Enter your email address to stay in touch

Building a movement

Next generation of trade unionists gather at Unite’s young members conference
Rhys McCarthy, Unite national officer, Saturday, May 18th, 2019

Young workers from all sectors of the economy are gathering in Eastbourne this weekend (May 18-19) for Unite, the union’s annual young members’ conference.


Delegates representing young workers in finance, construction, manufacturing, health and hospitality will meet to discuss, debate and vote on motions.  This year’s packed agenda includes a key note speech from Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner on fighting the far right in the workplace, as well as workshops on organising in precarious workplaces and tackling sexual harassment.


Steve Turner will kick off the two-day event with a speech on countering the threat from the growing and dangerous far right.


With the racist Stephen Yaxley- Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) standing for the North West in next week’s European parliamentary elections (May 23), Turner has said that ‘trade unionists have a duty and responsibility to stand up on the streets, as we have historically, and in our workplaces, our homes, pubs and communities, if we’re going to defeat a dangerous and growing alt-right with an agenda beyond race or religious hatred.”


Speaking ahead of the conference, Unite young members chair, Damian Bailey said, “Our young members are an integral part of our movement’s future as we face down the vested interests that hold us back. Through campaigning and organising across our sectors, Unite and our young activists are committed to campaigning against precarious work, exploitative bosses and employment practices that attempt to brow beat the next generation into accepting the status quo.


“Our conference will be a celebration of the things our young members have achieved in recent times but also with a heavy focus of redoubling our efforts in the months and years to come.”


Lauren Townsend, Unite activist and TGI Fridays striker is also delighted to be attending the two day event. She said, “joining a trade union has never been more important, at a time when workers’ rights are being stripped away at an astonishing rate, with the rise of precarious contracts seeping into every industry and the minimum wage rising much slower than the cost of living.  Young people are often bearing the brunt of poor working conditions, harassment and inappropriate behaviour at work, living paycheque to paycheque, often barely making ends meet.”


And Lauren should know — last year she led her TGI Fridays colleagues in a series of strikes at five restaurants over the dining chain’s decision to slash waiters’ card tips by an eye watering 40 percent. Without any consultation, and just two days’ notice, these young minimum wage earning waiters, were faced with losing £250 a month.


This kind of appalling treatment is fairly rife in the hospitality industry, but not exclusive to it. Young workers in call centres, on construction sites and in banks are struggling with similar problems. What they want is a wage they can live on, safe, secure work and a voice at work.


Lauren added, “The surge of campaigns across hospitality over the last year have breathed a new life into the trade union movement, as Unites own TGI Fridays’ strikers stood shoulder to shoulder with other hospitality workers up and down the country, covered in face-paint and proudly chanting ‘we believe that we will win’. Everywhere from Glasgow to London we’ve seen young workers taking on their employers and winning – but we need to do more.”


TGI Fridays, the McStrikers and Wetherspoon strikers have shown that young workers are becoming more inclined to organise and campaign for their rights. This is the new generation of trade unionists building a movement against low pay and rubbish working conditions.  We need to make sure that we continue to support them and show that their place is in the union.


As Lauren said, “We need to recruit our friends and colleagues, our brothers and sisters and we need to educate ourselves.  We’re leading a new movement and young people need to take up the reins and fight, not only for their own rights, but for the rights of the generations that will come after them.”


  • This comment first appeared in the Morning Star on Saturday (May 18)

Related Articles