This is based on the training Emma Runswick delivered for BMA Medical Student Representatives. It has some use for all of us, but the chosen examples may not fit your environment.
My name is Emma and I’m a Trade Union Activist. As elected representatives, you are too.
Our job is to build the strength of the union, so we can achieve more for our members. As students, we also have another job – to prepare our members for the challenges of work, and encourage them to stand up for themselves and become representatives as doctors.
We get our power from numbers, from the density of our membership. Like herd immunity, we are all better protected the more of us that are members. A representative of 98% of a medical school’s students has more clout than a representative of 65% of students. We also draw strength from the activity and engagement of our members. Where members tell reps about problems, and are prepared to act together to solve them, we have levers available that don’t exist with a passive membership. When there is competition for representative roles, reps have to show they are effective and accountable. So when we think about organising, what we aim for is full union membership, with significant activism and engagement of the ‘lay’ (not rep) members.
To achieve that, we have to stop thinking about recruitment and retention as something done by adverts and freebies. Recruitment is not a one-step job, nor one conversation. A rep may have to have several conversations over months to recruit somebody. More conversations would be required to recruit a member into activity. Other conversations are required to retain members when things inevitably go wrong, or when members have joined for free in freshers’ week and have no idea what the union does. Organising is an ongoing and constant process, which we all have to engage in all the time.
To assist you, it may be useful to develop a script. Mine goes something like:
*Pick something relevant to them – for pre-clinical students, a good example is UKMLA; for clinical students, travel bursaries, UK Foundation Programme Office, disability adjustment in exams; for junior doctors, contracts and training; etc.
Recruitment is not just a job for freshers’ week and inductions, though you should go to these. Like recruits like – you will recruit members far better and far more usefully than most BMA staff, because you know what it is like and what they need. Recruitment is also for teaching, grand rounds, medical formals, lunchtime, coffee breaks, and general conversations. Ask final year students if they have their contract or rota, if they have checked it using the BMA tools, if they are a BMA member. Ask your colleagues what they think of UKMLA, how much travel has cost them this block, whatever. Slip it into conversation. TELL PEOPLE YOU ARE THE BMA REP. Wear your lanyard and badges.
Organising is essential if we want our union to be strong. We can all play a part in that.
You can get materials for recruitment – leaflets, free stuff – from https://www.bma.org.uk/about-us/how-we-work/local-representation/local-negotiating-committees/promotional-materials
You can also access rewards for recruitment by joining the Ambassador Scheme: https://www.bma.org.uk/membership/bma-ambassadors
Those wanting to be active can have a look at this https://www.bma.org.uk/about-us/get-involved/represent-and-volunteer
Junior Doctors’ Contract: sympathise! They are right, we didn’t do as well as we would have wanted in that dispute. However, we took an organisation that hadn’t struck in 40 years on strike, and we won significant concessions. If you compare the initial contract ‘offer’ to the one imposed, you can see how effective striking and negotiating was. We weren’t prepared for an industrial dispute that big, and if we want to do better, we have to be more organised, and we have to be stronger. We need you to be a member, and then people like us can change the union so we never give up a mandate like that again.
Chris Day/whistle-blowing: nobody really knows what happened there, even Council members like those on the Broad Left. However, everybody now agrees that we do have whistleblowing protection if needed from detriment by our training provider. Now, we need to be acting to make sure nobody has to whistle-blow. We work in understaffed and unsafe environments, and if we want to improve those, we have to break the locum cap, campaign for visa restrictions to be removed, win better policies for cover and training, fight for better pay, and ensure better workforce planning. Those are all things your union does with and for you, and we are stronger if we have more members. On Chris Day specifically, hopefully there will be a frank conversation when his personal Employment Tribunal case is concluded about what happened and the role of the BMA.