Unite’s Len McCluskey and Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman open the Unite community centre in Cable Street Unite the union recently launched a Community Membership scheme that aims to bring community activists into the labour movement. It’s an importa …

Walton Pantland
Unite's Len McCluskey and Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman open the Unite community centre in Cable Street

Unite’s Len McCluskey and Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman open the Unite community centre in Cable Street

Unite the union recently launched a Community Membership scheme that aims to bring community activists into the labour movement.

It’s an important move towards a model of industrial relations called Social Movement Unionism that links union campaigns for dignity and justice at work to community campaigns that fight for the rights of working people where they live.

It was highly successful in the fight against apartheid, with communities expressing support for striking workers by organising boycotts, and unions campaigning on community issues. After the fall of apartheid, Cosatu has continued to put community issues on the collective bargaining agenda.

It’s a model that more and more unions are adopting, as seen by the recent decision by the AFL-CIO in the US to link with community groups.

Given that this is such an important trend in the labour movement internationally, it’s important to evaluate its effectiveness. Unite has just released the annual report for Community Membership – and it’s been an amazing success:

Over 5,000 community members are active in over 50 groups and branches all over the UK. The activists have received training from the union’s education department in community organising, public speaking, campaigning and media skills.

Community campaigns vary enormously and include the Bedroom Tax, cuts to services, Keeping the NHS in public ownership, and many more. The campaigns come from the bottom up and are on the issues that each different community choose.

Unite community members also support industrial members through the leverage campaigns such as Crossrail and Grangemouth.

Unite community has also opened six community centres offering welfare and debt advice, union learning courses in numeracy, literacy, English as a second language and more. They also act as a hub for Community campaigning.

Read the annual report here.


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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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