A group of young workers lead the TUC's A Future That Works March in London in 2012. Photo: Paul Box
Unions making good progress on young member representation
Young workers are less likely to be union members than their older colleagues. Nearly two in five workers are under 35 years old but only one in four union members are. At the other end of the age spectrum the reverse is the case, around two in five workers aged 50 plus are in a union compared to one in four in the workforce as a whole.
Not only are young workers under-represented in membership but they are under-represented relative to the proportion in membership among workplace reps, branch officers, conference delegates and on union executives according to the latest TUC Equality Audit.
But the Audit has reasons to be optimistic too. It finds more unions than ever before are taking positive action to recruit young workers, to give them a stronger voice in the union and to develop the future generation of activists.
Three in five unions are now gathering information on the age of their membership, compared to one in two at the time of the last audit in 2011. Half of unions are also monitoring the age profile of their workplace reps, branch officers, conference delegates and their national executive. This means more unions having a clear picture of the extent and nature of the under-representation of young workers – a good base from which to start planning action.
Young workers are now the group unions are most likely to have developed specific recruitment campaigns for. Just over half of unions are reaching out to young workers in this way.
Four in ten unions (up from three in ten in 2011) have taken steps, such as creating young member forums or networks, to develop more of their young members into activists and to encourage them to stand for workplace rep, branch officer or union executive posts. Some inspiring stories of young union activists can be found in the TUC publication ‘My union, my voice’.
Nearly half of unions have set up a national committee or similar body for young members (up from a third three years ago) and half now hold national conferences or similar events to engage their young members, discuss their concerns and get them active within the union (also up from a third three years ago).
Four unions (up from just one three years ago) have gone as far as reserving seats on their national executive to give young members a voice at the most senior level, including the two biggest unions, UNISON and Unite, accounting for nearly half of union membership. Six unions have reserved seats or rules governing the representation of young members on their conference delegations.
This level of activity and the wide range of actions planned by unions for Young Workers Month demonstrate a growing recognition among unions that the future success of the movement depends on organising young workers. Obviously, it is important for young workers themselves too. Many young workers are facing problems like low pay, insecure and exploitative forms of work, unpaid internships and lack of decent training and progression opportunities – things that unions are here to change.