Functional view of trade union involvement
It all started with a comment that marked my childhood; the one made against my father, who was visibly foreign to the country where we lived. Today, we would talk about visible minorities and all the worries of inequity that come with them.
But beyond this emotional marker, which is certainly important, it is what we do with it. We have the choice of allowing ourselves to sink into passivity, revolt or denial, phases we go through anyway, or of trying to do something with it, if not less painful or disruptive, useful for ourselves and/or for others, which amounts to the same thing (“if you help your neighbour, you help yourself and if you help yourself, you help your neighbour”). Indeed, we are always more sensitive to the ‘injustices’ felt by others when we feel them ourselves. It’s all about the result for ourselves, but in a more useful way we try to achieve for others, where it seems necessary and justified.
The permanent difficulty, or rather the permanent challenge in trade union (and statutory) work is to transform/replace emotional feeling into evidence or at least into a more factual, analytical or simply more professional conviction. The method is essential and it also helps to get rid of the emotional and some of the doubts, even if they still remain. The open secret is the group work and the way it is implemented. Discussion, preparation, joint analysis between staff representatives (and/or with the employer’s administration) is essential. This group work must be framed, normed and this is a profession in itself at which some excel.
The coordinator/moderator must, within a given time frame and respecting the mandate or terms of reference, not only obtain the most accurate result possible, but above all manage the residual and disruptive feelings of the process that remain in the group. In preparation, listening skills are essential, in implementation, conviction and style. In both, dynamic diplomacy is needed. Indeed, whether we have to clean up the aforementioned emotionalism or beat the sometimes surreal mandate of the administration, we have to keep alive the feeling of human respect that allows us to maintain the dialogue, which is the only guarantee of the fairest or least unjust outcome possible.
On a personal level, one must constantly, at every moment, question one’s emotions and analysis, not hesitate to ask questions and never stop listening. Listen not only to adjust your analysis but also to perceive the flaws or the unspoken. In this exercise, we all had to adapt to the total or partial lack of essential non-verbal language specific to long-distance communication. This requires an introspection on the part of each person, which in the end happens quite naturally and often unconsciously. Biologically, this is proof, if proof were needed, of the reptilian capacity for adaptation of the
animal that we remain and which has made our species successful. In the same state of mind, the individual must remain in observation, which in the world of immediacy and appearance in which we live, is a huge challenge. Our whole society and therefore our workplace is deeply impacted by these two diseases and this influences each and every one of us, whether we like it or not. Have we ever been trapped by the desire to deliver as quickly as possible, even when it wasn’t really necessary? And have we never considered a publicly acceptable solution rather than a fair one? The ability to observe is also often undermined by accumulated experience and/or age. Have we never been stung for not letting others speak or hear? Fear can help (it is often life-saving as opposed to panic). The fear in question is called hybris in my case. Every morning I make incantations not to get this disease. It is a risk for me and my way of dealing with it. Again, some of the comrades in our organisation are very good at dealing with hybris, their own and others. They help others to open their ears and minds, diplomatically. A corollary of listening is the ability to be silent and to speak. Of course, one must be physically and emotionally silent in order to listen, but one must also be able to speak when necessary.
Have we ever regretted not having spoken? This type of regret is the major source of frustration and therefore of subsequent interpersonal conflicts. Indeed, we develop as much animosity because the other person did not listen to us simply because we did not express ourselves. Often we confuse the two types of events in his memory. This is not self-censorship but proof of the flexibility of our memory, which prefers to blame the other for its own lack of expression. And when confronted with the fact (“but you didn’t say anything”) we often answer: “maybe, I don’t remember, but it would have been useless, he/she wouldn’t have listened”.
From my humble point of view, however, there is a natural societal phenomenon (which also exists in other animal species) which delights me every time I see it. Whatever the method and/or quality of the preparation, of the group analysis, it is always transcended by the added value of the group. In today’s individualistic and individualised society, isn’t it refreshing every time to see how much “unity is strength” that “the sum of individual contributions is exceeded by the result of the group”? This sounds like a constant reminder that our society today is in complete default with what allowed it to develop, the common good, common work, common spirit.
When I walk around my hometown, I find that I often do ‘as I have learned’ by the observed behaviour of my contemporaries: I don’t greet people, I don’t talk to my neighbour, I grumble while queuing in the shops. But yet I am more communicative, social and attentive in my department and in my union organisation. It is not just friendship and respect, but also feelings based on the common experience of the mutual benefit to each other and to our members, of our professional work led by good coordinators and goodwill to each other. More empirically and polemically, when I am angry with my president or with the coordinator, the next time I talk to him and
we see the same thing, the same benefits and the same mistakes (they are always shared in substance and in form) and we move forward. We move forward because we are intimately and emotionally imbued with a mission, a vocation, a desire that is common; that of helping our fellow man (in the humanist sense).
Considering the difficulties encountered with the crisis, I thought it would be useful to remind myself and all of us that the glass half empty is also half full, that we must trust the method, the process and therefore the comrades. All of us – active and affiliated – benefit all the time from a positive exercise in introspection, observation, humility and respect for others. So, let’s continue!
Belgian-Greek; born, raised and educated in Brussels. Currently working at the European Commission (Eurostat) in Luxembourg. Active since 2001 in various USF member organisations. Currently active in the member organisation USFL (Vice-President) and in the Local Staff Committee of the Commission in Luxembourg (President).
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