THE BLOG

What It Means to Be in a Union - And Why We All Need to Defend Them

02/10/2016 05:51 pm 17:51:03

For a party that claims to be the champion of "working people", the Conservatives' first major act of office has been to launch a major legislative attack on unions. The Trade Union Bill has one central aim: to shift the balance power in the workplace even further against workers and reduce unions' negotiating power.

We know that unions don't often get good press in the UK. Stories about the inconvenience of strikes dominate, while the day-to-day work of unions goes largely unreported.

This is a real shame, as I've seen first-hand the incredible work trade union members are doing across the country.

Much of the time this involves working closely with employers to improve training, health and safety and productivity.

If you want an example of what modern unions do in the workplace, look at the work being done by Usdaw at the DHL Distribution Centre in Yorkshire.

As a result of working in partnership with DHL, over half of the 260-strong workforce have taken classes in English, maths and IT. And the company has also been able to develop a proper apprenticeship programme.

According to Steve Revis, general manager at the site, Usdaw has been "crucial" in making this happen through its credibility and connection with the staff.

This type of joint working happens all over the country.

At British Gas, where 90% of engineers are GMB members, the union is working with the company to improve productivity.

This has proved beneficial for all sides as managing director Matthew Bateman explains:

"What drives the union? Job security, earnings security, the well-being of our engineers. That's exactly the same as the British Gas perspective: we want to grow customer numbers so we can be commercially successful, which will only happen if we deliver great service, and that will only happen if we have people who are fired up and motivated, who feel recognised and rewarded."

Unions make a difference in numerous ways. Prospect members at the Intellectual Property Office in Newport noticed that female senior patent examiners faced a huge pay gap when compared with male ones. Thanks to the union this pay gap was closed, resulting in 185 workers getting pay rises.

I could carry on listing examples of the amazing work that unions do in workplaces and communities.

But I want to finish by drawing your attention to this lovely film with Emma, a union supermarket rep in Wales.

She articulates beautifully what it means to be in a union and why we all need to defend them.


Frances O'Grady is the general secretary of the TUC

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