From the TUC

What does a trade union member look like?

15 Sep 2011, By

pen drawing

Image drawn by a young non-member of a 'typical' union member

A subject that has long concerned unions, and therefore Unions21, is how we recruit the next generation of members.

Recent joint TUC/Unions21 commissioned focus group research uncovered a number of distinct and clear barriers that prevent young people from joining the union movement.

These were categorised into four main themes: Lack of awareness, Lack of ‘push factors’, Lack of ‘pull factors’ and Repellent factors (download the full research report for detail on these)

In the last category – Repellent Factors, young people said they found it difficult to identify with union members. Unions were seen as militant, old fashioned, and aggressive, which turned the young people we spoke to off.

Furthermore, there was a fear of isolation in being the only person in the workplace who might join a union.

When asked to draw a picture of a trade unionist, the image above is the sort of thing they came up with.

In a small way, Unions21 has hoped to help tackle the problem of misinformed union stereotypes this week by launching a number of videos featuring young members. In each one the slogan ‘Hundreds of thousands of young people in Britain are trade union members’ is used. In December Unions21 will take an exhibition about the contribution young people make to unions to the House of Commons.

Only by making a sustained and concerted effort to tell the stories of young people involved in the union movement can we change the drawing of a ‘typical’ union member above, to look more like the young people in this video:


2 Responses to What does a trade union member look like?

  1. treborc
    Sep 16th 2011, 9:04 am

    I worked in a factory, although not the official shop Steward it was left to me to negotiate wages , or any other problems as the shop steward was picked for his length of service not his ability at meetings, so I was asked to go to speak about wages redundancies. I also took it on my self to make sure everyone knew the advantage of being in the Union. We had 387 members then one day an accident broke my back causing paraplegia, the Union which I contacted did not seem to want to know, which was sad and annoyed me greatly. But worse was to come after two years away from work I returned doing a non job, I was then asked to take on the Union duties but felt I did not wish to do this, but the shock was the Union had dropped from 90% to less then 3% of the total work force, in two years working at Delta we had gone from almost 400 down to 4 people.

    At a meeting one of only a few the Union seemed to think this was the way of the world, just accept it, the factory closed last year because basically it was easy to do because of the non Union membership, it only had 2 members.

    The biggest problem for Unions your not seen as anything other then a members who pays a fee, after 30 years in the GMB knowing I was struggling at home with a serious injury the Union stayed away not a get well card or how are you can we help.

    Many people who I ask now state Unions only want your money, they are out for themselves, Union have to sell them selves and they need to be more then just a work bases money machine, they have to be more to people, sadly your not.

  2. Dan Oldfield
    Sep 29th 2011, 12:55 am

    It is unfortunate when a union forgets its reason for being. But one must be careful not to judge all unions and by reflection all union members based on the conduct of one union. Just as you would not refuse to go to all restaurants after experiencing a single bad meal. Unions only exist if member want them to exist. Unions aren’t some disassociated body merely collecting dues. Unions are the members. Most of them do excellent work in tough, anti-union environments. Big business and banks get bailouts. Organized labour gets blamed for all that ails. This is not a young person/older person issue. Unions need to be relevant, responsive and respectful. Collective action is what has built modern society. Losing that collective sense of community has made us poorer. Unions are its members and to be an effective union requires all members to accept responsibility.