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Learning to put hope and power into the hands of young workers

Author
Jon Benson Guest
Published date
Last Saturday, 20 young workers from across the Yorkshire and Humberside region came together in Sheffield for the first time to learn how to organise. Here’s what we learned.

I want to build my confidence as a young organiser. I’ve been a UCU rep for a few years, a branch secretary, and I’ve led strike action. Despite this, I know how daunting it can be to engage someone in a conversation about what they care about, why they want to change things, and how unions can help.

If it’s daunting for me, then it must be overwhelming for the thousands of young members across our movement who’ve not had access to training, opportunities to organise, or the experience of industrial action.

The idea for this training day formed whilst we were out on the TUC’s first Summer Patrol for Young Workers. Every day on this campaign, we were speaking to dozens of young workers who didn’t know about trade unions, felt trapped in jobs with low pay and bad conditions, and had no hope for how they could change things.

We didn’t feel equipped with the tools or the language to challenge those low expectations, and we knew we needed training to understand how to turn hope into action.

That’s why we asked TUC Yorkshire & TUC Education to deliver a training day to develop organising skills in our workplaces.

We set it up, opened registrations, and expected to see all our mates from the patrol turn up. We did not expect what happened next.

Twenty five people applied, over half of them we hadn’t met before. They were young trade union activists, both experienced and new to the trade union movement, who just like us felt this gap in their experience as grassroots organisers.

This opportunity brought us together to share our experiences and learn how to put hope and power back into the hands of young workers. 

We learnt about the context of the modern workplace and issues that particularly affect young workers including insecure work, low pay, automation and more.

Throughout the day we practised techniques and discussed approaches for meaningful conversations with our peers, identifying issues, how to raise expectations and how to campaign to win.

An essential thread throughout was how trade unions are central to building a collective voice in the workplace and how active members help to build power and the union. It was particularly interesting to see how unions and young workers can go beyond the workplace towards community organising to improve working conditions where large multinational employers are the main employer within a community.

We also looked at examples of international solidarity and reflected on case studies overseas - multinational corporations have a global footprint and unions must also respond with the right tactics; not just through trade union federations but most importantly through member led grassroots organising.

The day was a brilliant success, which brought activists together to develop ideas to bring back to their branches.  Some of the activists that attended are also taking part in a mini-patrol of hospitality and hotels in central Sheffield this week - an opportunity for face to face conversations with young workers and explaining the benefits of joining a union.

I can’t wait to get out there and use the skills I’ve learned. Over the last few months I’ve gone into dozens of workplaces in Sheffield to discover young people feeling hopeless and powerless.

Power is the ability to act, and I’m ready to use all the power I’ve got.