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Recruitment of young members to trade unions 'vital'

31 March 2014

lorcan lovett

Lorcan Lovett, NUJ delegate to the TUC's Young Workers' conference, found young trade unionists passionate about fairness and equality, heard a reprimand for Russell Brand and support for the NUJ's anti-bullying campaign.

Joining young unionists from across the board presented me with a great opportunity. I hoped to gain a better understanding of unions' roles and see whether 18 to 26 year olds in different industries were fighting the same battles.

My time as an NUJ delegate at the Young Workers' Conference certainly gave me a greater understanding, but, more importantly, it allowed me to meet many young people passionate about fairness and equality.

Interesting, and at times contentious issues, were brought to light during the weekend. It ended on a clear message to the main TUC Congress

Before all that we paid tribute to Bob Crow and Tony Benn, two socialists whose influence was felt among the room. NUS vice president Dom Anderson and TUC president Mohammed Taj talked of the leaders and encouraged new ones in the room to come forward.

Footballer and ITUC member Abdeslam Ouaddou told the conference how badly Quatar's government treated him and many others. About 200,000 of the two million people in the Arab emirate are native Qataris. The rest are immigrants supposedly working in horrendous conditions. As the country prepares to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Abdeslam campaigns against its draconian laws and workers' rights.

"We cannot send players to play at world cup in a stadium where thousands and thousands of workers lost their lives," said the footballer who was initially refused exit from Quatar after his employment there.

The subject was revisited in an 'Act Global, Think Local' workshop soon after. Representatives of the ITUC, which stands up for 176 million workers in 161 countries, told us they were pressing for reforms in Qatar and other countries which are desperate for more trade union activity such as the Philippines and Columbia.

It was a point the group seemed to agree with - workers' problems abroad are our problems.

Educating children about unions needs to increase, as a NUT member commented in the session, and a great introduction to trade unions on YouTube was shared.

Also mentioned was the UK's refusal to sign the EU-led Youth Jobs Guarantee project last November. The guarantee would ensure those under-25 get a good quality offer within four months of leaving education or unemployment but the government. The UK was the only EU member not to sign, citing the scheme as unnecessary, saying it offered alternative programmes. Nearly one million young in the UK people are still unemployed.

TUC organiser Jay McKenna told the group:

"The reality is the government do not want to be seen to do anything by the trade unions and where people bottom up actually influence social dialogue."

Russell Brand's 'don't vote' rant took a beating from Eva Pascoe in workshop about getting young people involved in politics. The entrepreneur said UKIP stands alone as a growing party and targeting the internet is key to attracting a generation of lost voters to add balance. Bite the Ballot founder Michael Soni also championed promoting politics among young people. More young voters will divert attentions of the big parties and it may also give unions a membership boost on the way.

On Sunday morning, it was time to vote for motions The Federation of Entertainment Unions' Creating without Conflict motion passed easily. It followed a survey of over 4,000 workers which found 56 per cent of respondents had been bullied, harassed or discriminated in the workplace. I listened to my NUJ colleague Alex MacDonald speak about it in a meeting the day before and was pleased to see its reception. Bullying does not discriminate between workplaces but seems particularly relevant to ours right now as workloads increase, people face redundancies and stress soars.

The RMT brought forward a controversial motion on calling for an EU membership referendum. RMT delegate George Waterhouse had told me beforehand it was a topical debate that "needed to happen". The majority did not agree when he addressed the crowd. Nautilus and MU members spoke against it and I have to agree with them – the debate is always healthy, but, in the current climate, a referendum would serve right wing groups with hidden agendas rather than the public.

And the message to TUC's main congress was to promote unions among young workers and create a young workers organising strategy set on recruitment. Delegates voted for it because the work of unions is important and getting young people involved is more vital than ever.

There was standing room only at a Federation of Entertainment Unions fringe meeting on combating bullying at the TUC Young Workers' 2014 conference.

Tags: , tuc, creating without conflict, recruitment, russell brand, bullying, tuc young workers' conference