Political activism and campaigning in a trade union

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    • 00:00

      [MUSIC PLAYING]

    • 00:10

      SAM TARRY: I'm Sam Tarry.I'm the political officer for Transport and Salaried StaffAssociation.We're the TSSA, a transport union.I'm the head of politics here.And today's video should be very educational,and help you understand and learnabout what we do politically as a union.

    • 00:34

      SAM TARRY [continued]: So I'd like to tell you a little bitabout being political officer for a trade union.Essentially, I'm in charge of things like our presscommunication strategy.But also the lobbying work that we do.So you might think a private company might call themselvesa public affairs team.Essentially, it means working withand lobbying ministers, shadow ministers, MPs, counselors.

    • 00:60

      SAM TARRY [continued]: And it could mean-- actually, in Scotland,in where I was working with the devolved administrationsor the Scottish Parliament, in the case of Scotland.And, in fact, because we're a trade union,we actually have a specific group of MP.We have at the moment eight MPs.We're quite a small union.Some trade unions have as many as 100 MPs as part of theirin Parliament that they specifically work alongside.

    • 01:22

      SAM TARRY [continued]: So that could be that we ask our MPs to ask questions.On behalf of our members, they might raise particular issues.As in our particular instance, it'sgoing to be around transport, and particularlyaround railways.But not necessarily.We have members in ferries.So in Scotland, that was a very big issuein terms of some issues around ferries.And so there are a number of motions laid down

    • 01:42

      SAM TARRY [continued]: in the Scottish Parliament, put in by in MSPs that are linkedand affiliated with our trade union.And also, a lot of campaigns.They can be public awareness raising campaigns.So for example, we often done a lotof campaigning on things like fares rises.Our union's view is that it's unnecessary to haveso many fares rises.Everyone pays an annual or weekly or daily season

    • 02:03

      SAM TARRY [continued]: ticket, and winces at how much they pay.The reality is, actually, our union would say,well, there are better ways, better methodsof running the railway.And we'll have a public-facing campaignto build support around that particular idea.So it's quite a varied role, but it's quite an exciting one.And one which you get to really meetsome of the key players overseeing government,

    • 02:24

      SAM TARRY [continued]: in the department for transport.Or at the moment, perhaps, in the shadow transport team,for example.So I think trade unions are incredibly important.Trade unions are important because it'sabout insuring that people are protected in the workplace.

    • 02:45

      SAM TARRY [continued]: It's ensuring that your legal rights are actuallyadhered to by your employer, by your boss, by your colleagues.And that means that we are not just an insurancepolicy for people at work.We're actually about organizing people collectivelyin the workplace to get a much better deal.Because too often otherwise, you'll

    • 03:05

      SAM TARRY [continued]: see that b aren't necessarily able to get a pay raiseor things can happen in the workplace potentially.Whether it's bullying, whether it's unequal pay.One of the big issues we've had a campaign on recently--and this is something that, unfortunately, is endemic--is the differential between men and women in terms of pay.Here we are in the 21st century, unfortunately,many women are paid far less still

    • 03:27

      SAM TARRY [continued]: for doing exactly the same job.Well, trade union's about dealingwith those kinds of issues.It's about actually bringing the collective power of everyonein that workplace together to geta fair deal from an employer.It's far more deep and far more widespread than someof the things you always hear about in the press.People talk about strikes.That's essentially the very last resort.

    • 03:50

      SAM TARRY [continued]: Actually, we're about often working with employers.We do a lot of educational work.We do a lot of work around health and safety.And actually, we, because our membersare working for those particular companies-- in our case,things like Network Rail, Transport for London,London Underground, lots of train companies--they'll have that real expertise.And so it's a collaborative relationship with employers

    • 04:10

      SAM TARRY [continued]: and with companies.And it's interesting.On average across the UK, everyonethat's in the trade union has at least 12 and 1/2% paydifferential with someone who's not in a trade union.Aye, on average, they're paid 12 and 1/2%more than people not in trade unions.At the end of the day, the realityis that trade unions are the people that

    • 04:30

      SAM TARRY [continued]: brought you the weekend.Trade unions are people that did, haveand still do try to campaign for equal pay in the workplace.And trade unions were the main organizationthat lobbied-- particularly in this case,the Labor Party-- to bring in a minimum wage in the UK.So in a globalized world, organizing

    • 04:54

      SAM TARRY [continued]: and some of the strategies for what we do, calledcreating leverage-- high pressure on companies--have to actually be organized across borders.The reality is that for trade unions, things are difficult.I think for a long period of time, traditional industriesthat had huge workplaces.Factories, you think of things like car manufacturing.

    • 05:14

      SAM TARRY [continued]: Or even in this country, at one time,when we used to build trains in this country, huge factoriesand workplaces.Very much easier to go in, and speak to 1,000 people at onceand convince them.Whereas now, actually, many people work at home.More and more people are self-employed.There are so many different ways of working,things are much more fragmented.

    • 05:34

      SAM TARRY [continued]: Many, many people working industries like retail.Or, for example, in restaurants.McDonald's or those types of things.And actually, they are very hard for trade unions to break intobecause of the working patterns.And actually, because of the hostility of employersto giving those workers a fair deal at work.However, many trade unions are actually growing at the moment

    • 05:59

      SAM TARRY [continued]: because there is still the need for people to be organized.Probably more than ever.Globalization is actually meant that it'smore difficult for people in Western countries-- countrieslike the UK-- to get a fair deal.In fact, it's meant that the economy hasbecome almost hourglass-shaped.So far more jobs at the bottom that are much lower paid.

    • 06:20

      SAM TARRY [continued]: The middle class and the middle element of the economyreally pared down.And then a much wider but much smaller part of the economy,people earning tremendous amounts of money.And that's been a huge shift, actually,in the economy since 1970's.And actually, that shift away from essentially a much betterpay in terms, and conditions and pensions for most

    • 06:43

      SAM TARRY [continued]: average workers in the UK, has actuallygone hand-in-hand with a decline in what wecall collective bargaining.That is, trade unions negotiating either nationally,regionally or a company level for the collective terms,and conditions and pay raises of the workersin that particular industry.So actually, what you can see is as trade unions have

    • 07:04

      SAM TARRY [continued]: become weaker, people have become more exploited.And actually, on average, people get paid less.And that's a tremendous problem.I think many people, both current and previousgovernments, recognize that that issue doesneed to be addressed if we're goingto have a more equal society.

    • 07:26

      SAM TARRY [continued]: As globalization's happened, trade unions--whether it's within the confines of the EU.Whether it's internationally and transcontinentally,unions do need to work collaboratively, actually,across borders.Our union, actually, in itself is an international union.We have members both in Northern Ireland,but also in Southern Ireland.We have over 2,000 members in Southern Ireland, transport

    • 07:48

      SAM TARRY [continued]: workers there.And so actually, we already do cross borders as a union.But many unions-- I know that one of the unions,Unite the Union, which is a general union.Covers lots and lots of industries--actually already has an international agreementwith the USW Union in the USA.Which was originally called the United Steelworkers Union.

    • 08:08

      SAM TARRY [continued]: I think, actually, now covers far more industriesthan just steel.Part of that was because the same company's operatingboth in the US and in the UK.And actually, to get a deal for those workers workingwith the same company, you couldn't justput pressure on in one country.You need to put pressure on the company in both countries.And I think that's really important.There are also global unions.

    • 08:30

      SAM TARRY [continued]: There's a union called UNI Global-- which is essentiallya conglomerate of lots of other unions--where issues are dealt with internationally.The TSSA being a transport union is alsopart of the European Transport Federationand the ITF-- the International Transport Federation.So International Transport Federation

    • 08:50

      SAM TARRY [continued]: would be funded in part by ourselves,other UK-based transport unions and also transport unionsacross the rest of the globe.They all do all sorts of international work,particularly in countries where unions might not be strong,the economy might be worse, peoplemight be paid a lot less.And so, actually, they don't have the funds perhaps

    • 09:13

      SAM TARRY [continued]: to do some of the work or have some of the expertise.So the ITF, for example, could be doing work in Panama,organizing canal workers.In a country where, actually, if you're a trade unionist,you could literally be arrested or potentially even murdered.Similarly, in countries like Colombia.

    • 09:33

      SAM TARRY [continued]: So international work is incrediblyimportant for trade unions.And the history of doing work internationallyin the trade union movement has been over 100 years.Because actually, we recognize that when global economies,global corporations-- capital itself doesn't see borders.Actually, workers need to be organized across those bordersas well.

    • 09:53

      SAM TARRY [continued]: Because it's no good having one set of workersplayed off against another set of workers,whether that's within Europe or globally.So actually, those links are really, really important.One good example that we have.We have a small sister union that we support in Zimbabwe.They're called ZARWU, the Zimbabwe Amalgamated RailwayWorkers' Union.

    • 10:15

      SAM TARRY [continued]: Things are very, very tough there.I've recently had the honor of havingtheir general secretary come and visit us here in the UK.I showed him around Parliament.Got him to meet some MPs.I showed him some of the sights.And he was telling me about what happened in Zimbabwe.Trade unions really are seen as a threatbecause they're one of the few organizations

    • 10:35

      SAM TARRY [continued]: with the capability to stand up for democracy.And, actually, they've been very politically active,campaigning against the current governmentthere because of the kind of human rights abuses committedby that particular government.But they have quite a tough situation.For example, their railway workershas not even been paid their wagesin around about two years.

    • 10:56

      SAM TARRY [continued]: So no one's able to pay their union dues, their subs.Source of the union, financially struggling.So we make a small financial contributionto supporting that union, which is obviously very well receivedby them.And enables them to carry on their work,represents railway workers in an impoverished country, Zimbabwe.

    • 11:20

      SAM TARRY [continued]: So trade unions are democratic organizations.Our priorities are set by our members.I'm an employee of our members.We're about 20,000 strong.We have a monthly executive, whichis elected from the membership and theydecide our key priorities.We also have what's called a rep structure,workplace representatives.

    • 11:40

      SAM TARRY [continued]: Now if there's a particular industrial issue--so workplace issue-- whether it would be within the tubesor within Network Rail or a particular train operatingcompany, those reps will be having conversationswith the management and with the other membersof that workplace.And they will come to us as officers and say,there's a particular issue.There's a problem.We'll need to do something about it.

    • 12:01

      SAM TARRY [continued]: We might need to launch a campaign.We might need to go through some bargainingor, I suppose, discussions with the particular companyabout resolving that issue.So things are very much lay member led within any tradeunion, particular here at TSSA.

    • 12:24

      SAM TARRY [continued]: So the TSSA-- like many other trade unions--will campaign on all kinds of different issues.So for example, at the moment, wedon't have a lot of members working in high-speed rail.High-speed tubes in the process of being designed and built.So we have some members there.But for us, we've been lobbying both previous laborgovernments, the current Tory governmentand reached all kinds of people-- counsel leaders

    • 12:46

      SAM TARRY [continued]: in the North of England and others--to build support for that.Because after us, that's about securing investmentinto the future of the industry.So that's the next generation of railway workersthat we're campaigning for, essentially,at that particular point.We had also run campaigns on, as I said previously,things about fares.So for example, we want to make an argument about railways

    • 13:07

      SAM TARRY [continued]: being run in public ownership.We think that's far more efficient.You can save a lot more money.It's a much more effective way of doing railways.And that's why the French, the German,the Dutch all run their railways publicly.It's a lot better than having millions of different companiespulling in different directions, trying to deliverlittle parts of the business.It doesn't really work.And so, actually, for us, we say higher fares

    • 13:29

      SAM TARRY [continued]: is an impact of privatization.And what we want to do is run it publicly.And then use that money saved to help cut fares for commuters.So we run all kinds of public awareness campaigns.Something else that might be coming up quite soonis plans are afoot to break up, and potentiallyprivatize Network Rail.That is the body that does the infrastructure work, i.e. they

    • 13:50

      SAM TARRY [continued]: actually repair the tracks.They build the stations.They do that kind of work that actually keeps the trainsmoving along the tracks.Previously when that was privatized,it led to a whole load of disastrous train crashes.Potters Bar, Hatfield.Some of them quite infamous, actually.Many, many people killed because, actually,that structure just wasn't working as a private entity.

    • 14:13

      SAM TARRY [continued]: So actually, we won't have proper democratic governance,no oversight in that.So we'll have a strategy that willrange from public awareness building,to direct lobbying of MPs from private meetings to buildingpublic campaigns to lobby those MPs.Potentially working with previous victims of those traincrashes.So it'd be quite what you'd call a wider PR and public relations

    • 14:35

      SAM TARRY [continued]: strategy, around a particular campaigning objective.A policy objective, if you like.And we'll do all sorts of different thingsto actually draw people into that,and to make the case in the public sphere.So we work with government, and we work with MPs.

    • 14:56

      SAM TARRY [continued]: And we work to change the law or oppose particular laws thatmight be about to be brought in through a numberof different ways.One, obviously, we will respond to government consultations.But we will also use our direct industrial knowledgeto actually go in and have those discussions.Even governments-- in our case, we are a pro-labor union--

    • 15:20

      SAM TARRY [continued]: but government ministers will recognizewe represent 20,000 people that actually run the railways.So they can't just dismiss us and say, oh youdon't know what you're talking about.You're all mad.They actually know that it's our people-- particular someof our very senior grades of membership--which could be really literally the people pullingthe levers at the very top of the railways.And they are the people that know better

    • 15:41

      SAM TARRY [continued]: than anyone else how, actually, to run the systemand to make improvements to it.So we do have a dialogue and have a relationship.It's not all confrontational.Actually, sometimes it can very much about feeding into ideasand policies that are being developed .Things do, I suppose, change a little bit when we look.At the moment, we have the opposition

    • 16:01

      SAM TARRY [continued]: being the Labor Party.Because, actually, we have a direct intrinsic linkbecause we are labor-affiliated.We have both a group of MPs-- TSSAhas about eight MPs that are sponsored or linkedwith the TSSA union.And we will use them to ask questions in Parliament.So laying down parliamentary questions.We'll get them to call Westminster Hall debates.

    • 16:22

      SAM TARRY [continued]: We might even get them to put into Parliament,say, a private members' bill.That's a bill initiated by a back bench MP,rather than a government-initiatedlegislation.Or different ways of campaigning and usingthe parliamentary system to, actually, bring about change.Obviously, if there's a law that, potentially, couldbe coming in or we want to see amendments to a law,

    • 16:43

      SAM TARRY [continued]: we will be working very closely with that group of MPs.And we'll also encourage our members to, actually, goand lobby their MP.We've often done parliamentary lobbies,where we've taken TSSA members down to Parliamentto actually meet their MPs.Sometimes, that can be an informal meet-and-greetsituation, an opportunity to chat and to talk to those MPs.Sometimes a direct lobbying of those MPs.

    • 17:06

      SAM TARRY [continued]: Or they'll go in and request a meeting,and they'll be briefing that MP or tellingthat MP about how that particular issueor that particular law could be affecting positivelyor negatively them at work or their community.We also encourage our members to write into their MPs.All the typical methods of communicating and puttingpressure on an MP.

    • 17:26

      SAM TARRY [continued]: Using social media, as well as actually turning upin their own constituencies, to gomeet those MPs in their offices.So we will also use the leverage wehave with the MPs who are in the Labor Partybecause we've got strong link with them.Maybe we would've campaigned with them, supported theminto being elected at different points.Gives us that relationship of trust

    • 17:46

      SAM TARRY [continued]: with those particular group of MPs,who'll then do things for us.Obviously, they're there representingtheir constituents.But they have a particular specialistinteresting in stuff to do with the railways or the widertransport industry.So it's quite an important role that I have understandinghow Parliament works.Having the knowledge of what buttons to press

    • 18:08

      SAM TARRY [continued]: to get certain results.My views on the media and trade unionsare that often, the mainstream media is quite hostileto trade unions.And so we often get a tough time in the press.We often get attacked.

    • 18:28

      SAM TARRY [continued]: And often, things get quite distorted.Too often, they'll focus on, for example, strikes.Where actually, there are very few strikes compared to 20or 30 years ago.Strikes often are very last resort.And actually, too little focus on the good workthat trade unions do in terms of guaranteeing people decentpensions.Making sure they're not working too many hours,

    • 18:50

      SAM TARRY [continued]: making sure they're working in a safe environment at workand that health and safety criteria are actually met.And we do a lot of media work with our transport union.And transport is very often in the political spotlightand the media spotlight for a whole myriad range of reasons.And because of that, I think that we probably do try and use

    • 19:11

      SAM TARRY [continued]: the media to our advantage.We all have a strategy of getting our messages across.And actually doing so in a way which is sensible.That is not too combative.But actually, puts our argument across in a waythat we think the public will understandor will resonate within.At the end of the day, we might help run the transport systems

    • 19:31

      SAM TARRY [continued]: that people use, that commuters use.We also use them as well.So I think that's really important for peopleto understand.And the media isn't necessary the best friendof the trade union movement.But I think in this day and age, with the riseof social media-- with Twitter, Facebook, all those kindsof different avenues to communicate directlywith people-- people are actually far less trusting

    • 19:54

      SAM TARRY [continued]: of the mainstream media-- and particularly newspapers--then they've ever been thing at any particular point in historybefore.And so that's a really interesting opportunity.A much better opportunity for unions to exploit.To actually get our side of the case across.And, in fact, actually have membersof the public or our members making that case for us.

    • 20:18

      SAM TARRY [continued]: Well, I would say, if you're going to become a trade unionpolitical officer or work in a number of different rolesfor a trades union.Right through from the administration team,through to negotiating industrially over national payclaims-- as many of our officers will do.Well, the first thing to do wouldbe to join a trade union, to get involved.

    • 20:38

      SAM TARRY [continued]: Whatever kind of workplace you currently work in,look up on the TUC's website whatthat particular trade union that'd be right for youwould be.If you're in the retail sector, if you're in the finance sectoror if you're in the transport sector,there are appropriate trade unions for you.If you're particularly interesting being involvedin the politics and the political campaigning

    • 20:59

      SAM TARRY [continued]: of the trade union and making that a career,I would do a number of things.I think one is actually to be active in community campaigns.To actually be active in doing things at a local levelto try and change your community for what you see as the better.I think to, obviously, be involved in your local tradeunion branches.Many trade union branches who organize at a local level

    • 21:21

      SAM TARRY [continued]: will have political officer-- justa lay member at the local level-- who'll do work.Might be responsible for liaisingwith political parties.Maybe with the labor party, if it's a labor-affiliated union.And maybe liaising with the media.So you're already beginning to build up those skillsbefore you actually come and work for a trade union

    • 21:42

      SAM TARRY [continued]: officially as it were.I think many people that work for trade unionshave actually come through the laid structures.So they've actually been a workplace rep.They've maybe been a health and safety rep.They've actually being involved politicallyin some of the campaign's that the trade union's done.And they've actually risen through the ranks.That's often the traditional way that peopleget involved and become involved in their trade union.

    • 22:05

      SAM TARRY [continued]: I would also say that if you're alreadystarting a degree in politics, or history or philosophy,those skills and knowledge are really, really important.It's also important to try and get experience.Many people might go and do some experience working for an MP.But you could equally approach a trade union.Unlike the MPs, we'll actually pay

    • 22:26

      SAM TARRY [continued]: you to do an internship working for usor to come do some voluntary work, we'd, at the very least,made sure your expenses were covered.So actually, use those opportunities.Contact a trade union-- whether its locally,regionally or nationally-- and find outhow you can be involved in that.

    • 22:48

      SAM TARRY [continued]: In summary, trade unions don't justhave to organize and be organized in the workplace.Negotiating all those things you'dexpect the trade unions to do.Whether it's pensions, pay, ensuring that your rightsat work, and the holidays and the amount of hours you workare all in line with the law.That's the bread and butter work of trade unions.But at the end the day, we do not change and make laws.

    • 23:11

      SAM TARRY [continued]: We have to actually campaign, to organize, and to lobby,and to work with parliamentariansand with the general public to make those changesto the law that are about enhancing people's workplacerights.Essentially, you either have a lot of money.And that money can be organized to wield political power.Or you have a lot of people.And what we have is a lot of people.

    • 23:32

      SAM TARRY [continued]: And as we organize those people, we put pressure on politicians.We can actually insure that you have better rights at work.And that's why trade unions have political officers.And that's why our members and officerswork in the political arena, as wellas in the industrial arena.

Political activism and campaigning in a trade union

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Abstract

Sam Tarry of the Transport and Salaried Staff Association talks about his work as a union political officer. He explains the work that trade unions do with employers and with government to ensure fair treatment of workers.

SAGE Video In Practice
Political activism and campaigning in a trade union

Sam Tarry of the Transport and Salaried Staff Association talks about his work as a union political officer. He explains the work that trade unions do with employers and with government to ensure fair treatment of workers.

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