Trade union launches image and recruitment campaign

The Union of Commercial and Clerical Employees in Denmark (HK) has launched a two-month nationwide campaign aimed at improving recruitment and visibility, and has initiated a further debate on objectives and to explain the utility value of membership.

HK, the largest affiliated trade union of the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), with 357,000 members, has launched a two-month image and recruitment campaign. DKK 4 million will be spent on newspaper advertisements and bill boards, which will be followed up by local initiatives. The campaign will aim to improve recruitment and visibility, initiate debates on objectives, and explain the utility value of being a member.

For the first time since the 1930s, HK has experienced a drop in membership from the all-time high of 362,000 members in 1994 to 357,000 members in 1997. According to HK's public relations manager, Gerda Christensen, three plausible explanations can account for this decline: firstly, there has been a demographic drop in the number of young people; secondly, increased employment opportunities cause a higher degree of mobility between unions; and thirdly, young people do not automatically become members of a union.

To boost an organisation's image and visibility to its members is important. As Ms. Christensen said: "although the trade union movement and individual organisations continually undertake a huge day-to-day effort for both members and society per se, it is not always visible to members. It is therefore important, once in a while, to heighten the profile of the organisation and show what it can do and what it stands for."

According to membership surveys undertaken by HK in 1994, members do not, as previously, identify with the traditional trade union values of security and solidarity. Some 57% of all HK members are politically placed to the right of the centre in Danish politics, and a majority either have a very critical attitude towards HK or are indifferent. It is especially the younger members who fit this description. Only 17% of the members can be called "traditional" HK members, who naturally support the trade union movement and do not question membership of HK. This group consists largely of older members. The campaign aims, as one of many objectives, at furthering debate on a range of issues, which cannot be taken for granted.

One of the campaign issues, which runs under the slogan "We think that you must first and foremost show solidarity toward yourself", focuses on the younger and more career-minded members' perception of solidarity. In the words of the president of HK,John Dahl:" younger members want to know what they get for their membership fee, we can not sell ourselves by referring to solidarity alone"

Although the campaign contains traditional elements of collective values, Mr Dahl acknowledges that the campaign focus is more on what HK can offer its members individually - ie, vocational training and legal aid. Around 40% of HK's membership are either 30 or younger, and they are typically employed in the private services and commerce sector.

HK has previously tried the concept of a "24-hour trade union", offering members a range of "untraditional" union offers, such as cheap travel, cultural arrangements, shopping trips and family insurance. However members did not support the idea of a "trade union supermarket".

Commentary: As is the case with other trade unions in Denmark, HK faces a challenge of satisfying two distinct groups. On the one hand, the traditional older trade union members, for whom solidarity and collective values are essential, and on the other hand the growing number of young, individualised and career-minded members, who become members of a trade union for their own sake. The trends recorded in the HK membership survey mirror the findings of a similar survey undertaken by LO two years previously. The overall challenge lies in transforming and adapting the trade union movement to deal with an increasing number of differentiated tasks, mirroring the demand from the new type of members and the rapidly changing labour market. (Kåre FV Petersen, FAOS)

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