Having attended the 115th annual gathering of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) in Inverness last week, two things occurred to me.
The first is that individual unions and the union movement in general are very good at developing policies. Indeed, after each conference there are rafts of new policies to add to each organisation's policy bank.
Physically, this looks like many, many ring-binders full of motions passed. In the case of this year's STUC it was over 100 motions.
The second is that unions seldom seem to explicitly debate, discuss and decide upon strategy in the same considered manner.
Indeed, you'd be hard pressed to find a union conference that is solely or even mainly about strategy.
This is a great shame because getting the policy right is only half the equation. Deciding upon the ways to implement and achieve the policy is the other necessary half.
At a time of both reduced union power and increasing attacks from the government and employers on workers, the impact of the absence of discussing appropriate strategy can be quite profound.
The way most unions operate is to have a raft of new motions each year, or for some unions every two years, at their conference.
These quite rightly concentrate on present and future issues. But in doing so, they routinely do not go back to examine whether the previous conference's motions were implemented and whether the policy objectives were obtained.
The only spaces for doing so are the odd questions when annual reports are scrutinised.
Between conferences it is normally national executives that decide upon what to prioritise and how.
Often national executives have put forward their own motions on what they see as the key issues and they then lead on those. And while some motions do call for industrial action or campaigns, these represent tactics and not strategy.
So all in all the separation of the link between policy and strategy is strongly evident.
An example from this year's STUC was the composited motion on the independence referendum.
Quite correctly, the motion called for a report to be commissioned into the implications of independence.
Moreover, the report will no doubt be compatible with the STUC's existing anti-cuts campaign called There Is A Better Way which highlights an alternative to all the forms of austerity on offer.
But the commissioning of the report should have been done last year so that this year's annual gathering could have debated both what the STUC wanted from the current political situation and how it was going to achieve this.
To have done so would have put the STUC in a much better position to influence the nature of the independence campaign, especially given that as the referendum will take place on October 14, 2014 it will be more of a marathon than a sprint.
Indeed, the independence campaign is due to get under way now that the local elections are over.
Constant and consistent campaigning for some two-and-a-half years means that strategy becomes all the more important.
There's no point trying to sprint in the final months of the campaign when you've not been running this marathon already. If you do, you'll end up doing so on the terrain set out by your competitors and be rather late in the day.
What is needed well ahead of time in this case is to work out what the levers of potential power available are, be they economic, political, industrial or ideological, to the union movement.
Perspectives about what is possible should then align the narrative that unions want to tell with the most appropriate strategy - itself comprising how these levers are to be used.
For unions, collective mobilisation of members in their workplaces and their fellow citizens in their communities is the key resource.
If we recall the defeat of the poll tax and Thatcher in 1990 - and accepting the alternative was the council tax and the survival of the Conservative government - it is possible to get a sense that long periods of work are required to mobilise citizens in order to build up the required head of steam.
In Scotland it started in 1987 and a little later in England and Wales. Influencing the independence referendum or defeating the austerity programme of the coalition should be seen in similar terms of size and scale. This means a long, sustained run-up with a conscious strategy of how to create a mass movement capable of wielding the knife.
Without this kind of strategic thinking, all the action programmes and alternative plans will come to nought.
Gregor Gall is professor of industrial relations at the University of Hertfordshire (email@example.com)
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