Six years ago, I became a union rep in my union, the Communication Workers Union (CWU). It has been an amazing experience and truly rewarding to make a positive change to people lives.
Working in a call centre, I know the challenges workers face. It’s not a traditional sector where unions are strong, there are plenty of young people working there and the terms and conditions in the sector aren’t great.
In my journey with the union, I have worked my way through the ranks from my local branch to a national role within CWU and now the TUC. I have been blessed to have a very supportive union, that provided me with the support and help that I needed to progress and play an active part. My hope is that others too can get the same support to play an active themselves.
Like anyone who joins a union, there are often different reasons as to why. Initially, I joined the union as I was interested in the charity work for CWUHA (Communication Workers Union Humanitarian Aid). They were going to do a Coast to Coast Cycle to raise funds.
Beth and Lee, two young workers in the branch, mentioned this to me after I told them I was interested in how we might help charities. They suggested I get involved and I did, helping raise funds in my workplace for those taking part in the cycle.
They then suggested I come along to a committee meeting. This was my first taste of the active union and the work we do for members, for society and for other reps and officers. Through supportive union colleagues like Beth and Lee, I was encouraged to take the next step – getting active in the union through an election.
I had become interested becoming an officer and learning what I could do to help my fellow colleagues to deal with issues in the workplace. I applied for the vacant position of BAME Officer in the Branch and I was successfully elected.
The branch had never had a BAME Officer before so I wanted to make members aware of the role. I started with surveying and mapping my members to find out their issues. This developed into a 12 month plan to address and campaign to fix these. In this time, membership increased and I was able to encourage more BAME members to become reps. We – because it isn’t just me, but the union as a whole working together – were able to put on events for BAME members, that overcome the barriers such as religion or childcare, that might otherwise prevent them attending meetings in the pub or after work events. And we linked our work to events in the community, because trade unionism doesn’t start and stop at the entrance to the workplace.
Having done this, I decided to also stand for election as the Young Workers Officer for the Branch and was also successful.
I have since progress to become the CWU Regional Executive Lead and National Committee Chair for Young Workers and this year I was elected Chair of the TUC Young Workers Forum. This opportunity has been amazing and I loved the ability to advance from representing in one workplace to representing the national membership.
Making a difference
We need more young people getting actively involved in trade unions so we can continue to be the force for good in the world of work and beyond. We aren’t the future of the movement but the present too. It’s why this year we took to TUC Congress the motion from the Young Workers Conference about how young workers will not pay the price for the cost of living crisis with their mental health.
It continues to be an issue affecting all workers and we’ll be making sure young people are hard and helped when it comes to the solutions.
Young workers want and need better pay, better term and conditions, and better work life balance. We all should not be having to survive but more to live. That’s why one of the priority campaigns for forum is on Pay and the Cost of Living crisis.
It’s why we’re supporting the demand for a £15 an hour minimum wage as soon as possible for all workers regardless of age. This would help so many young workers, often in low paid work because of where they work or because of the year they were born.
We aren’t just waiting for someone to make this change happen. Young workers up and down the country are involved in industrial disputes and campaigns. Some are striking for the first time, but all are determined to win improvements in pay, terms and conditions and to get the respect and better treatment they deserve.
My experience and knowledge gained on my journey from committee worker to workplace rep and then onto Young Workers Officer has given me the confidence to apply for the positions above my branch. I’ve always had great encouragement and support. I’ll be wanting to ‘pay it forward’ and help others with the same journey, in my union and the wider trade union movement.
But it’s on all of us to do that. All trade union reps should have it as their priority to find the next rep to support them and eventually replace them. Growing our membership and our reps base will mean we can win the fights we’re facing today, and tomorrow.
So in Young Workers Month, we’ll be highlighting the importance of young workers and the issues we all face. But for all of us, it can’t stop at the end of November. It is all on all of us to make sure we get young people involved, active and making a difference. Together, the trade union movement will continue to make the difference we do way into the future.
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