Jennifer Reed says she knew nothing about unions before taking up her apprenticeship at HMRC 16 months ago. But last summer she decided to go along to the annual Durham Miners’ Gala, at which Jeremy Corbyn was speaking, and all that changed. When her branch chair heard her talking about it at work, they got chatting about the union.
Now, at 24, she’s already a PCS rep at her workplace in Stockton, and has recently completed the union’s new reps course. She’s one of a group of young members to have been put forward for a TUC programme that will see 150 new reps being trained this year as part of their 150th anniversary celebrations.
The major focus of #TUC150 is looking ahead to a new generation of working people, which includes training the cohort of new reps - who’ll be predominantly female and under 30 - before Congress 2018 in September.
Activate talked to Jennifer about how she got involved:
“I went along to the Durham miners’ gala, where Jeremy Corbyn was speaking. The chair of our PCS branch heard me mentioning it during a break at work and we got talking about the union. I liked the idea of it so I joined. I didn’t know a single thing about it before that, and I’ve never worked somewhere with an active union.
With all the HMRC offices closing and people moving to regional centres, it’s going to affect a lot of people. I think it would be in the best interests of everybody if we had a lot of reps to help them.
I’ve recently finished my new reps course in Newcastle and I’ve been shadowing [our branch chair] Mark Emmerson with his work on representing members. It’s been really interesting stuff, like going to meetings with internal governance. We’ve been dealing with fraud and quite a lot of cases of serious misconduct, which has made me even more intrigued about being a rep.
‘People get scared’
I try to get others interested. It can sometimes depend on what they’ve got going on in their own lives at the time. There are people that know they are going to need the union and there are people who just want to keep their heads down. You need to choose what you are going to say to different people. I have got a couple of people on board so far.
I don’t think many people in my age group really get what unions are about. I just think people get scared, they get scared about what management will think, how they’ll be judged and that kind of thing. But I think if they can look past that, then they’d really benefit from it.
Mark put me forward for the TUC reps training course, I’m happy about it and am trying to take up as many opportunities as I can.
In future I’d love to get more involved in representing members. I think I can handle people’s problems by not getting too emotionally involved. Depending on the case, certain people need to be approached in certain way - you really need to get the vibe of the person you’re dealing with, to decide what approach you take. And I don’t have a problem with dealing with management!
To anyone else that was thinking about becoming more active in the union, I’d explain that without people getting involved things will just stay exactly the same way as they are now. Not a lot of people are happy with the way the offices are being run, but if they are not prepared to do something about it then they don’t really have the grounds to complain. I think everybody should get involved.”
Trade union education: pcs.org.uk/resources/learning-with-pcs/trade-union-education
Get involved: pcs.org.uk/resources