Young members’ conference turns to recruitment and organising

Young members’ conference continued to debate motions on Saturday in Bournemouth.

One key theme running through the day was the union’s recruitment and organising work around young members.

This started with a debate on a constitutional issue – raising the age limit for young members. The motion, which carried, argued that with only 63,000 members under 27 in the union, and an ageing member and activist base, it is important that UNISON reflects young workers’ views properly.

It was noted that this is challenging with such a small pool of potential young activists.

It called on the national young members’ forum to consult other relevant parts of the union about changing the age limit, with a recommendation that it be set at 30 or under.

Moving the motion, Sam from the East Midlands noted: “When you look at the union’s demographics, people don’t age into workplaces until 25, get involved at 26 and age out [of the young members self-organised group] at 27”.

He added: “The current age limit is a three-decade old limit, it has been there since the start of union,” going on to emphasise how different the world of work is compared to then and how different the demographics of the union are.

In conclusion, he said: “It’s about having a broad spectrum of young members, I want to create an exciting UNISON, a union which young workers want to be a part of.”

Sarah Walsh, vice chair of the forum followed, saying: “Like many of us in this room UNISON is a ’90s kid. I don’t think our comrades 30 years ago thought we’d live through such unprecedented times.”

Emphasising the political turmoil, both internationally and in the UK, as well as the cost of living crisis, she said: “It’s like living through a modern rewrite of We didn’t start the fire, the world of work is starkly different to what it was in 1993.”

Next came three motionson recruiting, engaging and organising young members, with the first linked to the motion on changing the age-limit.

It noted the increased proportion of young people going to university and the knock-on impact on the demographics of workplaces, and identified the aging demographics of UNISON.

Ms Walsh argued that UNISON, “needs to go back to its bread-and-butter roots of trade unionism – educating, agitating and organising”, adding: “Young members are the present, but we’re trying to make sure we have a future”.

Micaela Tracey-Ramos (pictured above) from the North West region highlighted that the current average age of a trade union rep is 56 and spoke of the necessity of a specific approach around young members, especially in light of the disproportionate effect of the cost of living crisis on young people.

The motion called on the national forum to work with their regional counterparts to develop a national young members organising strategy, create a toolkit and support and empower the development of regional young members’ forums.

A motion on recruiting and organising young members called on the forum to develop a long-term recruitment strategy and, among other things, carry out research and mapping of young workers in public services, and review UNISON Living benefits to ensure they are better tailored to young members.

Mover Toby, from Greater London, cited the worrying statistic that “Under 24-year-olds make up 14% of the workforce, and only 4% of union membership.”

He argued that, “voting for this motion is building the strength of UNISON’s young members,” adding: “I’m looking at the next leaders of the trade union movement in this room, but their voices are not being heard.”

Motion 14, on engagement and retention of young members, emphasised that young members are often viewed as the future of the union and can be overlooked at times, especially in regards to taking on other roles, citing this as a reason young members may be facing difficulties getting active within their branches, regionally or nationally.

Robbie from Scotland region moved, saying: “We have got 63,000 young members across the country, why every year, is it the same faces that I see at gatherings, or at conferences, or at meet-ups. That’s why point three is important.”

Point three of the motion called on the NYMF to create a national young members’ network so young members can collaborate and discuss issues with other young members across the country, the motion carried.


The article Young members’ conference turns to recruitment and organising first appeared on the UNISON National site.