Shannan Little: It’s MY union.

A report from Shannan Little, Agriculture Local 30048 in Lethbridge, Alberta, who attended the CLC Political Action Conference as one of the PSAC Prairie Region delegates.

Take home messages:

  • Unions are the champions of fairness.
  • One simple message. Repeat often.
  • Stay positive.
  • Message discipline. Don’t get defensive.
  • One-on-one conversations with members and allies.
  • Can we afford public services? Answer: Can we afford to lose them?
  • Public service workers must talk about services and demonstrate impact.
  • We need to constantly renew public understanding of public services. We need relationships with our communities.
  • Do all that you can, with all that you have, in the place where you are, with the time that you have.
  • Unions are the counterbalance to corporate agenda.
  • Reconnect with members. Re-engage the public. Shift opinion. Focus effort on those that can be convinced.
  • Talk about what’s in it for everyone.
  • Fight to protect Rand.
  • It’s not THE union. It’s MY union. Change your language.

Suggestions for PSAC:

  • Speak more about quality public services and the real outcomes of losing these. Be specific. Don’t talk about numbers of jobs or budget losses or broad concepts. Speak personally to the public, like a one-on-one conversation. Learn their concerns and speak to these. (E.g., wait times at borders, long distance travel to passport offices, EI claims, closure of rural post offices, food safety/meat inspection, loss of community pastures, border closures due to meat recalls, etc.) These concerns may vary by region and audience and must be simple.
  • Keep the message simple and straight-forward. This can be difficult with our diverse membership in a variety of occupations and locations. Focus on a few key services and ensure all membership is well informed on the effects of these losses. The recent video campaign from the PSAC National Capital Region is a good example of this. This may seem counter to the first point, but for ease of messaging for our membership, we must focus on a few key messages. 
  • While I understand the Third Choice campaign, its message required complex interpretation. As such, membership was unwilling to engage in the dissemination of this message. The We Are All Affected slogan and logo have been met with positive reaction. However, the website that goes with this campaign seems more directed at membership rather than the public. A separate domain name and web format should be employed with simple messages. The Harper Hates Me website would do well for this.
  • Re-engage members. We should be doing this on a social basis so we have support and solidarity for when the “not fun stuff” begins. We must also focus on their issues for members to see the value of our union. This may be health and safety for some, classification for others, vacation scheduling, etc. We need to recreate the sense of belonging and solidarity––the feeling of belonging and commonality.
  • Re-engage the community with ally building. It will help dispel this perception of privilege that public service employees have. Tell our real stories so we are more than statistics in the media. Become real people in our communities. Encourage members to sit on community boards as PSAC members. Encourage re-engagement with other labour organizations. PSAC should be mobilizing volunteer effort to help with community projects. This also serves to re-engage members.
  • Encourage members to represent as PSAC rather than with their employers. For instance, introduce yourself as PSAC working at a location, rather than “I work for the government…”
  • It’s not THE union. It’s MY union. Change your language. 

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