Your union, Your choice
12 Feb 2013
Unlike many trades unions in the UK, the EIS remains a member led organisation. What that means in practice is that all the key decisions of the union are taken by members and members alone.
As General Secretary of the union, for example, I may be involved in discussions at committees but I do not have a vote – nor does any paid official of the union.
It’s your Union; the EIS is its membership!
At our AGM it is only elected delegates who vote and decide on policy issues and similarly at the ruling executive body, Council, only the elected representatives from the local associations decide on policy.
This is an enormous strength in terms of the democracy of the union but it also brings challenges. In particular it needs participation to make it work. Democracy depends on dialogue to make it a meaningful concept.
Over the last few months we have been reviewing how we support members’ participation in the work of the union with the intention of building membership engagement at all levels.
For example we have been looking at how some of our events could be made more open and relevant to newer members through being less formal and more flexible in structure: including break-out workshops to facilitate greater involvement in debates, having guest speakers, providing briefing sessions to new delegates.
We recognise, however, that not everyone wants or has the time to be an ‘activist’ in the union but many members are interested in what is being discussed and would like to have an input. Ensuring that there are conduits to channel this interest is one of the challenges we face.
One of the ideas being looked at is online subject / level communities based around common interest e.g. an ‘English Teachers’ network, ‘stages’ networks in Primary, a ‘newly qualified teachers’ network.
In the past the EIS used to run subject panels which commented in some detail on issues such as the examination papers and which carried a strong, respected professional voice - something along these lines is potentially easier to organise in an age of high technology.
We are keen, also, to build on the work of our learning reps around the CPD agenda.
Teachers are turning out in good numbers at the various events being organised and it is clear that there is great potential for us as a union to develop and expand the service we offer to members in this area.
We already work in partnership with a number of bodies, such as Tapestry, which supports the Teacher Learning Communities programme, and we are keen to develop this area of work.
The forthcoming anti-poverty conference and the "Women in Times of Austerity – Rising to the Challenge” lecture are examples of the type of events we wish to offer to members.
Absolutely key to involving members more in the work of the union, however, is effective communications. We have made a number of changes to our practices to ensure better communication with members.
The aim is to keep colleagues fully informed as various discussions progress and extensive use is made of member bulletins, branch circulars, the SEJ, a well maintained website and direct communications.
Clearly, some aspects of negotiations will be confidential at various points but the basic intention is to keep members in the information loop as much as possible.
Communication is a two way process, of course, and member feedback on issues is always welcome.
As part of the strategy to improve communications I have been happy to accept invitations to speak at a number of school meetings and one of the key benefits of such meetings has been the chance for members to tell me what your priorities are.
If your school wishes a speaker to come out simply let us know and we will endeavour to organise it.
In terms of some of the issues raised above we are constructing a survey monkey questionnaire which will allow members to comment on proposals or changes and to make suggestions about what the areas you would like to see the union develop. (The survey will be on the website towards the end of February.)
I hope that if you have ideas or comments on how the union might serve you better, you avail yourself of this opportunity to join the debate.
The message is simple – it’s your Union; the EIS is its membership!
This article is also printed on page 22 of Feb 2013 edition of the SEJ