Young members are ‘the future of our union’

Local government conference in Brighton hears that more must be be done to develop young activists in UNISON

Image: Steve Forrest

UNISON local government delegates have affirmed their commitment to supporting and developing young members and activists within their service group.

Meeting on the first day of their conference in Brighton yesterday, they heard that young members are “the future of the union”.

But they also accepted that, while there have been recent strides in recruiting young workers, young members are still under-represented as activists.

Proposing the motion on the topic for the service group executive, Dave Rees told the conference: “This is a crucial motion for the future of our union.”

Mr Rees said that only 6% of young workers are members of a trade union, partly because many work in insecure jobs, in parts of the private sector that are “union-free zones”, and are unaware of their workplace rights and that unions could protect them.

At the same time, he noted that many young people are already involved in collective activism on such issues as climate change, LGBT+ rights and Black Lives Matter.

“So now is the time to focus on young workers and encourage them to join and get active in UNISON,” he said. “Recruiting young members is imperative if UNISON is to maintain a strong and relevant presence in local government. And we must acknowledge that they are under-represented as activists.”

Some young delegates told the conference that young members sometimes felt alienated by the union’s bureaucratic processes and struggled to get involved.

Sam Church, young members’ officer in Surrey County branch, said that the union needed to better support branches in their recruitment and development of young activists.

“I know the feeling of young members who are much more energised in seeking better pay,” he said. “Young people are our future. We need our branches to better support them.”

The conference noted the rule change passed at national delegate conference in 2023, which raised the ceiling age of young members from 26 to 30, believing this offered an important opportunity to evaluate the service group’s approach to young workers – sharing best practice to branches.

Delegates called on the service group executive to work with the national young members’ forum in evaluating the recruitment of young members and development of young activists. It will also:

  • Promote the forum’s campaigns and initiatives to young members in local government, supporting its efforts to get more young members involved in the work and structures of the union
  • Review existing guidance on organising young workers in local government and consider whether this needs to be refreshed or developed
  • Encourage regional local government committees to establish mentoring schemes for young members, pairing young members with experienced activists in their regions
  • Encourage branches to support young members to attend UNISON conferences and events, either as delegates or visitors.

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