From the TUC

A simple lesson learned

18 Nov 2009, By

Taking the lead on our work engaging young people, I’m often invited to talk to groups of school and college students. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of addressing a group of media studies students at Middlesex University.

I’m always interested in the variety of different responses I get from these speaking events.

Yesterday, I’ll admit, it was a bit of struggle to begin with. There were very low levels of awareness of employment rights or the role of trade unions in securing them. What’s more, there seemed to be little interest.

That was, until we got round to discussing internships. This is a group of students looking to forge careers in the world of media, broadcasting and audio-visual industries. Most of them expect to have to work as an intern or on some form of voluntary placement in order to get their foot in the door.

To know that interns had rights, that interns can and should, in most cases, be paid and that interns can join unions came as a genuine surprise to most of the group. And with this, came a whole new buzz in the room. You could almost see the lightbulbs clicking on and I felt at the end of the session, there was a cohort of young people who were that little bit more informed and empowered than before.

And this, of course, is integral to our organising message. People in every form of life want to know their rights, want them enforced and want the power to do something about it. And if we, as unions, seem unconnected to their lives, it’s because we haven’t perhaps let them know how we can address their particular set of needs. Connect with people on what concerns THEM. It’s an obvious, point. But it’s one that was brought home to me yesterday in a very direct and simple way.