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My trade union experience - Young Workers Month

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Hi my name is Chris, I work at the Christie Hospital in Manchester as an MRI clinical scientist. I am a member of Unite, a Workplace Representative and Branch Secretary.

I have recently taken up a seat on the TUC North West Young Workers Committee and am proud to have been elected Committee Chair. Outside of my trade union commitments I campaign for a wholly publicly owned NHS and around housing/tenants’ rights – which have particular implications for young people.

I first joined Unite while working in a previous job for a private company to protect myself and offset some of the power imbalance employers hold over workers. Particularly in private companies, bosses and executives can act with very little oversight as the employment laws in this country grant them wide scope to do as they see fit and place barriers to recompense for an unsupported worker. Trade union membership provides me with the knowledge, confidence and backing to stand up for myself and others in the workplace.

There are different dynamics at play in the NHS, but individual workers can still be intimidated by high ranking executives, so it is important to be part of an organisation which looks after the interests of the workers among all the other pressures they are under. Furthermore, what additional protections and benefits we do enjoy were won by collective bargaining. If the strength of the unions wanes, then governments will be able to roll back those hard-won concessions.

The primary lesson I have learned, and the one I would pass on to any other young workers, is to not be afraid to get involved. It may seem that you are too inexperienced or unqualified for a particular role or task, but the best qualification is willing and enthusiasm. The experience will come with time and senior trade unionists and full-time officers will offer support as volunteers are vital for the running of the union.

Another lesson would be to share concerns with colleagues. If you are having an issue it is unlikely that you are the only one experiencing it, but only by sharing those concerns can you find those others and start to build impetus to resolve the issue. Additionally, don’t just think a union is to fix problems; the workers know their work and the workplace best and by organising together proactive changes can be made to implement the improvement you would like to see.

Unions do face a difficult future as older members retire and the nature of work (particularly for young people) shifts to more transient forms and the move towards home working, while offering flexibility to workers does present difficulties for organising. However, I think the movement can take inspiration from events during the pandemic such as when the teachers of the NEU forced the government’s hand in closing schools in the second wave or the landmark win by the Unite bus drivers against fire and rehire at Go NorthWest.

If unions take the initiative, rather than sitting back to protect what they have won in the past, then this will inspire more workers to join. The TUC can share the stories of young workers using social media to reach other young workers, and I am happy to be part of this for young workers’ month. Finally, unions should look to take on issues outside the workplace and as people see them as a force for good, fighting on the issues that affect them, then they will recognise their utility in the workplace – where ultimately, our power lies.

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