I have a job that I love and I work with inspiring colleagues, many of whom have become great friends. The latest I work is until 6pm, and on the rare occasion that I work a weekend, I get TOIL. I’m on a modest salary that allows me to pay my rent, buy food and still have money left over to do the things I enjoy. It is for these reasons that I can understand that you would question why I feel so strongly about being a member of a trade union, or why someone in my circumstance would chose not only to be a member, but also to be a union shop steward. For many people the word ‘union’ conjures up images of miners striking, as depicted in films such as ‘Billy Elliot’ or more recently ‘Pride’. But, to me unions are so much more than standing on a picket line and I very much believe that they still have a role in the modern workplace.
This week is ‘Heart Unions Week’, where union reps are raising awareness of the role of trade unions and sharing their stories. As part of my ’30 at 30′ I have vowed to make ethical choices and raise awareness of things that I believe in. I believe in the importance of unions, and so here are my thoughts on what it means to be part of a trade union, and why I believe everyone should join one.
Everyone regardless of class or creed wants the same things at work: to feel secure, to be respected to have a voice, and for that voice to be heard. For me, that is what a union does: it allows workers a safe space where they can voice concerns. For shop stewards, members of the union who have been elected by their peers, to bring these concerns to management, to discuss these issues and work towards solutions.
Lots of the benefits that workers have today, such as weekends off and holiday pay are things that have been hard fought and won by trade unions. However, while these are things that should be celebrated as successes of the trade union, there is still so much more to be done. Unions are there for when workers need support, such as when they feel they have been discriminated against, or they feel that their employer isn’t follow legislation or policy. Even in the best organisations things can sometimes go wrong. As a shop steward I’ve accompanied union members, hardworking, dedicated people to meetings, where they just needed a bit support as they sought to address unfair play or challenging situations. I myself have needed the support of my union, and I was so thankful to have this support and work to resolving the situation I found myself in.
Being in a trade union isn’t about being an angry, protesting voice, or demanding unrealistic things. It isn’t a ‘them’ and ‘us’. It is about striving to have ongoing communication and dialogue between workers and managers. It is the strong, steady voice through which workers can take an active role in shaping their workplace for the better.