Police and justice branches showing us how to build the union

Eastern activists at the Police and Justice conference

Across UNISON, every branch is working towards an ambitious target: increase membership by 1% over 2023.

Having more members isn’t about prestige, it’s about having more strength to fight for better pay, better workplaces and better public services.

As a region, we’re making great progress to finish 2023 above 1%, but no-one’s getting complacent in the last two months of the year.

Some of the best-performing branches come from the police and justice sector. We talked to the Eastern Region Probation branch, currently on 12% growth for the year, and Essex Police branch, on 8%, about how they’re getting bigger and better.

Members of the probation branch celebrate signing the Anti-Racism Charter

Eastern Region Probation

Eastern Region Probation relies on a “tiny team of activists” to cover the entire patch, explains branch secretary Elisa Vasquez-Walters.

That means they have to be “very targeted” in what they do and think hard about how to best communicate with members.

Making sure activists make best use of their time is clearly important and the branch has joined the Bedfordshire Resource Centre to take care of some of their administrative tasks, such as sending out emails and organising the AGM.

That leaves Elisa free to keep a regular overview of leaver and joiners. She makes sure to write to every new member, welcoming them to UNISON and giving them a local point of contact.

“We also make sure that we have some sort of presence at every new joiners event so that all new staff know who we are and what we do,” she says.

“Our reps do an excellent job in supporting members through formal processes and I am regularly made aware that ‘word of mouth’ is very important to us when it comes to recruitment.”

And the branch is reaping the rewards of organising around equality too so that workers know “it’s not just all about grievances and disciplinaries.”

Elisa says: “We have recently being involved in signing up the employer to the Anti-Racism Charter and have met lots of staff as a result of this.

“We haven’t got the capacity as a branch to do anything too fancy when it comes to recruitment but we do know that keeping on top of the basics seems to work for us. And never forget the power of a free pen!

Police community support officers seen from behind

Essex Police

Essex Police branch secretary Sam Dunbobbin says there’s a simple formula for UNISON’s 8% growth in the force: “hard work and communication.”

“We ensure we are included in training programmes and our membership officer Sally-Ann Judd attends all the new starter inductions where she often achieves 100% recruitment of those there.”

Activists also take advantage of the various staff networks for Black workers, disabled workers and others, making sure UNISON sets out its stall at their events.

“They really give us a chance to engage with staff and talk about the benefits of UNISON membership,” says Sam.

The branch works hard to keep members informed as well, keeping information on an Essex Police UNISON page on the force’s intranet and using Viva Engage (formerly Yammer) where “members can reach out to us and where we publish information on things such as the school uniform grants and the latest pay rise announcement.”

Sam also believes word of mouth is “one of the best recruitment tools,” especially as the branch has a high success rate representing staff. But “when members feel they have received a good service, even if we don’t achieve their desired outcome, they will tell their colleagues.”

Sam concludes: “I am really proud of all we have achieved as a branch which has only been possible due to the efforts of every individual on the branch committee.”