Images: Marcus Rose
Demonstrations and marches have always been effective ways to send a message to politicians and the public about issues that matter to our union and its members, and the people and communities they serve.
For those watching from the pavements a big demonstration – 500,000 people marching against austerity for instance – is a massive, colourful family-friendly and noisy event.
For those taking part, a march is inspiring, a way to make your voice heard and to show solidarity with other trade union members. It’s also fun.
So, whatever the issue and whether it’s local or national, why not get your branch involved and marching?
Planning for a demonstration
If you decide to organise a branch presence on a demonstration, it’s worth finding out as much as possible before you start speaking to branch members.
The UNISON website is a good place to start, as we publicise marches we are supporting in the ‘events’ section at www.unison.org.uk/events.
If we are supporting a demonstration held by another organisation, we will provide a link to their website so you can get the information you need.
Also keep an eye on our publications like activist – both digital and in print – as well as branch circulars from your service group.
We will also use social media to advertise marches, so keep checking on Facebook, Twitter etc… Make a note of the hashtag we are using for the event, so you can see what other people are doing.
The next step is to think about the questions members might ask when they are deciding if they want to be involved. A key issue is how members will get to the march. Do they need to make their own way, or will the branch co-ordinate transport?
If you think branch members will be keen to attend in numbers, you might want to investigate organising buses yourself.
But first check with the organisers to see if they have transport planned that your members can use. Or speak to your region, as often regional TUC or UNISON transport has been organised. But do it early: buses get full and parking spots get booked up.
If you are organising your own buses, check what arrangements have been made for parking at your destination and how long it will take you to get from parking areas to the assembly point for the march.
Coaches are often not able to park next to the assembly point, which can mean a bit of travelling to do. Make sure that is clear for members who may have mobility issues and check with the organisers about what arrangements have been made for disabled access on the day.
You may want to encourage branch members to travel together on trains, so it’s worth checking the timetables and advising members what train other people are getting so they can travel together.
However people get there, they will need to know what time to assemble, where to meet and when a march or rally is likely to finish.
It will also be helpful for them to know how far they will be walking.
Remind them to wear comfortable shoes and prepare for all weathers – it sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t think about that, especially if it’s their first time. Sunburn or blisters are no fun, however important the issue.
You should also remind them to bring food and water, as it can be a long day.
UNISON produces publicity material that you can use locally to encourage participation. You can order them in bulk from the online catalogue at unison.org.uk/onlinecatalogue.
Often, they can also be downloaded from the website and emailed to members, or printed out and put on noticeboards. These are for use before the event, so don’t bring them with you on the day. You won’t need them.
On the day
We like to encourage UNISON branches to march together, so we can be loud and visible together. Also, it’s great if people can wear purple and green so we stand out as UNISON.
For summer marches you can order UNISON t-shirts from our online catalogue. If it’s too cold for t-shirts, then you can order purple tabards – also from the online catalogue – which can be worn over warmer clothing. You will need to pay for t-shirts and tabards.
Look for the giant UNISON balloons or UNISON flags and head in their direction – as that is where UNISON members will be.
That will also be where you can pick up UNISON placards, whistles and other things to help you get noticed. You can order some of our blank placards in advance and encourage members to write their own slogans or messages on them.
After the event, check with the stewards where you should leave placards and other things you are not taking back with you.
Bring your branch banner and organise members to carry it in relays, plan some songs and chants, and ask someone to volunteer to take pictures and post them on social media.
They should do this from the minute you leave home to the end of the march – and don’t forget to use the hashtag. That’s a great way for branch members who couldn’t attend to keep up with everything that is happening.
There will be plenty of stewards around on the day who are there to help with any questions or issues you may have.
And finally, enjoy the day. Be inspired – inspire your members and help us make a difference.