Union Meetings are Broken

This is an pretty old post from my blog, which has been preserved in case its content is of any interest. You might want to go back to the homepage to see some more recent stuff.

Today’s union meeting, the latest in a series that have been held every few weeks since January, was more than I could face. I skipped it to eat lunch and tackle an interesting software problem instead. It’s not that I don’t want my voice to be heard; to take part in the democratic process inside the union – it’s just the inefficiency of it all that I can’t stand.

In the democratic process by which national and local governments are elected, the bare minimum one needs to do is to go to a polling station and vote – a quick walk, a tick in the box, job done. How we form our opinions on which candidates to vote for is up to us. There are numerous ways in which we can find the information we need, in our own time, to whatever extent we feel like. Information is everywhere, even if it’s not quite as everywhere as I would like.

But contrast this with the union decision-making process. Negotiations with the company proceed at a snail’s pace, so all the information we have is dished out to us at irregular intervals often weeks apart. To vote on anything, a motion must be proposed, then a meeting called (far enough in the future that everyone can plan around it), then all the members must convene. The meeting must then, it appears, be hijacked by the same people asking the same repetitive questions as always, followed by a lengthy debate about whether we want to vote on the given motion at all, or change it. After an hour of soul-sapping boredom, we all then vote on whether we have enough information to make a decision or not, decide that we don’t – so can’t make a meaningful decision after all – then we all go back to our desks and wait for the next meeting to be called in two weeks’ time.

I and other colleagues are now so disenfranchised with the process that we’re starting to care less about the result – I’ve had enough of arguing about my pay rise, now I just want to know what it is and get it as soon as possible. And if the process is so bad that participants stop caring about the result, the process is broken.

This is the twenty-first century. The sum of all union knowledge could be wikified; regularly updated. We could vote on motions online, in seconds. Argumentative characters could have their arguments amongst themselves, then with the committee, without everyone else present. The whole process could iterate so much faster, with fewer annoyances on the way, and everyone – staff, union and company – could stop wasting so much time. So why don’t we do that?

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