Unions that want to recruit new members will make it as easy as possible to join. In this century, that means allowing people to join unions online.
There have already been a number of examples of unions in other countries — such as the New South Wales Teachers Federation — recruiting online. But British unions, for the most part, have generally told visitors to their websites that the best they can offer is to allow potential members to request application forms, which are sent out by post and returned to the union by post.
Some unions — such as the NUT — have long allowed non-paying members (students, for example) to join online, but have insisted that recruiting actual working, dues-paying members does require a paper form sent in by post.
The problem is that even those who send in a request to receive an application form often do not return completed forms. One major British union discovered a couple of years ago that more than 50% of those who requested application forms did not fill them in and return them to the union.
Meanwhile, organisations like Amnesty International and the Labour Party have long allowed individuals to join online, not requiring signatures nor paper.
Unions often claim that there are complicating factors, such as legal requirements, the right of branches to vet potential members, and the payment of dues, but none of these seems to have stood in the way of one British union which now does recruit online.
That union is Connect. The Connect website (http://www.connectuk.org) has a very prominent link labelled “Join online” on top of its home page. (Other unions use more obscure ones such as “Membership” or “Organising” — how many non-members will understand that clicking on “Organising” is how one joins a union?)
The process for joining Connect online is as straightforward as, for example, buying a book at Amazon.com. One is taken to a secure web server where credit card details are encrypted. There are four steps to the joining process, each of which is clearly labelled. The third stage allows new members to choose how they wish to pay, the choices being monthly or annual direct debit.
Connect is rightly proud to be the first union in the UK to recruit online. Clearly whatever legal or technical obstacles seem to be blocking other UK unions from following suit have been overcome. If Connect can do this, I wonder why other unions in this country haven’t done so yet.