03. If you want to win, you better listen

I was working with a union branch where the council housing stock - and 300 of its members - were being outsourced to a private housing association. The union had been in consultation to protect the terms and conditions of affected workers, as required by the TUPE regulations. But everyone knew examples of privatisations where, down the line, contracts and safety conditions had got much worse.

Contractors could get away with it because unions and reps were unwilling to take a stand or were ineffective. Here, a union ‘Know Your Legal Rights’ meeting addressed by a renowned lawyer attracted just a handful. The branch committee had all but given up any hope of fighting the privatisation or having any reps in place post-transfer.

At the next the branch committee meeting we set every rep one simple task - go back to where they worked and sound out what workers were moaning about. The clear winner… car parking.

Everyone got free car parking. It was safe and cheap. Would they have to pay a fiver a day to park? Or would it mean parking in the street about a mile away and walking to work through a poorly lit, less salubrious part of town? This was a genuine safety issue – safer access and egress is the legal responsibility of the employer. It was also an issue of their contractual rights.

Did we then rely on the negotiators to quote the law and sort it out? Like hell! The reps organised another meeting: ‘Defend your car parking from attack’. One hundred and twenty people turned up. Before the next consultation meeting, management was falling over themselves to reassure the union that the car parking was safe. It was what the union did outside the negotiations that was critical.

The 120 people angry about their car parking elected a group of new reps prepared to act as ‘temporary TUPE reps’ in the run up to the transfer. We didn’t just win the issue, we found out what workers were angry about, mobilised the membership and built the union. Quoting the law was secondary.