Why Trade Unions are Important
It isn’t a secret that at school you have to deal with bullies, but what they don’t tell you is that you need to deal with bullying in one form or another your whole life. There are managers who shamelessly flaunt their power, creeps who will pester you or use sex to make you feel small and smarms who will undermine you at every turn. Most bullies you will have to deal with alone. Your friends and your family can provide support, but ultimately it will be down to you to make a decision. It will be down to you to say no. There are some bullies however that you can’t face alone because they decide whether you have a job or not.
Most businesses and most managers are good, great in fact. I made a point of giving my first manager my Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival mug to remember me by (also to subliminally keep the spirit of Trade Unionism alive at my last workplace). However, employers and managers aren’t always good. They might not be aware that they are being inappropriate or they might a bully. Either way this creates a dilemma.
When you are having trouble at work the best approach at first remains working through existing structures or leaving for something better. But this doesn’t always work. You might not want or be able to leave, and what happens when company structures become part of the problem? Also, and this is a bit rich for me to say, but by leaving a bad company you are not fixing the problem. The exploitative practices remain, and the bullies stay in positions or power. According to the ideology of Adam Smith bad employer naturally go bankrupt on the open market but reality is a bit more messy. Bad employers don’t naturally fail and quite often the most exploitative companies are the ones that have the competitive advantage. If we are not careful bad jobs will drive out the good.
That is why Unions are important. They are at worst an insurance policy and at best a way to improve the lives of you and your community. I’ve worked for bad employers in the past that fired people at random and without explanation. At times knowing that I had a Union to back me up kept me sane. Through a Union you can re-balance who holds power in your workplace, you can create good policies and most importantly you can make sure it is all enforced. If you are not part of a Trade Union I think you should join one and if you are already part of the movement I have had some ideas about how we can build the Trade Union movement in Reading.
My Thoughts on Building the Trade Union Movement in Reading
The good thing about joining an organisation with fresh eyes is you return with a sense enthusiasm and you haven’t been there quite long enough to realise all your brilliant ideas have already been in motion for months. That said I’m going to plough ahead and outline some of my thoughts for building the Trade Union Movement in Reading.
- Make contact with organisations already friendly to the Trade Union Movement
A few of my friends in the co-operative unions say the worst way to recruit activists is to hand out membership forms. But that doesn’t mean we can’t talk to people already sympathetic to the cause of workers’ rights, anti-bullying in the workplace and outline how being part of a Trade Union can help them. The Reading Trade Union Council currently attends Labour Party meetings and has strong links to a number of campaign moments in Reading. But do they give us time specifically to outline the benefits of Union membership? And do we have a regular slot at all the various smaller branches?
There are lots of groups in Reading that the Trade Unions should consider making contact with. The University has a Labour Society an LGBT society and there are presumably debating groups in Reading someone from Union can get involved with in. We all have friends; links to Churches, charities and community groups. We should take advantage of these to spread the Trade Union message.
- Make contact with organisations less friendly to the Trade Union Movement?
I get it, not everyone on the Trade Union movement likes the Lib Dems and groups like Progress who are partly responsible for politicians ignoring Trade Union voices. But the only way to change minds is through a series of constructive discussions based on mutual respect. Also more pressingly, even people opposed to some of the Union movement’s more lofty goals don’t deserve to be bullied by out of control managers, exploited and under paid. The Trade Union movement has a duty to reach out to these groups and give them the option to hear us out.
- Organise a social
People join the Trade Union movement to make a difference, but they stay for friend and a sense of community. Socials are a great way to build the relationships that keep social movements together and can be used to introduce new members who aren’t quite ready to attend meetings. There are a surprisingly large number of progressive bands in Reading that sing about issues relevant to the Union movement and even more nice pubs. Definitely scope for a pint in between pickets.
- Promote on Social Media!
It is the future folks and great way to magnetise the Trade Union movement’s influence.
- Everything else…
This five point list isn’t going to cover everything we as Trade Unionists can do. There is plenty going on in the background and I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of my suggestions are already in motion in one form or another. If you have any comments on how we can build the Trade Union movement in Reading or questions about getting involved in Trade Unions more generally I’d love to hear them and help if I can.
Below are some of the Trade Union groups active in Reading:
The Reading Trade Union Council is the organisational hub of the Trade Union movement in Reading. Meetings are every month: https://www.facebook.com/ReadingTUC/
GMB is a general union that represents public and private sector workers in all industries: http://www.gmb.org.uk/join
Unite is Britain’s biggest Trade Union. They represent public and private sector workers: https://www.unitetheunion.org/join-unite/
PCS is a public sector union: https://www.pcs.org.uk/
IWW is a co-operative union that does a lot of work with gig economy and service sector workers: https://iww.org.uk/join/