Building Among Young Workers

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Above: CWI Summer School

My contribution to the Youth discussion at the CWI summer school in Barcelona:

In England and Wales, one of the areas of youth work we’ve focussed on is our orientation to and development of young workers. One of the challenges of this work is getting access to young workers.

Unlike students who can be found in large numbers on campuses, there is no one place where young workers come together. This is particularly true as trade union consciousness among youth is generally low. This means that we have to go directly into workplaces to engage with and attract new layers of young workers.

One of the ways we have done this is by organising campaigns around fast food rights, £10Now and days of action exposing retail outlets that use exploitative zero hours contracts. To try and engage young workers in workplaces known to be hostile to workplace organising we have organised actions where we go into a workplace and leaflet as many workers as we can before management ask us to leave.

As well as attracting new layers we have taken steps to develop our young worker comrades. Alongside student bureaus we have had a number of meetings for young workers to discuss how we can intervene in the workplace. This has been important as young workers face more insecure and unstable conditions which can be very different to conditions experienced by older comrades.

More often than not, young workers are in workplaces that have no trade union recognition. Management can get away with more bullying and intimidation and attempts to even discuss organising can be met with extreme hostility. In drawing out these perspectives this has guided our work and allowed us to better equip our young comrades in the workplace.

By having discussions on a day in the life of a care worker, a shop worker, a waiter etc. older workers are exposed to the conditions faced by the younger counterparts and can better advise younger comrades how to recruit other workers to trade unions and get organised.

It’s also important that time is made in branch meetings to discuss the conditions of the trade unions. As trade unions will often be held in the grip of bureaucratic officials and young comrades will need guidance to give them the confidence to transform unions into militant fighting trade unions.

One of our successful areas of work in this area is in relation to Usdaw (the shopworkers’ union) which is Britain’s 4th largest trade union with over 430,000 members. We have been developing a caucus and had our biggest intervention so far at this year’s national conference. Our young comrades have been at the forefront of regenerating the broad left within the union.

Likewise, our young members put forward and spoke on a number of important motions which resonated and got some of the best responses from delegates. In time this will no doubt lead to contacts and new recruits.

The steps we are taking are currently small and the tasks ahead great but comrades, by investing time and energy into preparing young workers today, we will be developing the cadre who will have the confidence and understanding to inspire and lead the workers’ struggles of tomorrow.

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