Using online surveys for union organising

One of the most useful organising tools for unions is online surveys. These allow you to find out exactly what members and potential members want, and to focus your campaigns accordingly.

I have worked with organisers and used online surveys extensively. We use Survey Monkey, but there are other survey tools which are equally good. Most – including Survey Monkey – use a Freemium model, which means a basic account is free. This is great for experimenting, but if you plan to do any serious organising I’d recommend a paid for account. Survey Monkey provides really good features, has good support and substantial documentation in the form of an easy to use manual.

So: how do you do it? The most challenging part is getting the survey out there. Like any organising campaign, you generally need people on the inside who can help. In the past, we’ve had building security guards email a link to everyone in a building, or we’ve posted a short URL on a noticeboard (“Tell us what you think of working at Acme Widgets: take the anonymous union survey”). We’ve also created Facebook groups for workers wanting to unionise, and posted the link in there. Data in Facebook is not secure, but the survey data is.

Sometimes we’ve resorted to handing out paper surveys outside the workplace, and entered the responses by hand. It’s worth doing this, because of Survey Monkey’s analytical tools: Survey Monkey allows you to analyse date quickly and accurately and draw off charts. For example, I am running a survey at the moment, asking trade union activists about how they use new technology (if you haven’t already done so, please take it).

The chart below gives a very quick and easy overview of the responses to one of the question I asked:

Views on technology graph

In organising campaigns, we’ve asked specific information about local issues. We also always ask “Are you prepared to help with the campaign”, and give people options ranging from “Yes, I’ll help hand out leaflets” to “I’d like to be a rep”. We have recruited a number of new reps this way.

For instance, in a recent campaign in the finance sector, we received almost 3,000 survey responses. A number of the questions were related to targets, and respondents had this to say:

This tells us workers see this as a serious issue, and so it becomes a useful campaigning focus.

Open questions also allow you to uncover smaller, local issues that you might not have known about. For instance, for some people the biggest issue is that there’s no microwave in the kitchen, or that their train gets them to work either 5 minutes late or half an hour early. Often, these are issues that are really easy to solve, and it creates the impression of a dynamic and effective union that listens to all its members concerns.

Survey Monkey’s reporting is also very handy for negotiations, as the format looks professional. You can go to the table with survey data on what workers think, and employers often take this seriously.

For a much simpler tool, but one that can be equally effective in the right circumstances, have a look at Union Wheels. This is great if you’re trying to organise your own workplace, and you don’t feel you can do so openly. It allows you to use a simple, anonymous survey to assess whether your colleagues want to unionise too.

The best thing about surveys is that it gives us information about what our members want. Instead of making assumptions about what the important issues are, we can actually ask them, and address them consistently. The best recruitment tool is an effective union. By listening to members, we can deliver real change in the workplace.

Posted in organising tactics, Research and tagged , .

One Comment

  1. I lke your web site a lot. Very well written as well as excellent resources.
    We use Survey monkey also.
    I have used it to develop the draft of a log of claims – very useful to 1) get new contacts 2) find out what the hot issues and associated top priorities for bargaining were (are) 3) get more people involved; and to find out what sort of collective actions were the most important when it was time to raise the heat against the boss etc.
    When faced with some powerful key messages infecting the thinking of a proportion of our members we surveyed members and other workers to find out just how much the boss was getting support.
    Our approach required buiding a contact list of members, contacts and potential members with personal mobile nubers and personal email addresses. We could then combine this info to get the surveys filled in on line and manually.This for a workforce spread over 180 locations and thousands of kilometres.
    going to try wagon wheels now.

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