Young Core Workers Set To Save UK Unions?

We are on the brink of the biggest shake up of the UK trade union scene in a generation. New work  lead by the TUC in collaboration  with the Good Innovation agency seems set to break through the  deeply entrenched disconnect between younger workers  and organisations  that  despite not enjoying  the  influence of years past,  still have over 6 million  paying members.

But the outlook is stark.  Overall trade union density is down to a quarter of the workforce. The numbers of employees whose terms and conditions are union-negotiated has fallen in parallel to around 30% across the economy as a whole. And in areas where employment is expected to rise – and which have a high number if young workers – density levels can be as low as 5%

The TUC term these people as “young core workers” – they are characterised by being aged 21–30, predominantly working, full- or part- time in the private sector,  they’re not in full-time education and earn  low to average wages. They are disproportionately represented in the hospitality, social care and customer services sectors.

The challenge, to a certain extent, is as it has always been:  Get the membership/engagement offer right for this group and you then have a proven tool that will be transformational.  What’s different this time is the power and energy behind the initiative.

Some very significant research has already taken place, involving a survey population from these target areas.  As a result   it  has been possible to identify  two key  dimensions  that  characterise  the employment experience of  these YCWs – how important do they regard  their job,  and are they more  preoccupied  by  the present or the future?

This leads to four generic worker types described in the table below:

YCW

These four types sit under some challenges that seem to be on the radar of all YCWs,  namely Realisation  (they don’t  perceive that  bad,  even illegal treatment at work  is  problematic, Trust (sharing  information or concerns  is  seen as a weakness to be seized upon  by  fellow workers) and Futility (the belief  that any attempt to  effect change will end in failure).

Conceptually, the next stage is to identify a successful series of engagement strategies.  We know already that this is possible – look at Unite’s Sports Direct campaign, or the GMB work in respect of Uber.  But the YCW strategy is an upscaling of these victories on a wider, larger, deeper scale. Something those driving the report – including a specially convened “President’s Group” of senior representatives from TUC affiliates – must recognise cannot be accomplished within the existing spheres of influence of individual trade unions.

The breadth of and foundation for of the YCW project is ground-breaking: This is more, much more than a “we can’t change anything but we’re going to try anyway” throw of the dice. The early response from young trade unionists is determined. But there is a necessity for habitually territorial unions to break out of the Balkanised industrial landscape created in the post war years.  What was once comfortable has been increasingly unfit for purpose for many years.

Of course, this won’t solve all our problems in one hit, but the exciting, tantalising, real prospect of this project is the formation of new collaborative, cross union structures to deliver success in what everyone in the movement knows is an existential challenge.

This Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

nyc

A picture is worth a thousand words? No – this one is worth far more. This is the CWU’s newly elected National Youth Committee. As most readers know, my day job is working for the Communications Workers’ Union, so I say this with feeling: No pressure ladies and gents, but the future of the union lies with you.

This is not hyperbole. The average age of a CWU branch secretary is 53-and-a-half.  The average age of all CWU reps is 50.  “Young” for us is 29 and under.  They are the  leadership  of not just 18,000 of their fellow young members,  but  also  the  agents of  change,  the next generation,  the key ingredient  that  will take us forward.

We represent people in posts, telecoms financial and business services sectors.  And we are good at what we do.  Our membership density in the larger employers we work with is touching or over 90%.  For the private sector, with membership levels across the whole economy of around 16%, this is astonishing.

If you look at our core sectors,   we  surpass the  national average across private and public employers of  26%  trade union  density – we represent  around 30%  of all telecoms  workers and 50% of  all postal and courier sector employees1.

And we recruit. 12,000 new members in a year – 5,500 of them young workers.

So the future is not only in good hands but looking secure – right?

Wrong.

CWU membership has fallen from a peak of nearly 300,000 in 1998 to just over 190,000 now.  One employer, the GPO,   has now become dozens.  There are over 7 thousand telcos in the UK1.  The sectors in which we organise are increasingly and intensely competitive.  Theresa May  may talk  “one nation”  politics  but  the party which she leads rammed through the  ultra-hostile Trade Union Act – this is a government that can fairly  be described as hating who we are and what we do.

And recruitment? It is a fantastic achievement to   bring in so many new members each year.  But we lose still more.  And many new members are part-timers and those who leave are full timers. So money is tight. But incoming young members did exceed young leavers by nearly 3,000 last year.

So to hear a room full of young members (and those pictured necessarily exclude colleagues who  just couldn’t make the meeting) talk  about  their  experiences  at work and of the union,  about  how and why  they became more involved,  about the personal  struggles and  bad management   they already  have had to  deal with,  about their  abiding  commitment to workplace respect and democracy, decent  jobs,   wanting  to  make change  happen at work and in society,  is just the best  thing.

And of course they are not alone. Despite everything, there are still 6 million trade unionists in the UK, the country’s largest social movement by far. And the “union premium” is shown in higher pay and better conditions.

The media attitude to Trade Unions is downright contradictory: derided as irrelevant, unnecessary and marginalised generally, but purveyors of destructive power when we are driven to take strike action. That’s the narrative perpetuated in spite of days lost to industrial action being historically low, the likes of Sports Direct and Philip Green, Citylink and Hermes showing why capitalism can’t be trusted, and trade union campaigns on working time, health and safety, equality  and employment protection being adopted and accepted as the norm.

One thing is for sure: If unions didn’t exist, we would miss them in all sorts of ways we don’t even realise.

And one more thing for sure is that these young reps show we have a bright, hopeful future.

1 “Mapping the Future” (CWU, 2010 and 2015)

This piece also appears on the website of CWUYouth. To Join the CWU, click here

 

 

Unpaid Interns – Still with Us, Still an Issue

 

“Be an intern for us!” opened the email that had plonked into my in-box.  That made me pause – interns had been almost eclipsed in my mind by zero- hour contracts, Sports Direct and other precarious and/or unsavoury employment models .

But you do remember interns?  Or rather remember all the fuss about unpaid internships?  Ringing a bell?  We used to think this was scandalous and shouted loudly about it.  We still do think it’s a scandal, but somehow don’t seem to be so bothered – or are we just fatigued?  Have enough employers woken up smelt the coffee, and paid their interns to blunt to edge of our argument and anger?

Interns are still a big issue in the UK. The Sutton Trust reckons one-third of all internships are still unpaid, yet according to YouGov only 4% of us can afford to do that.  Is the sad truth that  the concept  of  doing unpaid work  to  get  your foot half on the ladder is firmly  embedded in many sectors – and with  so many  other battles to fight and injustices  to right,  it has  fallen off our campaigning agenda.

This is understandable but it is a debate that must not die. Unpaid work was and is and will always be problematic. All most of us have to sell is our labour.  And we need to generate income to live. So a set up that makes unpaid work the unavoidable entry point pulls the rug out from anyone who can’t afford to work for free.

Somehow this has become a “good thing” – look at what your interns can do for you purrs Business Insider.  Getting paid?  Well, it’s just a choice you make, swaggers Forbes Magazine.

But look again at the excellent briefing material produced by campaign group Intern Aware, the TUC and National Union of Students.  Employers still are prone to not pay interns but treat them as workers (a definite no-no to be exposed), and the reasons to pay interns are overwhelming, including the notional cost to graduates.

The current legal position  leans more towards the Forbes’ view of the world, than mine.  Yes, there are paid internships  across a range of sectors, but there is still no standard template.  Size of employer does not seems to be the determining factor – small London based charities such as the Point of Care Foundation  (POCF) seemed to decide that if  there were to be internships, then they would darn well be paid. However, creative outfits like Bombus – whose email grabbed my attention – didn’t. So I did a little digging.

The first thing that needs to be acknowledged is that size does matter. POCF have 12 employees – Bombus only 6.  It is arguable that the affordability of paid internships is determined in the space between them – but therefore inarguable that larger employers could and should pay their interns.

But given just how small Bombus is – net assets of scarcely more than £100k, – surely their unpaid internships would prove to be nothing more than a ruse to increase resource for free? “ In terms of studio production time and administration it’s actually quite a costly exercise for a small company such as ours. Our interns do not arrive in the first week equipped with the level of quality in their hand-making skills to be able to offer ‘labour’ to us,” said a company spokeswoman.

“We advertise the intern scheme locally only for obvious, practical reasons. Yes, we post it on our social media and our blog but effectively, the intention of that is to give our customers and users an insight into our company and how we operate. Our studio is in a rural location, not served by any public transport. All transport costs are reimbursed in full to our interns.

Our intern scheme is there to support especially local design students and graduates who are often required to fulfil a curriculum module of workplace experience. We offer a hands-on, highly practical and fully-mentored 2 week internship, involving all aspects of our design and production methods, potentially giving them valuable skills to include on their CV for their future career paths.

And yes, often we do ask some interns to join us on a fully-paid position on either a part-time, full-time or temporary basis, depending on the company’s requirements at that time.”

It seems to me that Bombus make an important point well.  It’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it. A good quality internship consists much more than money, and the cost employers are prepared to bear is found not just in pay rates.

But this is an extremely limited illustration. And the candid nature of their response to my enquiries shows a self-confidence that I often find lacking in business.  There is a clear agenda for government here  – to provide a platform of employment standards that all employers are expected and supported to meet, to ensure young adults leave school with the right skills and knowledge, to ensure that there are enough routes into the labour market so that local internships don’t become a Hobson’s Choice with their quality  being a matter of  discretion not obligation.

That’s surely all common sense isn’t it?

Why Trade Unions Need the Young Pregnants (and how they can get them)

 

Speaking at a Unions 21 meeting on how to best use digital information, TUC communications  chief Antonia Bance  linked shocking headlines lines on discrimination related to pregnancy at work to the young workers we need to  recruit to survive as a movement,  and who just happen to be pregnant in significant numbers

Young workers are a notoriously and persistently a hard demographic for us to recruit as a recent TUC report emphasised only too clearly.  So, argued Antonia, if we could tailor our recruitment message to be particularly appealing to young pregnant female workers – just the group who know from other research are facing bullying, harassment and discrimination at their workplace – we would be pushing at more or less an open door

Tailoring recruitment in this way is just one avenue that is being pursued under the TUC initiative. But let us suppose we have done the tailoring and are reaching out.  What message are we giving?  What service are we offering?  What is the follow up when someone clicks the button or image on their smart phone to say “yes” I am interested; “yes” I need help.

Because offering help is not the same as providing it. When someone clicks on that button, we  need to be able  to respond in a meaningful way. (Don’t, for example,  print foreign language recruitment  fliers when  there is no one at the end of the recruitment hotline who can speak that language)

Let’s take now the situation of a pregnant worker in a franchised shop, restaurant or other business unit. She sees the advertisement on her smart phone and clicks to respond.

First problem: where does that response go?  Our trade union movement is too fragmented and, in my own view, too reluctant to truly collaborate, to offer a clear-cut route to advice and support.

But let’s say we have reached a level of understanding that means a number of unions have collaborated effectively. We have a common entry portal.  We offer a nuanced service so that basic advice and information is free, but when it comes to something more meaningful or more detailed, there is a requirement to enter into a more formal commitment.

Such an arrangement can and has worked in other environments. The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions initiative was predicated on just such collaboration.  The nuanced membership regime that our own National Union of Students operates with its NUS Extra Programme shows how you can differentiate between levels of service and levels of membership.

So having seen how we can deal with the “reception” side of the equation, what happens when we turn our attention to the transmission – a pregnant worker who has made the call?

Of course it is wonderful if she is now receiving a tailored, co-ordinated, coherent service. But she is now exposed, still worried, her employment perhaps increasingly precarious as a very real fear of being victimised takes hold.

Here we need to acknowledge some of the methodology used by the Public Concern at Work charity that recognised explicitly the risk/likelihood of victimisation.  However, whistleblowers in many circumstances are protected under law whereas raising concerns about discrimination at work is not yet a protected characteristic.

There is an obvious and immediate step forward that can be achieved were legislation introduced to expand the remit of the Whistleblowers Act to include complaints about denial of a statutory right (such as payment of the National Minimum Wage) or unlawful discrimination.

That could be reinforced by giving Employment Tribunals the power to compel reinstatement, or award more significant compensation (although awards for discrimination are currently uncapped, precedent constrains the amounts actually cited).

There could even be a dismantling of the procedural and cost barriers that act as a disincentive for employees to pursue Employment Tribunal claims – if there was the political will.

Quite apart from the absence of a progressive political climate  which  might  make such  reforms to employment protection legislation  possible,  is it not also the case that prevention  is so much better than cure?

Whatever sanction is imposed on the perpetrator; the pregnant worker who has been bullied and harassed has already suffered. Much better   to create an environment in which the likelihood of harm is greatly reduced.

“Hear, hear” readers exclaim – but how is this to be done?

This is where the political climate is surely benign. Most if not all reputable employers would agree that discrimination is wrong and that includes acts against pregnant workers.  It is not just an ethical or legal question, but a financial and operational  one too.

So a declaration of best practice for pregnant workers should attract widespread support.   And the combination of a desire to do right with fear of being caught out doing wrong is a huge fillip  to compliance.

And to emphasise the importance of this as an issue, employers   can achieve  a “kite mark”  as a recognition of their good practice.  And why would any woman, especially of child bearing age,  want to work for an outfit  that  is not accredited under this scheme.

So we design-in good practice. And we spread from large employers   through trade confederations and  other routes to  smaller ones and eventually to all employers. So that even the pregnant worker in the franchised, small workplace, has confidence that her employer, her manager and her colleagues understand, intuitively, what is required.

It is a real indictment that so much of this remains to be achieved. It is wasteful economically and destructive in human terms.  It is also unnecessary and avoidable. And it can change if we want it to.

 

Staying Alive – Unions, Youth and Activism

So just why the hell did more than 60 of us – mostly under 30 years old –  come to Birmingham (nice as it is) on a wet weekend at the end of October?  What ‘s the point, what  did  we think we would achieve?

The event in question was the CWU’s 14th National Youth Education event (or NYEE)1, and so the fourteenth time these questions have been asked. Each year we go somewhere different. But each year many things remain the same.  Things like getting loads of new activists coming to their first ever CWU event. Getting great support from all of the senior officers of the union,  attracting  some amazing  external speakers, running a programme that  educates, enthuses, informs and entertains.

Most importantly of all,  it is seeing  people  almost grow before your eyes as they realise what  their union can and does do, and what they  can and will do  as part of it.  To get that unforgettable feeling  of suddenly realising that you are not alone. It isn’t just you  fighting for your members  rights in a corner somewhere- there are dozens, hundreds of young activists doing and  thinking the same as you.

So what’s the story? How do we do this? Believe me,  all the feedback  is freely given and published unfiltered – “A great weekend” “Can’t wait for next one.” A life-changing experience” Never knew my union could do all this.” Fantastic to talk directly to  the senior people – really inspirational” And so on. Reviews, frankly,  to die for.

The answer is a combination of factors that we (that is the National Youth Committee of the day) try and blend together in a perfect cocktail.

The recipe includes;

  • Strong support and dedicated support from CWU hq
  • Personal support from the senior officers
  • Commitment from a significant number of branches
  • Demand from potential participants – partly fuelled by energetic and positive  ambassadors who have attended in the past
  • An arresting agenda with the right mix of industrial, political and social issues, internal and external speakers
  • A well-worked plan

Of course nothing encourages success like success, so each year’s “good experience” fuels support, demand and expectations for the year after.  But I believe that whilst all of the above points are crucial, it is the “well worked plan” that  holds everything together.

We take people on a journey, as it were – the ice-breaker exercise  is what gets people moving and talking to each other.  The plenary and workshop sessions exposes them to key political issues of the day (this year the EU referendum2, blacklisting3, the British bill of rights4, housing5and the campaign for a fair deal for football fans6). The output for these sessions is in the form of motions. We then bring people back together for a session with the General Secretary – and then split then by occupational grouping  for  sessions with the lead national negotiators for their sectors.  Whilst the young activists are doing that, on the admin side we compile the motions  into  an agenda – complete with  consequential rulings and standing orders –  for a Mock Conference.

The last sessions of the day are a brief explanation of How Conference Works and then people go back into their morning  groups –  to  consider the  agenda we have produced exactly  as a branch would.

The following day,   we hold that Mock Conference .  Many “delegates” are making their first ever  speech in front of the people  – at the lectern ,  with a microphone and “traffic lights” –  there is  no kinder audience , but the debate can be impassioned, vigorous – and hilarious.

However, often motions from the mock conference  crop up  at “real”  policy making  fora in the union so increasingly it is recognised s as something of a test  bed for new policies.

There’s no denying things are tough. Employers often under-value the importance of good, well-trained IR reps and are suspicious of facilitating   the next generation.  Government attitudes  to  trade unions are at bets  hostile and at worse pathologically  negative. Most of the media follow suit and trade union membership  covers   little more than 1 in 4 workers. Amongst the very young (16-24 year olds), it is less than 1 in 10.

But it varies. Our key industrial sectors benefit from relatively high levels of union density and a sound workplace and branch structure. And that  provides a platform  for  campaigning  on  key issues that  affect  us at work and in our communities – such  as  our “Homes 4All”7 housing  campaign. And it also gives us an appetite and understanding of wider political issue that shape our world.

There are of course some slight potholes in the road. We have some structural issues that I think will require a structural solution. Not everyone will like everything on every agenda-  or every colleague they come across. Nothing is perfect or forever and  we  are in no way complacent.

But the ideals we hold and express are, without organisation, just dreams. The fantastic thing about this weekend is that it inspires more dreams, but grounds in them in practicality – in how to make the dreams real.

That is the light shining out from the autumnal gloom this weekend in 2015. That is what we stay strong and positive – and well organised.

Thanks to everyone who makes it happen.

This post was first published at http://www.cwuyouth.org/view-blog.html?blog_id=433

Trade Unions and Constitutional Change – Issues we can’t duck

Discussions initiated by campaign groups such as the Electoral Reform Society [1] and Involve [2] about identifying and then remedying the problem of low engagement by, especially, younger people in the political process have a direct relevance and importance for the trade union movement.

First of all, the abstentionism of a majority of young people absolutely affected the outcome of the 2010 and 2015 General Election. There is a clear advantage and indeed necessity in raising the level of engagement in the political process by young people and, of course, that includes young trade unionists.

The second connection is that low levels of engagement do not just appear in connection with political activity – they are also a feature of the democratic process within trade unions themselves. Therefore if we can find strategies that will deal with low levels of engagement in one sphere we should be able to map them across into another.

Even though trade union interest in this area is anything but well-established, there is a very wide range of academic interest in the question of participatory democracy. Plans for two “constitutional convention” pilot exercises (to test the theory and practice of how such conventions could operate) will be run by ERS in Southampton and Sheffield have now been finalised – and there will be some trade union input/participation.

 

IMPORTANT

This work is important not just because of the central relevance of voter/member engagement to trade unions.

It is also important because it seeks to address some dominant political issues that cannot be avoided given the preferences of the current government.

One of these issues is the “English votes for English laws” nationalism enthusiastically advocated by the Prime Minister, especially in the wake of the Scottish Independence Referendum last year [3]. This means that the issue of devolution within the UK is not just limited to Scotland and there will be a wider debate. The government has already published its view about the vehicle that should be used to carry forward that debate which it is feared will be a very select form of constitutional convention, both in terms of its composition and in terms of its remit.

It was this particularly that prompted the Electoral Reform Society to call for a genuine people’s constitutional convention to make sure all views in society were accommodated and which seeks to make sure that the way in which the convention works is open, democratic, responsive and meaningful.[4]

The second way in which this issue is unavoidable is that part of the overall devolution debate is the “Devo-Manc” policy that will see first Manchester and then presumably other major centres given devolved responsibility for a greater range of services than has ever previously been the case in modern Britain. [5] This means that there will need to be new models of democratic accountability to provide oversight for those devolved services. If there are new devolved models of accountability that means that all sorts of issues about how they are selected, how they work, what their remit is, come onto the table.

It is clearly important for progressive organisations to recognise this as an opportunity for engagement in order to participate in debate and influence outcomes.

Indeed, with initiatives looming that will significantly change pan-UK politics, (such as Individual Electoral Registration and the consequent re-drawing of parliamentary boundaries), it is more important than ever to be aware of any and every opportunity that exists to make sure our voice is heard.[6]

COMPARATORS

It is not just within the context of UK politics that the potential importance and value of constitutional conventions can be seen. Two fairly contemporary recent examples also show why this can be an important issue.

First example is the Irish Referendum on Equal Marriage. This was preceded by constitutional convention which many would argue allowed the issue of equal marriage onto the political debate, socialised the issue through debate and then made a major contribution in generating a public momentum for change that the government of the day found irresistible.[7]

The second example is that of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, established in 1981 which brought together a very wide-range of Scottish society – in fact all of Scottish society apart from the Conservative Party and some fellow travelling unionists.

The convention is credited as providing the social and political network that lead to effective devolution in the late 1990s when 20 years previously it had seemed an impossibility.[8]

LATEST DEVELOPMENTS

Most recently, the newly/appointed Labour’s leadership has entered this debate. Last week Shadow Secretary of State for local government, Jon Trickett, announced the Party’s plans for their own People’s Assemblies. These are described at http://labourlist.org/2015/09/labour-to-organises-citizens-assemblies-to-reinvent-politics/. However, it seemed to me that this was open to misinterpretation and therefore criticism and limited success. My response, written in a personal capacity, to Jon’s proposals appears http://labourlist.org/2015/09/the-question-of-peoples-assemblies-isnt-as-straight-forward-as-it-might-seem/

In the same week, the TUC had its first substantive debate on electoral reform in many years, and is now committed to an investigation into possible forms of alternative voting.[9] However, many unions have yet to debate the issue internally.

WHERE NEXT

The notions of electoral reform and constitutional reform, constitutional conventions and participative democracy have fresh momentum behind them and will be with us for the foreseeable future. It is therefore appropriate and necessary that the labour movement keeps this area under active review, seeking to influence both debate and the outcome.

[1]        http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/

[2]        http://www.involve.org.uk/

[3]            https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/441848/English_votes_for_English_laws_explanatory_guide.pdf

[4]        http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/constitutional-convention

[5]        http://www.centreforcities.org/blog/will-devo-manc-mean-devo-max-for-cities/

[6]        http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN06764/SN06764.pdf

[7]        http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-32858501

[8]        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_Constitutional_Convention

[9]        http://blueandgreentomorrow.com/2015/09/15/tuc-congress-unions-to-consider-change-of-voting-system-for-uk-elections/

“Walk Right Back” – The labour movement and young people

In the Labour Movement we are all glass-half-full sort of people.  We need to be and usually our optimism is justified.  But what if we are just being too naive too often?

Because  although  we can point to  a succession of positive steps in the  efforts to  re-energise and rejuvenate both  wings of our movement – from 16 and 17  year old voters in the Indyref,  to  hundreds of thousands of  new supporters engaged by  the leadership election – these exist in the bleakest of contexts. The ongoing reactionary revolution makes my generation pine for the benign blight of Thatcherism.

I would argue that the party and trade unions have yet to find the right approach  to engaging with the concerns of  new workers in  our new  SME-dominated, small state economy.

Sorry to  put a downer on proceedings,  but look at the facts: As Hendy and Ewing(1) reported  coverage  of collective bargaining – surely the driver and barometer of union  strength – now stands at  around 25%,  down  from  82%  in  scarcely a generation. Private sector union density is now below 25%. Union membership is concentrated in older workers on full time contracts, whereas younger members have less secure employment, work fewer hours and pay less in subscriptions.

Union density in SMEs and in the hospitality and related services sector is really low, yet that is where a disproportionate number of young people will be working (2).

TUC research showed  that there were enough politically  disengaged young voters to determine the  General Election  result in almost every  constituency (3) – but the party’s policies on  jobs and training,  or on  macro- economic and foreign policy,  clearly didn’t  motivate  very large numbers of younger  voters  to  support us. Nor did the truly impressive efforts of Bite the Ballot deliver the decisive turnout in young people that was hoped and needed (4). In fact turnout amongst the young was lower in 2015 than five years previously.

So what do we do?  Not give up. Not emigrate.  But not by just doing the same thing and hope that the political pendulum will swing back to us.

I think we start with the objective of creating a bedrock of collectivist ideas on which to base policies that offer the promise of individual economic fulfilment. (And just so we are all clear, individual economic fulfilment is, in my view, impossible, without a surrounding framework of progressive economic and social policies)

So easy to say – but what does it mean in practice?  Amongst ourselves, I suggest that we need clarity and consistency around not just what we mean but how we think. How do we create this collectivism?

The role of the National Curriculum is, I think often overlooked.  Employers have told me that they do not find teenagers “work ready”. Yet we now have compulsory schooling until 18. These two extra years seem to me to  represent a huge opportunity to address the concerns of employers  but in a way that  supports  key  collective ideas –  like  respect,  tolerance, diversity, equality, fairness, reasonableness,  rationality,  rights and responsibilities.

These are all the things needed for a successful economy.  They’re also a part of personal fulfilment.  But for us, crucially, they are the key values of the labour movement.  The pieces of this jig-saw are already in place.  We need a recharged Citizenship Foundation (5) to put the pieces together.

But are we now in a position where we can have this necessary debate like never before? Given the preoccupation with  such matters – from the “English Votes”  debate (7)  to DevoManc (8),  constitutional  reform  is  now a major  issue and  opportunity  for us to engage and  energise young people. Do the Scottish Constitutional convention (8) and other constitutional conventions that followed it (9) show us a way to engage key young stakeholders?

And what should “individual economic fulfilment” consist of?

Building a narrative on individual economic fulfilment is, I believe, an essential ingredient to the hope that characterises successful youth engagement strategies. We need to recognise and embrace ambition, but key into what young people are saying about housing, health and employment. Listen – really listen – to what young people are saying.

The housing crisis – and it is a crisis – offers a hopeful illustration of how young people can become engaged, and how politicians need to outbid each other to offer the most positive and popular policy.  This is surely the key issue for the London Mayoral election next year, so it is an opportunity to see if the levels of engagement and activity are maintained.

Given the importance attached to  housing   by all of Labour’s  large affiliates, all of whose policies  have been driven  by  motions  from  youth structures  within those unions (10), this issue  also shows that  campaigning  on the “right”  issue  not only brings  the  two wings of the movement  together,  but  provides the rejuvenation essential for organisations to  survive.

But all of this must feed through to something deliverable – engagement must translate to a real shift in policy, and that policy must be one that is actioned. Get this right and we create a virtuous cycle of hope, trust and innovation.  Get it wrong and it becomes a vicious cycle of just the opposite.

So the key criteria in all this is how any does any given action, policy or decision either increase capacity or influence or both.  How will this bring us together? If it doesn’t do any of these things, then my advice is simply to stop.(11)

To paraphrase a deservedly acclaimed speech – young people haven’t left the organised labour movement,  perhaps we have left them (12). Even if following the Labour leadership election, some of them have started to return, the achievable challenge now is to bring the next generation close to our heart.

An edited version of this article appears in the September 2015 edition of the Young Fabians’ magazine Anticipations www.youngfabians.org.uk

  1. Hendy and Ewing: Reconstruction after the crisis: a manifesto for collective bargaining,  IER 2013
  2. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/trade-union-statistics-2014
  3. http://www.readyrentals.co.uk/news/article/1137/four-million-missing-votes-from-younger-generation-could-decide-election-tuc
  4. https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/3575/How-Britain-voted-in-2015.aspx?view=wide
  5. http://www.citizenshipfoundation.org.uk/index.php
  6. http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/02/english-votes-english-laws-what-are-tories-proposing
  7. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/devolution-to-the-greater-manchester-combined-authority-and-transition-to-a-directly-elected-mayor
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_Constitutional_Convention
  9. http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/constitutional-convention
  10. For example see http://www.cwuyouth.org/unscrupulous-landlords-amp-the-housing-crisis.html, http://www.gmbyounglondon.org/howl-for-housing/,
  11. Weil , A Strategic Choice Framework for Union decision making, Working-USA; Journal of Labor and Society, 2005
  12. http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2015-07-14b.754.0&s=speaker%3A25269#g774.0