Unlike many of the people involved in the trade union movement, I got involved before I had technically begun my working life. While I had heard of trade unions, I had very little understanding of what they actually did beyond rally for better pay. Like many healthcare students I had regular placements in the NHS, and while I wasn’t getting paid, I was still similarly affected by the working conditions, atmosphere and environment as my qualified colleagues. As with many stories of finding strength and empowerment, mine started with a bad experience that happened at a work placement. It’s sadly an unsurprising story, a young woman being made to feel uncomfortable while trying to carry out her daily duties at work. A tale as old as time. Something changed inside of me though, for now, let’s call this the fuel.
The next logical part of the story would be to start shouting from the rooftops about my unjust treatment and demanding change, but when anger is replaced by humiliation it’s not that simple. It started with rumours and whispers about similar experiences from others that I knew of. Soon enough I was among a collective of people who were listening and sharing and who understood that something had to be done. I guess you could call this the heat.
So, the next part is really the turning point in my journey, like most movements it was word of mouth that enlightened me. I saw the TUC’s focus on workplace respect, discrimination and equality. This was an organisation striving to improve professional life for everybody, they were shouting on topics that are often left unspoken and taboo. A whole multitude of people who would pass me the megaphone and stand with me in solidarity to demand better. The weight was lifted, and I was lighter than air. You guessed it, here was the missing component - I had found oxygen.
I had managed to build something that couldn’t be ignored. It was bright and bold and powerful. With the help of my fellow union members in just six months I was the first member from my trade union to join the TUC young workers forum, where I’m directly involved in decision making. I was a delegate at the young workers conference at which I spoke on the unfair treatment young workers in the NHS and I also got published in my union’s magazine raising awareness on the matter.
So here is what I’ve been trying to tell you through this very long metaphor: you do have a voice, you do have support, and you can make change. Trade unions are for everybody, let’s spread the word.
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