How to Make Union Meetings Interesting and Useful

Source: Mike Parker and Martha Gruelle, Labor Notes, November 4, 2016

Membership meetings are not simply places for members to get information and cast votes, which could also be accomplished through newsletters and mail referendums.

Meetings should give members a sense of power by bringing them together. They can see and feel that they are not alone, that others have similar problems, and that others have found solutions. Meetings should give members the opportunity to observe leaders and potential leaders in action. They can learn from each other, combine ideas, and build something bigger.

If this doesn’t sound like a union meeting you’ve ever been to, it’s because most locals are unwittingly stuck in traditions that almost guarantee that a first-time attendee will not come back, and only the most faithful will persevere.

Although many officers fret about low attendance levels, it is not necessary for democracy that all or most members attend membership meetings. Except at contract time and for other special events, most locals will see only a relatively small, dedicated minority at monthly meetings. Meetings, especially on a regular basis, are not for everyone.

Are you a local officer who wants to lead productive, engaging meetings? See the section on “Leading a Membership Meeting” for tips on how to prioritize agenda items and how to be a good chair, including exercises to help you think through common problems that may arise.

Are you a rank and filer facing an undemocratic administration? See “Being Effective at Union Meetings” for advice on how to use monthly meetings, including choosing your goals, organizing your support ahead of time, and navigating parliamentary rules.

But union meetings can be the chief organizing vehicle for that portion of the membership that takes union work most seriously—the activists. Coming to the monthly meeting is often one of the first things that a member tries when he’s seeking to be more involved. It’s important not to turn them off!
That means that the success of a meeting is not measured simply by the number attending, but by how that meeting contributes to the control, involvement, activism, and self-confidence of all the members, both those present and those not. What “comes out of” the meeting—the plans made, assignments taken, feedback received—are more important than the meeting itself…..