Young workers are at the heart of the changing world of work and it’s vital they have a strong union movement behind them. That’s why one week into the TUC Young Workers’ month, it’s been hugely encouraging to read and listen to the experiences of young PCS members
PCS has been at the forefront of efforts to get more young people engaged with the trade union movement. It’s been fifteen years since the creation of the PCS Young Members’ Committee and the TUC Young Worker’s Month was set up after a motion was put forward by PCS at TUC Congress. We’re also embracing technology in cutting-edge and innovative ways to improve the way we communicate with members.
This work we are doing is immensely important but we need to reflect on the low rates of union membership among young workers. There has been a slight uptick in union membership in the past year but the long-term trend is still worrying. Just 1 in 10 workers aged 20-24 is in a union and the proportion of 16-19-year-olds in a union has halved since 1995.
The problems these figures represent need addressing quickly because as the generation of more union-active workers reach retirement age, there will need to be a substantial increase in the number of unionised young workers to replace them. This will require unions to adapt to the precarious and insecure form of work that young people are increasingly employed in, which sees their working patterns, pay and terms and conditions vary wildly.
There have been high-profile campaigns seeking to address this recently, most notably workers taking a stand against unfair working practices at McDonald’s and Wetherspoons. These brave workers – the majority of which are under-25 and employed on precarious contracts – were backed by the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers' Union. The success of their campaign, which highlighted bosses taking advantage of young workers – greatly resonated with young workers across the sector and led to a surge in union membership.
The brilliant climate strikers have also shown that there is a massive appetite for change. The idea peddled by some that young people are apathetic towards today’s challenges simply isn’t true. It was students who spearheaded the tuition fee hike in 2010 – a protest which developed into the enormous anti-austerity movement. Now, we’ve seen collective action being taken by those who are not even old enough to leave home. Unions should tap into this enthusiasm for taking on vested interests and holding those in power to account.
Young workers are the future of our movement but they are also the present. They’re leading the way on some of the most pressing issues we face and it’s imperative that trade unions are right by their side.