Go forth and recruit new members

Over the past month, my thoughts have lingered on how our membership is united for a common purpose and yet is so varied in other ways.

I spent time talking to some prac teachers at my school. A couple of them had heard about the union and knew what it was (one was already a student member) but the others didn’t know there was a union and didn’t even know what its purpose was.

Not surprisingly, those who know of the union usually come from families that also have teachers, support staff, nurses or tradies in them, and the importance of union membership has been instilled in them from a young age. For these staff, union membership is inevitable and non-negotiable.

The challenge is in recruiting the new members, both teachers and support staff alike, who have either come straight from school to uni to work, or who have come to schools after pursuing other professions first, and haven’t experienced any union involvement previously.

How can we show them that being a union member is a critical aspect of their work life?

How can we show them that not only is union membership essential for protecting them as an individual, but that it is also about being part of the collective and working together to improve the working conditions for all?

I see our dilemma as threefold:

  • In the current climate of cost-of-living pressures, it is becoming increasingly difficult to convince people to part with their hard-earned money that is otherwise needed to cover increasing mortgages, rent and bills.
  • Ongoing teacher shortages mean we are bleeding teachers to other professions or to other sectors.
  • Younger staff enjoy the wins and gains unions have fought hard for over the past century, and even the past few years, and find it hard to see why they need to join if they have these improvements regardless.

Despite this, our challenges in recruitment are not insurmountable.

We can explain to potential members that being a union member is like taking out insurance for your job – you hope you’ll never need to use it but you have it just in case. We can tell them union fees are tax-deductible and that the union provides free PD to all members.

We can explain that the gains we all enjoy today reflect the power of standing together as a union. We can invite them to a chapter meeting and to meet an organiser.

All of these ideas for recruiting work, but the one way of getting someone to join the union that has the most success is simply inviting them, and research conducted by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) reinforces this. I know from my own experience that simply striking up a friendly conversation with a colleague and inviting them to join the IEU is the most powerful tool we have.

So I leave you with this question: Who will you invite to join today?