Whilst Young Fabian Trade Union Liaison Officer some years ago I realised that there was a growing need for young people to look to the protection of unions.
The interns movement was just beginning, social mobility was emerging as a key issue. The need for young people to seek the legal protection and effective campaigning power of unions was evident.
Since then the situation has spiralled in ways all reading this blog know all too well – yet only around 1 in 20 young people are union members.
Unions21 commissioned focus group research which uncovered a number of distinct and clear barriers that prevent young people from joining the union movement. These were categorised into four main themes:
- Lack of awareness – i.e. low visibility and/or understanding of unions.
- Lack of ‘push factors’ – e.g. many young people stated that they were happy with their workplace and did not feel they had come across any issues which might lead them to need a union’s support.
- Lack of ‘pull factors’ – e.g. young people found it difficult to articulate anything that would attract them to join a union.
- Repellent factors – e.g. cost of membership is off-putting for some, and some young people find it difficult to identify with union members.
I was pleased this year to work with a number of trade union members including Young Fabian Chair Adrian Prandle to produce a paper that offers fresh thinking on how we address these four themes with a focus on achieving benefit for young people in a time of cuts and economic stagnation.
In the publication: Delivering for Young Workers Michael Wheeler focuses on USDAW’s successes in making gains and communicating to young people the relevance of the union to their lives. Adrian Prandle and Paul Campbell see ATL’s ability to offer opportunities for professional development as key. Dannie Grufferty from NUS and Councillor Richard Watts from Islington Council explain how many of their organisations’ values and objectives for young people are shared by unions, and offer ideas for improved joint-working. Dannie Grufferty makes a timely argument for a student TUC card.
Each of the authors gives an insight into how they believe young people are being adversely affected by the policy decisions of the government and the unique role unions can play in limiting the damage and providing an alternative.
Alongside it, we launched a video made with a group of young trade union reps from across Britain: http://youtu.be/x-C9vZkoeUk The young people featured in the film – Jake, Sam, Tom, Kirsty, Ruth and Helen – share our concern that too many young people lack the support and protection of union membership.
Dan Whittle is Director of Unions 21.