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Another day, another slip up.


It could be anything, depending on what day you read this. Maybe they’ve published edition 17 of the list of cancelled school building projects; or forgotten they were the government whilst standing at the despatch box; or proposed a John Lewis style part-privatisation of the moon.

It’s a government of the rich, but a poor example of an administration.

But for a classic example of life imitating politics you can’t beat this. It’s Michael Gove showing his amazing ability to make even the simplest things look hard.

OMG: Actually Organising!


Since landing here  in SERTUC from planet Not-A-Clue in January I have been keeping myself very busy but often with the nagging impression of achieving  little. 

 This doesn’t reflect particularly badly on me.  According to everyone I’ve asked, this is normal for project work.

A lot of the early period has been taken up with mapping and then with planning and then finally with getting permission to put the plans into action. At regional level in the TUC  permission takes time. You ask your own manager, then a regional  secretary of an affiliated union and then a union branch.  You either do all this before getting near any workers or you build up contacts with workers in parallel and take the risk that this work will be wasted time if permission is refused.

All this stuff is important and especially so for me! I arrived here with no contacts and no reputation to draw on which poses obvious problems for an organiser.  Organising is essentially the art of getting other people to do things. Clearly you can’t get people to do things if you don’t know any  people or if the people you do know have no reason to listen to you!

For me, the mapping period has been an opportunity  to carve out my little foot hold in the movement as much as anything else.

However useful and nessacary this period is however, it is still the case that it doesn’t quite seem like forward motion. You can’t see anything tangible being achieved. You prepare for a plan that is as yet untested. And if you’re like me: you worry that the plan may not work.

It is therefore with great relief and satisfaction that i can now report the following:

Today I began to organise: I phoned people up, contacts i have made, and I asked them to do something, together, for their union. And they agreed.

There it is: Progress is being made. Onwards and Upwards!

Thanet NUT Donates £2000 to Oppose Racism


Thanet Love Music Hate Racism, in association with Thanet NUT, are holding a massive festival in Margate on Sat Sept 11th!

At a well attended meeting of local teachers, Thanet NUT Association voted unanimously to donate £2000 to the anti-racism project.

NUT Organiser Andrew Robbins commented after the meeting, “Today’s historic vote by Thanet NUT sends a clear message that local teachers want Thanet to remain an inclusive and multicultural place for children, teachers and parents of all backgrounds”.

In the run up to the main festival, Love Music Hate Racism and the NUT will be working with local schools, to run workshops and competitions which promote an anti-racism message. Thanet pupils will be given the opportunity to enter a contest to design a Thanet LMHR logo. There will also be an anti-racism poetry competition and local pupils from a number of schools will each design and make the festival banner – to be displayed at the event.

Furthermore, there is currently talk of holding a local Thanet’s Got LMHR Talent contest!

There will be food, drink, prizes, music and dance on the day! Local school choirs and performing arts departments are invited to come and perform.

To find out more call Andrew Robbins (NUT) on: 07872564938 or Bunny La Roche (LMHR) on: 07947424505 or email: You can also join the Thanet Love Music Hate Racism Facebook group.

Anyone can get involved in this exciting community project and schools are particularly welcome. Get in touch to join us at our next planning meeting and help us throw the party of the year in Margate this September!

The power of organising, and progressive Lincolnshire…


Back to Lincolnshire again, where the road beneath you is the highest point in the landscape. This time a bit of experience, and a bit more planning, and every visit was a success. Even where the head wanted to turn us away they couldn’t.

For this visit hundreds of letters, scores of posters and dozens of phone calls helped smooth the way so that every visit produced a result. Using email, snail mail, text and telephony every school visit involved some kind of meeting with members.

Progressive Lincolnshire

lincolnshire has links with the east coast of the United States. The first published poet in the states, Anne Bradstreet, lived in Lincolnshire before emigrating with other pilgrims to the US. She has often been described as a feminist. Below are a few lines from a poem about Queen Elizabeth I.

Now say, have women worth, or have they none
Or had they some, but with our Queen is’t gone?
Nay, masculines, you have taxed us long;
But she, though dead, will vindicate our wrong.
Let such as say our sex is void of reason,
Know ’tis a slander now, but once was treason.

So it aint all bad.



Followers of my blog will remember that I have recently put together my project plan and that the first item is mapping.

Mapping is just what it sounds like: a process of understanding the important features of a workplace or situation: how many people work in this office, or warehouse or industry, how many are union members, who is doing what, with whom and how? What the hell is going on and how could it be improved on?

Since I’ve been given a remit that could easily encompass the entire working class and the area of London, a city of seven and a half million people, the main difficulty presented by this task is where to start and when to end!

Because I had the luxury of writing my own work plan, I left myself a very generous two to three months for this part, got on the phone to anyone and everyone who seemed interesting and started to set up meetings. This is surprisingly easy: any number busy people have found time to talk a newcomer through their terrain and for this I am eternally grateful.

When I think of the readership of this blog I imagine someone like me: perhaps considering applying to the organiser academy, perhaps about to start a placement. I want to be encouraging but I want to be realistic too. So I’ll tell you the truth: There have been moments when I’ve found myself staring at a blank computer screen wondering how to fill my diary or coming back from a meeting  wondering if I’m doing the “right” thing.

You get through it: you look at the contacts you have and the resources in front of you, you get on the phone and you make appointments and talk to people and take notes. Pretty soon filling time isn’t a problem anymore although finding it might be!

You need flat shoes for running about the city, an A to Z and the nerve to talk to a lot of strangers. Apparently in Brazil they call this having a “wooden face.” I would never have known that if it wasn’t for the mapping.

What I’ve found is that generally people are happy to chat and are very helpful. Only very occasionally is someone sarcastic, patronising or clutchy over their knowledge. After a while it’s clicked with me that these are the people who perhaps are not so sure of what they’re doing.

Where people are helpful, I try to cultivate a similarly friendly and open attitude and if possible to do some small favour to show willing: even if this is just passing on a contact or putting them in the direction of some information.

Gradually, gradually, the hopeful little lines on my Gantt chart have begun to look like definite possibilities.

Real things that might get done by real people.

BA Again (sort of)


I had this exact conversation on Sunday:

Ditzy mate: “You work at the TUC: whats going on with the aeroplanes then?”

Me: “Oh its not about the strike anymore. Its about the giant volcanic dust cloud”

Ditzy mate: “What?!”

School visits and follow up in the land of the Founding Fathers


Boston in Lincolnshire wears its history lightly. Boston, not Plymouth, is where the founding fathers of the US left from on the Mayflower. By way of Holland, Plymouth was the last place in England they saw, not the place they originated from. I’m not sure why they don’t make more of it. I spent a week there with a team of organisers from NASUWT headquarters.

The team, including former graduates of the Organisers Academy, visited, or tried to visit, 41 schools. Many were welcoming, one offered us a school meal, but some were downright hostile and it is with those schools that follow up becomes extremely important.

We found a number of reps and school contacts, and found that compliance with accepted practices is woeful, particularly in small schools.

At one school we had a very friendly deputy head pop in to ensure that everything was alright. Once she was in, she wasn’t for leaving. In the end we had to have a polite word.

In some schools we had very aggressive senior managers denying that any of our members wanted to meet us, only to get phone calls from said members asking when we would be arriving.

The mapping element is so important, with local knowledge built in to the plan, and regular consultation with existing reps, caseworkers and Local Association officials. Invariably the schools which we had been advised to visit produced reps and contacts.

It was great to see so many of the new faces at a Local Association meeting last night. It just goes to show, there’s no substitute for a face to face meeting to get people active.

What do you do all day?


 Here’s an example of a working week from around the beginning of March. What I notice about this week, looking back is that it’s a remarkably unstructured.

 At this stage I was beginning to think about my work plan and I certainly had some ideas but nothing had been given the go-ahead. I was still trying to get a handle on things, orient myself and work out the parameters of what might or might not be achieved. 

Monday and Tuesday are fairly quiet. I have a little bout of panicky wondering what to do (apparently this happens to all project workers and is normal) then phone calls, emails and facebook. People seem to reply faster and more helpfully to facebook messages for some reason so I try and friend contacts where possible. This is legitimate networking and NOT, repeat NOT time wasting as suspected by certain people in my office (Ok, sometimes it is!) On Tuesday there’s a student meeting at SOAS but we won’t count that because it was only around the corner and I couldn’t find them anyhow!

During this time I also design some flyers for the GMB Equalities conference and send them down to the print room. I don’t really like them because I can’t find any good images so I end up using  naff clip art.

On wednesday things start to pick up a little; I have an appointment with some people in the organising department of PCS. The PCS building is in Clapham and not knowing South London I get a train to Clapham North rather than Clapham Junction and have to find a bus to take me the rest of the way. I get in just in time and am very warmly received.

“Oh it’s great to see an Academy Organiser on the project”

“Really? You realise I’m basically a trainee right?”

We have a very useful discussion on the difficulties of organising contracted out staff, even in workplaces where they already have a presence. The recognition agreement only allows reps facilities time to consult with members working for the same employer. This means that until the contracted out staff have their own rep: they are basically asking activists to take on extra work in their own time. To relieve the pressure somewhat they plan a centralised team to take on casework for a time.

 I then run back to the office to talk to the print room. They can’t get my flyers done for two days, which will be too late because the conference is tomorrow. I am clearly failing to develop the kind of friendly relationship with the print room that can so easily make or break a TUC career. After a brief panic resolve to get in at 8 the next day to run some off on the photocopier.

Then I run over to Hackney to check out a Hackney Unites meeting. Hackney Unites is a pretty impressive project, initiated by Hackney Trades Council and intended to build community cohesion, anti-racism and generally promote progressive stuff. The most interesting part of the project from my point of view is their plan for drop in workers advice sessions, feeding into a course in workplace rights and organising. I stick about for a while being quietly impressed, have a quick chat with a few people and arrange follow up meetings then wander up Stoke Newington High Road for the bus home at about 9.30, arriving home soon after 10.

A quick phone call, reveals a good friend, down from Cardiff is drinking in my local. A few beers and a chat later I hit my pillow only to drag myself up about 5 minutes later (That’s what it FELT like!) for early morning photocopying at the office and then onto the train station.

The GMB equalities conference is in Southampton and is an enthusiastic if slightly under attended affair. I needn’t have worried about the printing really. My official business here is to encourage more nominations onto the SERTUC council and committee’s but it’s also a good opportunity to meet and talk to their youth organiser, Rachel Verdin, who puts my gripes about the early morning into perspective by telling me she was up at 4am: 4! One of the participants accuses me of looking like a “demented gnome” because I turn up wearing a jumper with a busy pattern and then stand outside in it with the hood up. I let it go. Then it’s the train home at 10ish and in the front door at midnight.

On Friday I wake up at 8, wanting to do anything else but go to the office. Luckily, in SERTUC world, attending a demonstration is pretty much always a good reason for being out of the office and it just so happens that the English Defence League are in town prompting a small but spirited counter demonstration by Unite against Fascism.

I ring the office explaining that I will be there (The UAF one Obviously!): “Promoting the SERTUC anti fascist strategy” It just so happens my mate from Cardiff is still about and planning much the same thing (minus the promotion of SERTUC) so we team up for a leisurely breakfast and a proper catch up before heading over to Charing Cross. The sun shines down on us as we make our way down Whitehall and I show off slightly about getting paid to do stuff  that I would have done anyway.

The UAF demo is best summed up by this remark overheard by a cop explaining the situation to a passer-by:

“The far right are having a demo and the far left are upset because they can’t do anything about it”

 Not looking good comrades, not good at all.

Still, I give out flyers and I chat. Some old guy in an anorak asks me “Who’s in charge of SERTUC these days?” I explain that Megan Dobney is the Regional Secretary and he says “yes, but who’s in charge, really?” as if he expects me to let him in on some great conspiracy.

Normally of course I’d be happy to help, its just that Megan says if I  betray my secret oath I’ll be  killed and have my tongue buried at a crossroads at midnight and besides, i’m still in my probationary period and i don’t want to rock the boat.

So sorry anorak man, I’ll leave you to it this time. Remember the truth is out there!

British Airways


 One of the cool things about working at Congress House is the sense you have of national events unfolding around you. Just lately, the building’s been hosting the  negotiations around the British Airways dispute.

Yesterday the  guy in the phone shop wanted to know  if I thought he’d still be able to get to his brothers stag do in Miami. I had no idea of course, its not like they announce updates throughout the building on a tannoy.  

 A whole bunch of journalists are camped outside the main entrance, sometimes until midnight, waiting for some news to happen. I have to push past them to get in and out of work.

This morning Willie Walsh walked past and they all formed a little scrum around him like a flock of camera wielding geese. There is a TV in the canteen and from where I was sitting I could watch events simultaneously in real life and on the screen.

Later on I begin to wonder what would happen if I were to get dressed up in a sharp suit, march out of the front door and make an “announcement.”

“Don’t worry it all sorted out!”

Before I can get any further with this dangerous line of thought, John Ball wanders into the office with the latest news. It seems the talks have broken down.

Too bad phone shop guy, looks like the strike is on.



Ever heard of a Gantt chart? No neither had I!  But a Gantt chart I was asked for and a Gantt chart I have produced.

For the uninitiated this is a way of showing when different parts of a project should be started or finished. It looks a load of lines or boxes on a calendar. If that still doesn’t make sense then I’ll let Wikipedia do the talking:

 My one shows  the work I plan to carry out for the vulnerable workers project. It started life, over the course of a weekend as a load of post-it notes on a pasting table at my boyfriend’s flat but is now a magnificently eccentric publisher document.

I only understand how eccentric exactly because i ran it past a Gantt Chart aficionado (Fred Grindrod of the Recession and Recovery Team: take a bow!). Still quirky methods are to be expected from the self educated and hopefully everyone who needs to can tell what it means. It’s actually pretty cool to be allowed to plan a project. Planning is not something I’ve ever been asked to do before.

 Initially I was concerned that I would be expected to return from the mountain with tablets of stone to be rigidly pursued no matter what. This led to all sorts of worries that the plan would be “wrong.” How could I hope to produce a plan at all when there is so much I don’t know at this stage?

It’s now been explained to me that of course the plan can change depending on opportunities and setbacks encountered on the way and I have now added set points in the plan for reassessment, if necessary changing things.

At the moment looking at the chart is monumentally reassuring because all that’s down for March and April is “Mapping.” This means scoping out the situation, meeting people, getting to figure out what is generally happening and so on.

When I have occasional (no, make that frequent!) moments of self doubt I can look at it and think that yes, so far all I have done is run about meeting people and chatting to them and yes that’s exactly what I’m meant to be doing. Onwards and Upwards then!

© Trades Union Congress 2007