Young workers lead the TUC's A Future That Works march through London in 2012
TUC Young Workers Month
The first ever TUC Young Workers Month as well as being an opportunity to promote and celebrate the work that trade unions already do with and for young workers is also a chance to prioritise perhaps the biggest challenge that faces our movement today; the crisis of membership amongst young workers.
Today in the UK, whilst 1 in 4 workers generally are members of a union, amongst those aged 24 and under the number falls to just 1 in 12.
Why is this the case? Why don’t young workers join unions?
The answer is that whilst most don’t, some do, and whether they do or not largely depends on where they work.
If you’re a young teacher, civil servant, local government worker or work on the railway the likelihood is that you’ll be a member of the union that organises where you work.
But if you work in retail (outside the big supermarket chains), a hotel, a restaurant or in a call centre it’s likely that there wont be a union to join where you work.
Most young people work in sectors of the economy where union organisation is weakest.
For example over half a million young people currently work in the accommodation and food services sector where union density is just 3 per cent; and in retail, where almost one million young people work, despite the great organising efforts of USDAW, Unite and the GMB union density is 12 per cent, less than half the national figure of 26 per cent.
So what to do? Clearly given the stats I’ve just mentioned the efforts to organise more young workers are linked to the need for our movement to improve union organisation in the private sector more generally.
But there are other things that we can do to address the fact that too many young workers today have a genuine ignorance about unions and don’t see us as relevant to the their lives in and beyond work and the challenges that they face.
Firstly, we can demonstrate that trade union activity is not the preserve of people like me. That’s why during Young Workers Month the TUC will be launching a celebration of young trade union activists. ‘My Union My Voice’ will tell the stories of eight activists from across the movement setting how and why they got involved in union activity and what they get out of it.
Secondly, we can prioritise the issues that young people feel most strongly about. Pay, housing and access to training and career development are campaign issues that unions can use to demonstrate to young workers that trade unions, our policies and values are relevant to them. That’s why the TUC Young Workers Conference, which takes place on March 22nd and 23rd, will choose two priority campaigns for the next 12 months.
Finally, we must make it easier for the vast majority of young people who work where there is no union organisation to join our movement. That’s why over the next year the TUC will continue to explore the idea of a gateway to union membership for young workers; a way to bring some of the UK’s most exploited and vulnerable workers into the trade union family.
So let’s use this first ever TUC Young Workers Month to champion our young activists and celebrate our campaigns, but lets also use it to lend new energy and purpose to a task that it is crucial not only to the future of our movement but in ensuring that young workers are able to fulfill their hopes and ambitions now and in the future.
The first ever TUC Young Workers Month runs throughout March 2014 and features a range of events and initiatives organised by unions and the TUC. Details can be found here