Nominations open for 2024 ULR of the Year awards

Nominations open for 2024 ULR of the Year awards Yusuf Dadabhoy Wed, 11/08/2023 - 10:07

Unionlearn is encouraging people to think about a Union Learning Rep who has made a difference to their lives – and nominate them for the 2024 annual ULR awards.

2024 ULR of the Year awards

Unionlearn is asking unions to put forward ULRs who have made a difference to workplace learning and supported workers develop their skills.

The unionlearn awards to Union Learning Reps (ULRs) will once again be presented to reps at the annual conference early next year. Unionlearn’s Annual Conference is a chance for unions, learning reps and providers to get together, hear inspiring speakers, take part in workshops and pick the latest resources. To sign up for the Conference, go to

The awards have grown into a conference highlight, and are for ULRs who have supported learning and skills in workplaces across the country and made a difference to the lives of working people by helping colleagues gain new skills – both for personal or work development.

The awards have five categories this year, reflecting key areas of unionlearn’s work:

  • English (literacy)
  • Maths (numeracy)
  • Supporting disadvantaged learners
  • Older workers
  • Digital

To give people an idea of how unions are doing fantastic work supporting learners across the country here are links to stories about previous winners.

Rachel Vine (BFAWU) - Supporting Literacy at work

Jane Yugire (UNISON) - Supporting Numeracy 

Sean Dixon (Usdaw) - Supporting Disadvantaged Learners 

Michelle Whitley (Usdaw) - Supporting Older Workers.

Claire Thorpe (PCS) – Digital Skills

If you would like to nominate someone for an award you can find more details and download the application forms from the foot of the unionlearn ULR page.

If you have any questions email Yusuf Dadabhoy at Please note that all applications must be agreed and signed off by a senior union officer.

The deadline for nominations is Friday 15th December.


Learning at work – the now and the future

Learning at work – the now and the future

North West TUC renews support for union learning.

Martin Moriarty Tue, 07/04/2023 - 10:53

The North West TUC seized the opportunity of Learning at Work Week in May to renew its commitment to union learning in the region with a major conference under the banner of ‘Learning at work: the now and the future’. The event was held at the Twelve Quays Campus of Wirral Met College, which has been collaborating on learning and education with the regional TUC for the past 30 years.  

TUC Regional Secretary Jay McKenna explains,

Our hope was to use the conference as a catalyst to rebuild some of the union learning work in the region, share some of the best practice and get people talking about learning as an issue again.

We could hold these events anywhere, but we thought, ‘Let’s do it in a place of learning, where they deliver day in and day out, preparing people for work and supporting adults with their skills.

Around 60 reps and union learning reps (ULRs) took part in the debates and discussions on the day, coming from branches of the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU); National Education Union (NEU); the Prison Officers’ Association (POA); public services union UNISON; private sector union Unite; and shopworkers’ union USDAW. 

It’s reps like these who’ve been meeting the major challenges of the past three years, including the impact of Covid-19 on in-person learning and the government’s closure of the Union Learning Fund (ULF). But it was the austerity regime that the coalition government launched in 2010 that began undermining all the progress on learning and skills that had been made under Labour, TUC Skills Policy Officer Julia Jones reminded the conference. 

Massive cuts in state funding have led to a sharp decline in lifelong learning and training, and halved participation in the last 12 years.

And participation isn’t declining because need has disappeared. Julia added,

We still have 9 million adults with low literacy skills in this country.

Sue Higginson, who is retiring as principal of the College this summer, made a similar point about enduring need. 

As a sector, we train 1.6 million students a year – their average age is 27; a quarter are from ethnic minority backgrounds; and 21 per cent have learning difficulties and disabilities – there is no shortage of need.

Unite learning rep Phil Jones, from North West water company United Utilities, helped set the tone for the day with a detailed presentation on how the union has built a culture of learning at the company from scratch over the past 10 years. 

The average United Utilities employee has Level 2 English and maths, so we had to think about something different. That’s when we started focussing on team leading and understanding business to help employees improve their skills and become more well-rounded people.

They even ran a life-writing course with tutors from the Royal Literary Society, where Phil himself wrote a haiku about his memories of a family holiday when he was nine years old (“Sleepy drive to France. / Agog at the nudist beach. / Laughing with my sisters.”) 

Following Phil’s presentation, table-based discussions on the current state of play helped participants re-connect to the power of union learning, with reps enthusing each other by sharing success stories. Larger-scale achievements included the taxi driving project on Merseyside, which has trained more than 25,000 people, half of them from Black and minority ethnic (BME) communities, helping them to improve their English and maths while also engaging with social issues such as child sex exploitation, gender-based violence and county lines. 

Individual breakthroughs included the PCS member working as a contract cleaner who gained the confidence to escape her abusive marriage through improving her English skills – and when she told her story at the union’s annual conference, delegates organised a collection to fund the next course she wanted to do. 

Scheduling the presentation about a successful workplace learning programme early on the agenda was designed to help shape the policy discussion that was coming later in the day, Jay says. 

Too often, policymakers say, ‘It’s too difficult – how would we ever do that? But we can show them that if United Utilities can do it, then local authorities can do it, big organisations can do it, and small organisations can do it.

To structure the debate about how to build on individual, project-based and union-run achievements, the conference showcased last autumn’s Labour Party report, Learning and Skills for Economic Recovery, Social Cohesion and a More Equal Britain. [

The discussion had the advantage of presentations by three of the four members of the Council of Skills Advisers who wrote the report: Lord David Blunkett, who convened the team; TUC Head of Organising, Services and Learning Kevin Rowan; and Labour councillor and entrepreneur Praful Nargund. The panel also included shadow employment minister (and Wirral South MP) Alison McGovern.

Lord Blunkett was, of course, the politician who originally launched the ULF when he was Education Secretary between 1997 and 2001.

I was very proud all those years ago to help initiate the ULF and unionlearn – we’ve got to restore that as part of the union movement.

The Labour leadership team had already embraced three key elements of the report, he said: 

  • establishing Skills England, a new expert body to oversee a national skills drive 
  • devolving the adult education skills funding to combined authorities  
  • replacing the Apprenticeship Levy with a Growth and Skills Levy. 

Kevin Rowan said it was urgent that learning and skills became a priority item in the discussions and negotiations that will shape the next Labour Party general election manifesto. 

We’re facing a catastrophic system failure in skills and the impact on the economy and our members is devastating. 

Labour in government should address the three biggest barriers to participation in skills development as reported by learners themselves, he said – time; money; and access to good quality information, advice and guidance (IAG).  

We’ve called for a right for time off to train. We’ve called for new individual learning accounts where everybody has a stake in the system. And the midlife development reviews that are popular with members should be backed up by a nationally funded devolved careers and advice system.

Alison McGovern set out three key elements of Labour’s employment reform agenda:  

  • transforming Jobcentres so they offer a choice of good work and conversations about learning, instead of merely checking people’s social security compliance 
  • expanding the network of local government Combined Authorities (CAs) to help build a fairer economy 
  • devolving employment support programmes to local authorities. 

Praful Nargund addressed the need for a massive expansion in digital skills training.

The UK is a leader in tech but if the way tech is developed is shaped by the perspectives of the developers, it will replicate disparity and create poorer quality innovation that puts more pressure on workers rather than helping people have better lives.

While the discussion that followed touched on some controversial learning and skills issues, including university tuition fees, Alison made clear that she would always expect unions to fight their corner, while Kevin said the union movement should help to keep the bar high about what Labour could achieve in government. 

The event also included Birkenhead MP Mick Whitley, TUC President Maria Exall and Sue Higginson unveiling a plaque marking the 30-years learning partnership between Wirral Met and the North West TUC. 

Sue added,

It’s been 30 years now that TU Education has been part of Wirral Met, and I wanted to take the opportunity to restate our commitment to trade union education and recognise the difference this makes to so many lives.

Since its official unveiling, the plaque has been on display on the top floor of the college’s Hamilton Campus, where the Trade Union Education department is based. 

While there could be another 18 months before the next general election, thousands of union members need help and support now to improve their skills and boost their earning power during the cost-of-living crisis the current government has caused. 

That’s why Jay closed the proceedings by underlining that the region had organised the event to help get more union learning underway again. 

Hopefully, in the autumn, we’ll be putting on our first union learning reps course in quite a few years, and we’ll be re-establishing our union learning reps and officers network in the region to continue to support our unions.

That’s why I said on the day, and I’ve been saying it since, that the event wasn’t an end in itself – it was a chance to take stock of where we are and to start to build on that.


Learn with PCS

Learn with PCS

PCS has launched a national Branch Learning Fund, to encourage branches and workplaces to run regular learning events throughout the year.

Kim Hendry Thu, 05/25/2023 - 09:45
Learn with PCS

Union learning reps can now request, on behalf of their branch or employer group, a pre-paid trade union tutor or presenter to deliver a short, online session to members. Branches have a choice of 18 workshops, from CV writing, assertiveness and pensions to black history, neurodiversity and combatting domestic abuse. Most of the equality-related sessions are 'tasters' signposting attendees to longer courses. Branches can also access free learning and education from other providers. 

Financial wellbeing sessions offer much-needed support to members coping with a cost-of-living crisis they didn't create (one in five workers in the Department for Work and Pensions are forced to claim in-work benefits, and almost one in three staff at HM Revenue and Customs are paid so little they're on the national minimum wage). Sessions on joining a credit union, managing problem debt, personal financial planning, pensions and pre-retirement, all have high attendance rates. 

We are working with TUC skills officers to access Multiply funding for numeracy courses. We are tackling digital exclusion by running accredited ICT courses at level 1 and 2. Since 2021 over 100 members in London and the southeast have gained qualifications. Other PCS regions are now running similar accredited learning and from autumn we will offer non-accredited digital skills as well.

Our writing courses are very popular. This includes our life writing classes from the Royal Literary Fund's social sector, which provide a space for members to try out different ways of finding their voice under the gentle guidance of professional authors. The underpinning ethos is that everyone’s life is important and we all have significant stories to tell. The course enables individuals to give voice and expression to their life's stories within a supportive and creative environment. 

Last year we ran English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes for members in outsourced Facilities Management (FM). This year we aim to do the same, by negotiating paid time off to ensure fair access to learning for cleaners, security guards, porters and other workers in one of the most exploitative and underpaid areas of the economy.

Whilst the Union Learning Fund in England may have closed, union learning in PCS is very much alive. Both through our continued ULF projects in Wales and Scotland, and through our national learning programme set up after ULF England ended in 2021. At its heart remains our commitment to lifelong learning. This reflects PCS’s socialist belief in the full creative potential of each human being - and our rejection of employer's and government's narrow focus on our worth as workers.

But alongside this, PCS is integrating learning into core union activity. PCS recognises the remarkable power that learning has to engage members - including 'hard-to-reach' members who may not flock to other union activity - and is using these high levels of participation to make our union stronger.

Regular workplace learning makes the union very visible and embeds it in the workplace. It increases participation of under-represented members. It's a pathway to union activism. It can contribute to bargaining, equality and organising goals - for example, our upcoming pension webinars and courses include information on our national campaign for pensions justice. 

I'm writing this blog after attending the third and final day of PCS's successful new Learning Reps stage 2 course, the first time we've run this course in many years.

This afternoon, each learning rep gave a presentation on a learning event they will run next month, explaining how it will benefit members and build their union. They then discussed how they will each create an annual learning plan for their branch, consulting members and working closely with their fellow reps, so that learning activity is grassroots-led and reflects local union priorities.

Lifelong learning has the power to improve our psychological wellbeing, and to bring about personal and social transformation, and in PCS it continues to go from strength to strength.

Why are ULRs important and what do they do?

Why are ULRs important and what do they do?

I hated school and formal education with a passion that bordered on scary. I was definitely the last person you would have expected to be a ULR but here I am, a total convert to the importance and the power of education, learning and general development.

Felicity Stock Thu, 05/18/2023 - 14:00
Why are ULRs important and what do they do?

When I was in school, I was so unhappy. In those days if you didn’t fit the “normal” pattern then you were an outcast. Teachers despaired of my attitude towards their methods. I was the butt of jokes or the victim of the bullies.

When I left school, and for some considerable years afterwards, I can honestly say I was anti-education. Don’t get me wrong, learning was fine. I just hated being taught, especially in a formal or classroom setting.

I went on to college mainly because you were supposed to. I hated it....I really hated it! The issues I had with school followed me to college. I felt trapped in the classroom. So, I left, dropped out and found another way. I spent some time doing office work and then agency temping in various offices. This meant I had to figure things out for myself – when you cover someone there isn’t always much training, so you learn quickly or fail. I knew I should get some qualifications to back up my knowledge so I did the ECDL qualification (European Computer Driving License). When I passed easily it made me think that maybe I wasn’t as dense as my school days had me believe.

While doing a maternity cover admin post at the union Usdaw, my manager spoke to me about learning opportunities. I actually wasn’t a member of a union at the time but I was told that I could access funding through the Wales Union Learning Fund (WULF) and they would help finding a course regardless of my membership status. When I started working for Wales TUC my manager was so supportive of my interest in learning BSL. I was stunned, amazed and totally scared when she told me that the TUC would fund my course.  So, with a churning stomach I went to the enrolment appointment.

in 2020, our union rep invited people to stand for the position of office ULR (Union Learning Rep). This made me realise that I had a bug or an itch I had never had before – to learn, to promote learning. To develop my own skills but more importantly than that, to help my colleagues do the same for themselves. I applied, won a ballot and became the new ULR for the Wales TUC.

While the ballot was being held, we ran our annual Wales ULRs conference. I started to tear up when one learner called Mark Church talked about how learning through his union had affected every aspect of his life in a positive way. I also realised the true value of Union Learning Reps.

The ULR or Union Learning Rep is a nominated individual within an organisation who is committed to providing advice and information as well as practical support to make your job just that little bit easier, to support you in getting that qualification you’ve always wanted, or even to help you find a course to research your family tree. 

The ULR aims to bring learning and development higher on the agenda with management within any organisation, and in the context of an economic downturn and following a public health pandemic, the role of a ULR has never been so crucial and important.

Their goal is to help people find opportunities to learn, to promote the benefits of learning to employees and employers, and to create a happier workplace. And what’s great about a ULR is that they can help everyone they work with, not just union members.

Learning something new and developing your skills is proven to have huge advantages, often beyond simply improving an individual’s career choices, the evidence is clear that engaging in learning also improves personal wellbeing, confidence, and physical health. This is the power of the Union Learning Rep!


Community Union: ULRs and their impact on Lifelong Learning

Community Union: ULRs and their impact on Lifelong Learning

Adult learning plays a big role in our communities and ULRs are the pivot in changing the way their colleagues feel and think about how to approach general learning.

Chris Segal Wed, 05/17/2023 - 09:49
Community Union: ULRs and their impact on Lifelong Learning
Chris Segal (Front Right) and Dan Warren (Back Right) deliver Stage 2 ULR training to ULRs

The ULRs are the oxygen that feeds the motivation and determination to their colleagues to do the best they can in their apprenticeships and placements to ensure positive results in the workplace. The latter statement applies to both positive results for the business and for individuals.

I speak to ULRs daily, and I hear stories of how Community Union’s ULRs have spurred on colleagues who may have had negative experiences of learning to go forth and educate themselves on new skills. Those from neuro-diverse backgrounds are more likely to experience education in a negative light, but the ULRs of the trade union movement has, and will always advocate for colleagues of all background to learn and trade new skills with one another.

ULRs play a key role in advocating for their businesses to invest in their workforce, conversing with their line-managers and colleagues to passionately argue for upskilling to help not only their members, but helping businesses retained talented workers. In 2023’s fast-paced working world where technology becomes more visible, it is an uphill view that ULRs are looking down from and there is a narrative that needs to be changed.

The Union Learning Representative role, I believe is a great role and has a lot to offer the trade union movement in general. They are activists and creators of opportunity in the workplace. The role isn’t just stemmed to courses only, but campaigns, increasing the awareness of their union’s learning offer, and being a vocal actor for learning in their branch. Lifelong learning happens every day without us knowing and ULRs have a place to make this a daily, workplace conversation.

Outside the workplace, I have heard ULRs across the trade union movement influence fellow trade unionists talking about how learning in the workplace has impacted their personal relationships on a positive level. Lifelong learning has a positive impact on the wellbeing of colleagues across the working world, making them feel valued and worthy members of the workplace and British society.

To conclude, Lifelong Learning will always have a place and will never go away, but ULRs are the ones that make it happen.

Lifelong Learning and Learning at Work Week

Lifelong Learning and Learning at Work Week

Learning at Work Week is an annual event which gives organisations, trade unions and ULRs the opportunity to raise the profile of adult education and celebrate the power of lifelong learning to transform lives.

Julia Jones Tue, 05/09/2023 - 20:06
Learning at Work Week

This year Learning at Work Week will take place from 15th – 21st May, it is a collaborative week seeking to engage a range of stakeholders, drive a shared focus among policymakers and champion adult learners and learning providers.

This year’s theme is Create the Future.

Learning at work can help us personally and collectively to create our futures enabling us to achieve life and work goals that shape our lives, families, and aspirations.

There is a busy week of activities planned that seek to highlight the importance of lifelong learning and celebrating the achievements of adult learners. To access unionlearn events go to:

TUC and trade unions have long campaigned for strengthened rights and support for lifelong learning to improve the working lives of our members. We have a proud history of Education and Learning and the Role of the Union Learning Rep has been essential in supporting workers to access learning over many years.

What is Lifelong Learning

Lifelong Learning is generally voluntary and self-motivated based on a pursuit to learn more, gain new skills or support professional development. It is self-motivated, informal, voluntary, and based on personal interests. Examples could be anything from learning to play a musical instrument or taking part in an online skills course.

Lifelong Learning is increasingly vital to employers, individuals and to the future growth and development of the Further Education Sector.

Benefits of Lifelong Learning for workers and businesses

We would all agree that people are the biggest asset to any organisation. Investment in the workforce will always bring benefits to both the workforce and business. Improving the skills of the workforce will be vital to increasing productivity, which has stagnated over the last 12 years, contributing to a lost decade of wage growth.

Main benefits to workers:

  • Individuals will feel more confident, empowered and in turn will become efficient and more productive in their work.
  • Enhancing skills will open other career opportunities for the individual.
  • Individuals are more likely to stay in their place of work if they have opportunities to develop.

Benefits to Business:

  • Retain workforce, at a time when we are in a tight labour market this is essential that businesses do not lose skilled staff early.
  • Employers will stay with employer longer which will enable the business to avoid recruitment costs.
  • Future proof business and if you look after staff the business will flourish.

Background to unionlearn

The Union Learning Fund (ULF) was set up in 1998 to support trade unions to widen access to learning and training in workplaces. The fund supported workplace projects across England. It played an important role in the adult skills agenda for over two decades and each year around 200,000 workers were supported into learning or training with union support.

These workers took part in all sorts of job-relevant learning and training, including basic literacy and numeracy, ICT skills, apprenticeships and traineeships, vocational training, continuing professional development and many other informal and formal courses.

An Independent evaluation of ULF estimated that £1 investment in the Union Learning Fund in Round 20 generated a total economic return of £12.87 of which £7.56 accrues to individuals and £5.31 to employers.

Despite the success of ULF the Conservative Government decided to cut the fund in March 2021.

Union Learning Reps

ULRs have been instrumental in championing the importance of training and development, working hard to boost the image and strengthen the organisation of their union within the workplace.

Role of the ULR in workplaces

The role of the union learning rep – a trusted intermediary who works and supports workers into training, learning and skills development.

  • Support learning and development of all employees in a workplace, identifying skills gaps, opportunities for training and specific work barriers.
  • Specific support for young people, via apprenticeships and pre apprentice routes, to gain skills and long-term job prospects.
  • Support in work learning, negotiate learning agreements, learning forums, learning centres.


As part of Learning at Work Week, why not start a conversation about learning and what your passion for learning is? It might be walking, drawing, sport, music, cooking, looking after pets the list is endless. Whatever it is, there is always an element of  learning that enriches our lives.

Why not support others to learn and become a ULR. To access resources go to:

Getting in the Community

Getting in the Community

The TUC-WMCA Skills Partnership, the pioneering initiative between the union movement and the West Midlands Combined Authority has recently been looking beyond the ordinary and getting out into the community to talk to ordinary working people about the benefits of being in a trade union and continuing learning throughout one’s adult life.

Matt Pointon Sat, 12/17/2022 - 11:07
Learners at Moseley Community Hub

The idea came about when the Partnership Lead, Matt Pointon, supported local author and activist, Abda Khan on her recent Tappay Tales Arts Council-funded project where she worked with local community groups to promote writing for well-being. She connected the Partnership with two local community centres and the events were organised.

The first event, held on 16/11/22 at the Moseley Community Hub in Birmingham saw a cohort of largely older learners enjoying a Writing for Well-being session ran by Abda and a Laughter for Wellness hour provided by Feelgood Communities. There were also presentations by Birmingham Adult Education and the u3a which were enthusiastically received.

                     Laughter for Wellness at Moseley Community Hub

Trustee of the Moseley Muslim Association which runs the Moseley Community Hub, Ilyas Shaikh said:

Events like these are very much needed in this area, all events and also presentation by the guest speakers were very useful, informative and more important included everyone no matter what difficulties (age, health, language etc.) participants had. We are looking forward to organising further events in liaison with the TUC-WMCA Skills Partnership.

On 28/11/22 a second event was held at Highfield Hall Community Centre in Hall Green. Again, participants enjoyed sessions by Feelgood Communities and Abda Khan as well as presentations by Community trade union and the Workers’ Educational Association. Feedback was again positive with Maz Iqbal from Highfield Hall stating:

The creative workshop taught us to put pen to paper, much needed in today's society where IT is taking over our thoughts and communications. Keeping journals or diaries help our thought process and can help to eliminate stress and can give us a skill in writing things like poetry.  The laughing workshop was unusual for many of us but the message was very clear: laughter IS the best medicine! It was very interesting to hear how it helps with our thoughts, lifting our spirits and keeps us healthy. We will definitely be hoping to run more workshops with these two themes and making sure the wider community will benefit as well. Thank you so much!

                                Learners having fun at Highfield Hall

Speaking about both events, Muslim Woman of the Year 2019, Abda Khan added:

Events like these are much needed, because they go into the heart of the community, allowing people of all ages and backgrounds to participate without the worry of travel costs to attend a city centre venue, or being excluded from online events because they are not tech savvy or do not have the technology to be able to participate – certainly most of the participants had never attended a creative writing for wellness workshop before and thoroughly enjoyed the writing exercises and learning about how regular writing can have many benefits.

Following the success of the ventures, more community-orientated events are planned for 2023.


Unionreps Connect 2022

Unionreps Connect 2022

With thousands of union members taking industrial action amid the cost-of-living crisis, hundreds of union reps got together in Congress House in October of this year to learn more about getting them a better deal.

Yusuf Dadabhoy Mon, 12/05/2022 - 10:05
Unionreps Connect 2022
© Jess Hurd

The timing of Unionreps Connect 2022 couldn’t have been better, arriving a fortnight after the government’s disastrous mini-Budget directly led to rocketing mortgage payments and food costs. But while the government was making life harder for millions of people, trade unionists were getting together to identify all the ways they could help improve things.

The event focused on helping reps expand their knowledge of employment law, health and safety, organising, union learning and equality through a mix of presentations, conversations and participatory workshops. The whole morning explored many of the ways effective union reps make a difference for their members every day.

Becky Sixsmith-Hughes, the former chair of Unite’s Gatwick branch, set out how in 2020 she’d helped negotiate British Airways down from base closure to 1,200 redundancies to a final figure of 600 job losses – including her own.

I saved a lot of people’s jobs, not everyone’s, but it was the best outcome it could have been. I negotiated the agreement for a new contract and I know I left my branch in a sustainable position – that’s a lot of satisfaction.

Becky is now helping develop regional networks of Black and minority ethnic union members in her current role as TUC Building BME Networks Project Officer.

RMT union learning rep Ivor Riddell reminded participants of the power of every win by telling the story of how he helped a member with poor IT skills get to grips with video messaging so she could better connect to a sister in Australia she’d been restricted to phoning once every four months.

We contacted her sister to make sure she would be available at the time of our session and that was a real lump-in-the-throat moment – things like that make a real difference to people.

Jo Tapper, UNISON Branch Secretary at University College London (UCL), set out the successes of the branch’s campaign to bring cleaning, catering and security staff back in-house to secure better pay and conditions for them.

UNISON have managed to get staff back in-house at SOAS, at Birkbeck, at the London School of Economics (LSE) and, most recently, we won this for our own workers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. At UCL, we have managed to win parity of terms and conditions for these staff as part of our Bring Them In campaign, which was an incredible victory that shows the power organising within a union.

Jo’s top tips for organising were:

  • “Listen to your reps and you’ll find your organising issue, whether it’s insourcing or anything else you want to campaign about.”
  • “Don’t just listen to one person’s ideas – listen to everyone’s ideas.”

Jo added:

Roger MacKenzie, the previous assistant general secretary at UNISON, taught me not to be afraid to call out racism and discrimination when you see it happening – I was so glad to hear Mick Lynch referring to outsourcing as systemic racism – we need to say this loudly and say it more often.

TUC National Organiser Carl Roper unveiled the TUC Solidarity Hub, a new online resource to help local union branches win their campaigns and disputes, which includes:

  • Ready for Action, a support tool for branches preparing for industrial action
  • The online Pocket Guide to Organising and Campaigning
  • Strike Funder, which helps branches create online donation pages for their campaign funds
  • Top tips for looking after everyone’s mental health during a dispute
  • Using the TUC’s Megaphone platform for online campaigning
  • A collection of inspiring stories about recent union victories.

The trade union movement is based on two things: collectivism – the belief that workers are more than the sum of their parts – and solidarity in workplaces and across the movement. Solidarity and collectivism turns members into activists and individuals into a collective force for good.

In his keynote address, incoming TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak identified three key priorities for the trade union movement:

  • Supporting members through the cost-of-living crisis: "We don’t need wage restraint – we need greed restraint."
  • A judicial review of the new agency worker laws that are aimed at breaking strikes
  • Securing a government that works for working people: "Labour must go into the next election on a manifesto committed to issues that matter to our members, like bringing public services back in house and ending scandal of rail privatisation."

Paul added:

Union membership had grown in four out of the last five years, despite the pandemic. We’ve broken through into anti-union strangleholds, including Ryanair and Uber and Deliveroo – if we can organise there, we can organise everywhere.

Brian Wilson, Regional Employment Rights Manager at Thompsons Solicitors, offered a detailed breakdown of recent changes to employment law and answered a number of specific questions from reps about cases they were involved with.

And Nicole Clarke and Tony Lowe from employment advice and dispute resolution specialists ACAS set out how reps could contribute to more effective conciliation processes in the workplace.

The two rounds of workshops after lunch offered practical, up-to-date, hands-on sessions to support reps in the workplace.

Ivor Riddell reminded participants in the Changing Lives Through Learning workshop, which was chaired by TUC Learning & Skills Policy Officer Julia Jones:

ULRs have the same place in law as health and safety reps. Learning agreements are still sitting there, which means you have rights through collective bargaining – engage with your companies to make sure they act on those agreements.

Bill Esmond, Associate Professor – Education and Employment at the University of Derby, set out how he and his colleagues research how education and training can help young people find their way in life.

The current apprenticeships model is shaping new inequalities in the workforce and in education. Learning at work is mostly organised around turning up on time and standards of behaviour, when they should be teaching about how to connect college learning with workplace activity.

Chris Segal, who organises learning opportunities for members of Community, explained how the union’s In Your Community campaign was bringing local people together to find solutions to important local issues in Somerset and on Merseyside.

The union had also developed a partnership with the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) through which Community members facing redundancy can access free information, advice and guidance to help them secure new opportunities, Chris said.

Welcome to the mirrorverse

Welcome to the mirrorverse

Call me NK, a 27 year old story teller. Writing has been one of my great loves for as long as I can remember. Coupled with my passion for music, the path has never been more clearer.

Jennifer Nkiruya Mon, 10/31/2022 - 12:19
Welcome to the mirrorverse

Let's take a little journey through my life, my lens. I am originally from Nigeria, an Igbo woman living in Birmingham UK. I grew up in Lagos and moved to London when I was 16, after graduating high school. I have always been a free spirit right from young, and naturally brought this energy wherever. The move didn't present much of a culture shock to me, but it was quite evident that my new surroundings led life differently. Africa feels free in its living while U.K is more controlled. I learnt there are times to conform but also when to be a lone lit candle in the dark. I moved out of London and into the West Midlands 3 years ago in literal search for greener pastures, as nature is home.  Something in me craves movement and adventure, experiencing life from different angles of the pond gives grounds for gaining new perspectives. This craving drives a thirst for truth, knowledge, explorations and creative exploits. I channel these energies through my arts;  literature, music, fashion and so much more. They all tie in together. When I have original thoughts, my pen and paper are always handy. These could be in words, a hummed tune or an abstract drawing depicting feelings/moods.

The right words, perfect sounds, special visuals = story time. And so I am a story teller. These stories are born of pure inspired imagination. And everyone has this great space, this capacity to create beautiful things, from this amazing, invisible thing called the mind.  

And though I am only just at the beginning, cracking my way into the music industry, I have experienced a taste of what it has to offer. And it tastes achingly, juicy sweet. And this isn't entirely about the music in particular. No, It’s about that wonderful feeling you get when you wake up early in the morning, eagerly anticipating the day ahead. The rushes of excitement, joy, purpose that come from genuinely enjoying what you do and loving every moment. Living your truth humbly, comfortably. It’s not to say life becomes a bed of roses, for remember roses too have thorns . There are still the usual ups and downs of living, but I find myself capable of meeting and rising up to all challenges thrown my way, as long as they are meant for me.  That is the beauty of exploring my own path. The deeper I delve into this world of love and purpose, I discover even more hidden talents and knowledge. This has actually led to the basis of my first big project; ‘Mirrored’.

Mirrored is a book of 33 chapters, each chapter regaling wise tales, experiences and experiments drawn from the mirrorverse. The Mirrorverse is a fantastically free domed world where intentions and wills are the foundations of creations. These chapters each impart knowledge on psychology (among other subjects), issue challenges and test on players to indulge their divinatory arts of imagination. And so it  will be adapted into an interactive card game, with spontaneous events of L.A.R.P.I.N.G. The NFT project is still in the works and due to be released later this year. The purpose of the game is truth; needed to grow ones body, mind and soul. The truth of ones real self, others, and of the collective whole. Because perhaps if we cared to understand ourselves better, we'd see and know we are all truly the same. After all, both opposites of a spectrum still amount to the same measure.  An earnest search for truth is often bitter and jarring, like an overworked digger, hammering into the barren well until the lost source of water is found.

At the end of the day, month, year, end, we are all collectively the human race. Not black, or white or anything else in between. Divided by borders of our own making. So say we broke down those borders and just be? Live our real truths, serve our unique purpose and stay the path. What if we looked beyond the physical for there is greater power in what we cannot see, touch or outwardly feel?  Searched deeply within? Welcome to the mirrorverse.

Being Black doesn’t define who I am

Being Black doesn’t define who I am

My warmest wishes to all of you celebrating and honouring this Black History Month. A time for us all to reflect on what we as Black people have achieved, and our contributions.

Diane Ebanks Tue, 10/25/2022 - 12:47
Being Black doesn’t define who I am

I am Diane Ebanks, the Head of Equality at Public and Commercial Services Union [PCS]. I have worked for PCS for 20 years now and was promoted to this post in May of this year. My time at PCS has given me the opportunity to work in different areas of the union and I have held many roles – manager, negotiator, equality officer and Union Learning organiser, being a few.

Quite honestly, I never expected to be here in this role. There has often been that feeling – you know the one – with that little voice saying, “You? Really?”, the voice of doubt - when you know everyone else should be there, but not sure that it applies to you. Each time I have had to remind myself of my life journey and what it took for me to get to this point. My parents are of the Windrush generation – getting a job, paying my bills and having a family life was their greatest expectation for me. No university experience, no degrees.

I have had to navigate my way through a majority white society and faced those micro-aggressions that many others have. One of the most common themes being “you’re not really black”. I was never sure if that was a question or statement. I know I am a Black woman; both my parents are black – but it seems my lighter skin shade was either confusing or made me less threatening / more acceptable? Being also very tall, trying to avoid the other tag of “angry black woman” when I chose to speak out or hold my space.

PCS has enabled me to discuss these ideas and experiences more freely and has given me the confidence to take my place and own my impact. I walk into a room and am noticed and I use that when necessary. When working on the Union Learning Fund project – I was able to hold the attention of attendees while running workshops.  This work enabled me to reach out to others to provide a learning opportunity that they might not have had; Creative writing to unlock their thought processes and think differently; Menopause awareness sessions and why it is a workplace and trade union issue - I have honestly lost count of the number of women, and men, who attended to be better informed; Mental health, Mindfulness… it unlocked my aim to help and to make a difference for our members.

Each time I was filled with anxiety. I never felt that my skin colour or ethnicity held me back. In fact, I felt I had much in common with many attending and was relatable. More recently I was asked to speak at the London May Day rally in Trafalgar Square – a knee knocking experience; I decided not to step aside and ask someone “better / more experienced”. I fought that voice of doubt and chose to believe in myself.  I stood on the plinth and gave my speech – and was met with an amazing reception from the crowd. Sharing a stage occupied by others more experienced and well-known in public speaking and I made an impact.

We all have something to offer – finding what that is can often be difficult. Add race and ethnicity and cultural differences into the mix and finding your place can be more of a challenge. Having support of good people has often helped. But questioning my own doubt and fears has been important – learning about myself and my strengths, what drives me and what doesn’t.

Applying for the role of Head of Equality I was incredibly anxious – application form, presentation, and a panel interview – I was sure others would get the post ahead of me. I was delighted and overwhelmed to get the call offering me the post. I know that I have much to do in my new role – and I believe that I can make a difference, and most importantly, I want to. I am still learning, still growing. I work with some wonderful talented and inspiring people. I’ve learned from many and will continue to learn from others.

I may not command the space in the same way as others, but I’ve learned – no-one else can hold that space in the same way as me! Being Black doesn’t define who I am or limit what I can achieve, and it shouldn’t for anyone else. Whatever you do this Black History Month – think about what you bring to others – and yourself. Trust your instincts and take the steps you want. Keep learning, keep growing. Own your space.