Young Trade Unionists Can Drive the Movement Forward
RMT Young Members is doing vital work to protect vulnerable youths from their employers, explains George Waterhouse, former YCL General Secretary, president of RMT Young Members in a feature in the Morning Star.
The rise in precarious work — of casualised, low-paid, short-term contracts — disproportionately hurts young workers.
There are many vulnerable young workers in the transport industry, such as the station catering staff locked in kiosks by their managers with no immediate access to toilets, or the young ferry workers facing aggressive and violent passengers without help or security.
Young people working for agencies on short-term contracts are more likely to face bullying and harassment and work in unsafe conditions. Successful struggles such as that of the Tyne and Wear Metro cleaners employed on agency contracts demonstrate that an organised, determined workforce can win.
RMT young members organise an annual conference for themselves. This year’s event took place in Manchester at the Mechanics’ Institute, where the TUC was founded in 1868.
We ran workshops developing our skills as union activists, heard from speakers and debated motions to be sent to the union’s AGM. We bonded together during a football match and social. We learnt about Manchester’s radical and trade union history by visiting the site of the Peterloo Massacre and Chetham’s library, where Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto.
Education is vital to building up youth activism within the union, and our Bob Crow Education Centre is an invaluable resource. We have an education course that runs parallel to the union’s AGM. This explains the union’s democratic process and provides delegates with the experience of moving a motion on the AGM floor.
We also run young members’ educational courses at labour movement events such as the Burston Strike School rally in Norfolk, the Jim Connell event in Ireland and the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ festival in Dorset. History is important and by looking at the struggles of our forebears we can learn for the fight today.
RMT was the first large industrial trade union and we submitted the motion to the TUC to found the Labour Party. Our heritage is important. My great-great-grandfather was president of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants from 1898-1901. We can be inspired by the struggles of his and other generations as we address contemporary industrial issues and the crisis of working-class political representation.
We send delegates to the Global Labour Institute’s summer school in Barnsley and to events organised by the World Federation of Trade Unions.
Internationalism is important to us. I am proud to stand in solidarity with the anti-fascist resistance to the Kiev junta whose goons murdered 50 people inside an Odessa trade union building.
One of the best experiences I have had was on an RMT delegation to Lille in 2010, protesting against the pro-big business policies of the EU. We stood shoulder to shoulder with trade unionists from all across Europe outside the European Rail Agency in outrage at EU directives that demand the privatisation of public services.
Young members have been active across the country at postcarding events, campaigning against cuts, supporting industrial action rallies and assisting with organising and recruitment. Whether it’s a dispute on the London Underground, an anti-McNulty march in Doncaster, a rally in support of cleaners taking industrial action in York or standing with those Dover ferry workers on zero-hours contracts, young members have been active.
We have a lot more to do and always encourage young members of the union to come along to our conference or education courses and get involved. Active young members are available to talk to branches and help with any events in your area.
I was honoured to win the John Cogger youth award and the TUC youth award this year. But, as we know, our strength lies in the collective and I have been lucky to work with some fantastic and dedicated young activists.
Twenty years ago, a quarter of trade union members were over the age of 50. Today it is more than a third. The trade union movement is aging. Part of this relates to industrial changes, with young people more likely to be unemployed or work in casualised workplaces that are harder to organise. We have to get out there and organise the unorganised.
Young member sections have a role to play in recruiting more young people into unions and developing them as activists.
RMT Young Members will continue our work so that by the time we move on there will be a new generation ready to continue building the union.