Wednesday, 23 February 2011

You are the Union

The Guardian newspaper is collecting opinions about trade unions for their 'Anywhere but Westminster' film, there were a couple of posts about my union, UCU which is is the Universities and Colleges Union. (UCU is the largest trade union and professional association for academics, lecturers, trainers, researchers and academic-related staff working in further and higher education throughout the UK )

The posts went something like this: "UCU doesn't do anything," "UCU has NUS style debates instead of doing proper work," and "the C in UCU stands for crap."

I was pretty much infuriated and a little bit apprehensive, my apprehension was for the following reason. This sort of attitude will kill trade unionism. It is more dangerous that the anti trade union laws brought in by the Thatcher government and this is why: If that attitude is allowed to permeate a workplace then new staff won't join and cynical staff will leave the union. The outcome is simple; a de-unionised workforce that is open to exploitation.

The 'union does nothing attitude' is an attitude with which I am very familiar, I find it in my conversations with some colleagues whenever they find out I am a rep. My reply to those colleagues is similar to the one I wrote to Guardian forum users:

"I am also in UCU. I work at an FE college which is planning to make between 150-200 people redundant. I have recently become more active in UCU and I am now a rep. I'm reasonably young for a rep, and I would encourage every worker in every sector to join a union and become active.

Just a quick response to [the two people who left anti UCU comments], as you are members YOU are the union, not the reps or the officials, they give their time freely, and are just the same as you. Having debates is a good thing, if it raises the profile of the UCU in the college, so instead of criticising, get involved and do something about it. You could make a change, you could make links with Unison but if you are not willing to do it then who will?

Being in a union is about more than paying your 15 quid every month and complaining. It is about being united as a workforce, and campaigning for the rights of all workers whatever their role".

You are the Union, do something about it... Join UCU

Guardian forum


Unknown said...

Union reps give their time to help others (very big society) but I doubt that the PM thought of that.

Tom May said...

Well said, Liam.

Cynicism and sniping will merely lead to 'nothing being done', as these people complain. Evidently, trade unions have less clout than they did due to the Thatcher-era legislation (not reversed by Blair/Brown), but we should all seek to strengthen our trade unions by getting involved. It plays into the government's hands to have staff scared and divided.

Coalition policy is an attack on the public sector; these cuts are not born of practical necessity but ideological conviction. It should also be noted that the FE cuts (EMA / funded entitlement) will not hit Tory heartlands anything like the extent that they will the cities and the north.