 was the highest figure for absolute growth among the three branches concerned.
 
The branch’s figure for September 2012 does not, however, reflect the impact of the Play Service closure on our members and perhaps a few more members from other recent restructures/cuts exercises should have been lapsed from branch records in the meantime, but overall to not only maintain our previously existing figure for membership but to boost that figure, albeit modestly, is no mean feat.
 
There is almost certainly no single explanation for this small-scale success, but at least for a time we have swum against a fierce tide by maintaining relatively high levels of recruitment almost every quarter. I have little doubt that our branch did more than most to exploit the opportunity provided last autumn by the run-up to the 30 November pensions strike, which led to a recruitment spike in October and November 2011, but I suspect that the figure also reflects exceptionally strong membership growth on outsourced contracts, principally the NSL parking enforcement contract. The growth in membership on that contract is a real tribute to the work initiated by a former branch officer, Sarah Friday, and carried on with such determination by John Mann and the local NSL stewards. While we cannot measure the precise impact of this dispute on how the branch is perceived more widely among potential members, the NSL dispute may just have given Camden UNISON a boost more generally.
 
Needless to say, there are no grounds for complacency, especially when there is no immediate prospect of national action comparable to the November 2011 pensions strike to spur recruitment, but for now congratulations and well done to everyone involved. Now to win the NSL dispute and forward to a pay campaign that wins a real salary increase of us!

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