Unite is going into schools – students are liking what they hear

Unite Live – Mark Metcalf, Friday, December 19th, 2014

The situation facing many young workers is dire. Despite Tory millionaire ministers and rabid right-wing tabloids urging them to ‘Get a job!’ there are not enough to go round.

From July to September 2014, nearly three quarters of a million young people aged 16-24 were unemployed, a percentage rate of 16.2 per cent.

For those lucky enough to find work the happiness can be short-lived. Zero hour casual contracts have multiplied, the minimum wage has become the maximum and anyone standing up for their rights can quickly find themselves back out of work and facing being forced on to workfare programmes.

Like every other worker, young workers can only end their exploitation by being collectively organised within a trade union. Problem is that at school there’s no such thing as trade union education.

Consequently, when young people join the world of work most have no understanding of why joining a trade union could be the best thing they can ever do. Little wonder that just seven per cent of workers aged 16-24 belong to a trade union.

Determined to end this sorry state of affairs has led to the development of the Unite in Schools programme. This has seen Unite community co-ordinators working with regional education officers to identify trade unionists to be trained as schools speakers with skills to engage with pupils aged 14-18.

The aim of each organised session with young people is to encourage student discussion and active learning. The materials available to help with this are short films, lesson plans and info graphics, a brief history of trade unions and their activities and seven interactive exercises. The response by schools and pupils to sessions already organised has been healthy.

Dramatic change

In South Yorkshire, Unite has developed links with Kirk Balk Academy in Hoyland, just outside Barnsley. On Monday December 15, full-time student and Unite community member Harry Rollin, aged 18, assisted Andy Pearson, Unite regional education officer, with a one-hour session for 14-15 year olds and amongst whom only a handful admitted knowing anything about unions at the start. That had changed quite dramatically after 60 minutes.

“I had sort of heard about unions from press reports about strikes,” said Emily Lovell.

“I didn’t understand until today the actions were about improving pay and workplace rights. I have discovered the history of trade unions and how everyone has a better chance of being properly paid if they join together. It is good that unions fight for maternity rights because you need time off work after having a baby. I see why people join a union.”

Fellow student Shannon Powell agreed. “The session was interesting, I liked the video’s and I learnt a lot about unions and why you might need them at work,” she said.

Contact your regional Unite Community co-ordinator if you’d like to get involved with the Unite in Schools programme. If you are a school governor then why not consider getting your school involved?