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We know the issues facing young people, now let's organise them where they work

May is always an interesting time for trade unions when the official membership figures are released at the end of the month.

At Unions 21, we’re obviously hoping for a massive upturn in unions’ fortunes, despite predictions to the contrary, such as those of Gavin Kelly, Resolution Trust director, who projected a 16% decline in union membership:

Kelly’s stark picture, as presented at last year’s Unions 21 conference, came with a blunt call to unions to focus on organising young people or see the movement decline beyond recovery. He gave a further challenge to unions in his model showing how many young members need to join to stop overall figures from falling by 2030:

Those of us within the trade union movement know that this call to action comes with significant challenges.  

Young workers are increasingly working in areas which not only lack union recognition and a collective voice, but have no history or knowledge of such ways of working.

Unions, however, are on the whole not prioritising these industries for organising new members, so are fishing in an ever-decreasing pool.

Yet young workers need a union and collective voice more than ever, and don’t necessarily feel negatively towards union membership.

Half of young workers within the EU are in temporary contracts, which is close to an all-time high, according to a recent FT article.

UK workers in particular are still feeling the effects of the 2008 crash, with the OECD reporting that wages are below pre-crisis levels.

At the same time, young workers don’t hold negative views towards trade unions, with recent work by ETUI suggesting platform workers have the same views on unions as their peers.

We know that unions are integral to enabling a high-skilled, high-productive labour market which reduces the widening gap in pay and inequality. In its plans to review income inequality announced today, the IFS suggests that the decline of unions is part of the reason for low wages and the increasing pay gap.

We also know the collective voice that unions give workers will be instrumental in ensuring job stability and overcoming the challenges that the Industrial Revolution 4.0 will bring to us.

If we know these core things, then why aren’t we organising our young workers in the industries in which they work and through the channels with which they engage?

These are some of the issues that we will be exploring at our 2019 conference ‘The Future of Collective Voice’. Sign up here to be a part of the debate!