The day kicked off with special guests from the US Fast Food Rights Campaign who gave an inspiring account of the strike action taken by workers in fast food restaurants in America to fight for a decent wage. The fast food industry is a sector that employs a large number of young people in the UK and the stories from colleagues overseas were an example of what can be achieved here in Britain if workers organise and join unions.
First topic up for debate was JOBS and on the Jobs panel, NUS president Toni Pearce spoke about the huge concern young people leaving education have about finding employment. Toni told the audience that the NUS’ is taking action and has commissioned an enquiry into the future of work, looking at ways to ensure a better transition from education into the labour market. Toni was followed by Richard Exel, Policy Officer in The TUC’s Economic And Social Affairs Department who explained that young people are the only age group where long term unemployment rose in the latest figures and that more action is needed to guarantee young people in this country a decent job and are not forced into workfare. BECTU rep and Ritzy Living Wage campaigner Rob Lugg spoke next, Rob described the success achieved by young workers striking for a living wage at the cinema where he works in Brixton. Rob showed that Ritzy is an inspiration and an example of what can be won when young people come together and campaign for change, the Ritzy campaign is now extending to a living wage campaign for all workers in the Picturehouse cinema chain. Sarah Woolley from BFAWU, spoke about the dangers for young people in the food & catering sector employed on zero hour contracts and the vulnerability they feel, through her union Sarah described her involvement with the fast food rights campaign, which is calling for ZHC to be banned and campaigning for a £10 an hour minimum wage.
The second panel was on HOMES and the first speaker was Tom Copley, the Labour Party London Assembly housing spokesperson. Tom pointed out that most young people are dependent on the private rented sector and this is the area most in need of reform. Tom spoke of the pressures on local councils which are limited in borrowing money to build housing that people can afford, this needs to change. Following Tom, Alex Hilton, Chief Executive of Generation Rent explained to the conference that it’s against the interest of the private sector to increase the supply of housing, if housing is limited they can charge extortionate prices for it. Linking to the earlier debate on jobs, Alex made the point that one of the best ways to address the cost of living crisis is to reduce what people have to pay for housing, Alex finished with an appeal for action, urging the audience members to make decent housing policies a condition of someone gaining their vote in 2015. Simon Sapper CWU National Officer kept up the debate explaining that the union prioritised housing as campaign issue after a survey of members showed it to be a key concern. Next to the lectern was Colum McGuire, Vice President Welfare for the National Union of Students, Colum spoke about students and their reliance on the private rented sector and the poor conditions students find themselves living in. Colum said the idea that living in bad accommodation is 'a right of passage' is disgraceful and called for greater education for tenants about their housing rights and for action to be taken against bad landlords and letting agencies. Tom Antebi, from The Focus E15 Housing Campaign showed how grassroots action can win, the focuse15 mums are an example of a small group of people taking on a council and winning and should be an inspiration to all to get active and demand change. Andy Anderson, Chair Of Unison Young Members Forum concluded the homes panel describing the work young members in his union doing to take action on the issue of homes. Unison are launching a new report “A New Housing Benefit Deal for Young People” looks at the impact housing benefit reform on young people. The report sets out UNISON’s recommendations on how to raise housing standards and make renting more affordable for young people.
The last panel of the day discussed VOICE, Michelle Stanistreet, General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists, spoke first, Michelle said that Unions have to convey the benefits of trade union membership much more effectively, she said, it’s up to unions to reach out to young workers, not the other way around. Piers Telemacque, Vice President, Society And Citizenship At The NUS, then spoke passionately about the need for political and citizenship education in schools, Piers highlighted youth services as an alternative way to engage young people and get them talking about issues which can be related back to politics, instead of cutting these youth services we should be looking at more ways to make politics accessible to young people to get them involved. Guardian columnist Zoe Williams in her contribution pointed out that to young people all main parties look the same- Labour introduced tuition fees and the Tories put them up to £9k! Zoe explained that the left have a challenge on their hands, neo-liberals spent 30 years making their case, progressives have to make their case, conversation by conversation. The next speaker on VOICE was, Chante Joseph, Representing the British Youth Council, Chante told conference about the survey BYC conducted, asking young people about their level of understanding and engagement with politics. The survey showed that political parties just aren’t doing enough to engage with young people, BYC are lobbying to open politics up to young people and have been pushing for votesat16 - a policy supported by the TUC.
Last to speak was Dan Lewis, a young activist from The Communication Workers Union, Daniel Lewis shared his experiences of being an agency worker and how the union helped him to get a permanent contract, inspired by this, Dan became a rep and got active in his union which developed his political awareness and understanding- he is now standing to be a local councillor, something he would have never imagined was possible before.
The event inspired much debate and will help inform the work of the TUC Young Workers Forum for the year ahead. The issues raised will continue to be a focal point of TUC campaigning. On JOBS the TUC is running ‘Decent Jobs Week’ from the 15th December, a host of events will be taking place across the UK in each of the TUC regions highlighting the problems concerning low pay and casulisation, particularly for young workers. On HOMES, the results of the TUC young workers housing survey have now been published and the TUC are continuing to work with Generation Rent and affiliates to keep up the pressure for significant changes to the housing market to improve access and affordability. On VOICE the TUC Young Workers forum has produced ‘Voter Registration Packs’ with Bite the Ballot, to help tackle the low number of young people registered to vote. To coincide with the launch of the packs, the TUC will also be announcing the results of new research which shows the shocking number of missing votes from the 18-24 age group and the potential impact on the political landscape it could have if more young people used their right to vote.
There will be short film showing the highlights of the debate available on the TUC website soon.
To find out more about the TUC Young Workers forum or to get involved in your regions, please contact: email@example.com
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