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Young members report back from TUC conference

Young media & entertainment industy activists

Young media & entertainment industy activists  -  © Private

18 April 2013

The Young Workers Conference is a meeting of young trade unionists which advises the TUC General Council on issues which affect young people at work. The 2013 conference took place on 23 and 24 March.

The NUJ sent two delegates to this years' conference, Alex MacDonald and Bonnie Newman.

These are their reports:

Alex MacDonald

Alex MacDonald
Alex MacDonald

The TUC young member's conference was my first real experience as an active member of a trade union. The conference brings together young unionists, aged under 26, to the TUC Congress Centre in London to discuss, plan and vote on the issues affecting young people in the UK today.

The first day consisted of speeches and workshops, as well as the election of the deputy chair of the forum. Throughout, we had impressed upon us the importance of unity and solidarity – representatives from the European TUC and Scottish TUC gave us their perspectives and showed that, with unemployment in Europe at the highest it has ever been, there can be no time for nationalism or narrow perspectives.

A highlight was meeting our fellow workers in the Federation of Entertainment Unions, in this case BECTU and the Musicians' Union. We endeavoured to set up a network of young activists and further strengthen the links between the unions - in light of the successful joint industrial action by the NUJ and BECUT at the BBC, the opportunities this provides are numerous.

Our industries, in particular, offer so little job security and foster such a competitive 'stab-in-the-back' ideology that building stronger links and stronger organising bases for our young workers is vital.

The meat of the conference's weekend was voting on motions. For us in the NUJ delegation, we had settled on throwing our full weight behind the unpaid internships motion and voted for it to be taken to annual congress.

Unpaid internships are an epidemic within our industry, undermining the opportunities of the media for so many young people by pricing out the less well-off and those outside the M25.

We voted against the Community union's motion as, although I'm sure it meant well, it advocated the value of young people taking unpaid work experience under the guidance of local MPs.

The phrase resonated around the conference, as it has through much of the labour movement, was the need to focus on "building stronger unions". The smashing of union power by successive governments has left young workers with little job security and poor wages.

With youth unemployment at nearly 1 million and the Tories' bonfire of the benefits now well underway, our opportunities are shrinking. A few comrades sounded the call for a general strike at the conference – whether it happens or not, there was a definite sense that we are on losing side of a vicious class war, and that we need to take a decisive stand using the tools at our disposal.

We journos are to blame in a big way. Decades of misrepresentation by large sections of the media of young people as undisciplined, anti-social, consumerist 'yoofs' has serves to create a disconnected generation that feels it has little to contribute and no interest in building a mutually supportive society.

Although the conference was a terrific experience and further inspired me to agitate and organise, it made me realise how much more is needed to mobilise young people to become active in the NUJ and the wider union movement.

See the NUJ's Cashback for Interns Campaign.

If you are interested in getting involved with the NUJ, get in touch at There are many free courses to help you to learn how to become an effective rep and get involved in the union.

The Federation of Entertainment Unions has agreed to support a youth section and Facebook page. To get involved, contact

Bonnie Newman


The recent TUC Young Member's Conference was the second national trade union conference I have attended. I went to the recent NUJ's Delegate Meeting, which focused on the union and the media industry.

The TUC is a federation of trade unions, representing the majority of trade unions in the UK, so this conference focused on the core issues and conditions, relevant to all industries, with the conference looking at those affecting effecting education, training and work for people under the age of 26.

About 20 national trade unions were represented by delegates at the two-day conference held in London. The first day was speeches from the TUC Young Workers Forum, European TUC and Scottish TUC, followed by workshops and an election of the Vice Chair of the Young Worker Forum.

The speeches resonated with the importance of young workers and their role in continuing the historic struggle to improve working conditions and access to work for people locally, nationally and internationally. The message was that in tough times, collective action can make things happen and the basis for our alternative is an economy that works for working people and young people.

It is clear that unions need to be there for young people especially and that as a movement we need to step up and tackle the core issues that affect workers in UK, but also in Europe and internationally. Workers around the world face the same issues as workers in the UK. We were urged to see the need for radical change in Europe.

There were a number of workshops: I went to one that focused on how trade unions can work with student unions and another about organising within the community.

Although people had such a wide range of experiences, since training and working in different industries, we found that were some common issues arising. The living wage, unpaid internships and the cuts of the Education Maintenance Allowance were highlighted.

We agreed that trade unions can work with student unions and the community by building campaigns together. The first steps will be to ensure awareness of workers' rights among students and workers, as well as giving support for people in our communities currently without work.

I met some of the delegates representing other media and entertainment unions, such as BECTU, the broadcasting union, and the Musicians' Union. We agreed that unpaid internships are a major problem within the media and entertainment industries and discussed the motion that supports a national campaign to end unpaid internships, since we all agree that all workers should be paid a living wage.

Not paying workers minimum wage is not only against UK law, but these internships also creates further divide between those who have the benefit of having financial support and those who don't.

We all went together to the evening event for some food and drinks. Owen Jones, author of 'Chavs', was the special guest and reminded us of the importance of the conference and its potential to change the lives of young people.

The second day of the conference was when the motions were moved by the union delegates. There were many motions that all were regarded opportunities for work and education, as well as conditions and wages for young people.

I supported most of the motions, except for two. I didn't support those that involved giving work experience to young people for extended period, in some cases working with members of parliament, and didn't state whether that person would be paid.

I made two speeches to the conference. I spoke to support the motion against unpaid internships, because of the inequalities they perpetuate. I also spoke to another motion, proposing a month of campaigning for awareness about workers' rights.

I told the conference that people not knowing what the conditions they should expect leads to problems at work, as well as inequalities such as unpaid internships. I urged people to support the motions, since we need to work together to create a world where exploitation is not acceptable. People should not accept that exploiting workers is "just the way it is".

Working in the media industry, I appreciate that media has a major responsibility in how it represents young people and the struggles that people face on a daily basis. It is clear to me, that a lot needs to be done to change the conditions that young people are facing and that all people can make a difference in the lives of our future, with honesty and solidarity.

Tags: , young members, tuc, conference, interns