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Young People Must Engage With Trade Unions

27/05/2015 15:35 BST | Updated 26/05/2016 10:59 BST

You said goodbye to your first job long ago. You may have flipped burgers, pulled bricks around a building site, or sat behind a till trying to find the Marlboro Golds. Whatever it was you were doing, one thing is almost certain: your first job was a shit job. Chances are the job you have now is no less painful than the first.

You're sat there nodding your head, thinking back to all those weekends lost to an unfair rota; the unpaid 'lunch hours' cut short by 30 minutes; and the legions of fuming customers screaming abuse over anything from video game consoles to less-than-perfect satsumas.

It is begrudgingly accepted amongst young people that these working conditions are part-and-parcel with low wage, part-time work. In some instances this belief is substantiated. It's true that companies can't prevent rude customers from coming through their shop doors, and working the odd weekend shift is inevitable when you're in certain industries. However, this cannot excuse employers from improving the working conditions of their younger staff members.

There are many things that employers should be doing for your benefit. They could be providing you with a minimum amount of sick pay regardless of your contracted hours. Fair shift rotas that don't stick fresh members of staff into working unsociable hours week after week. The opportunity to take an unpaid week out of work as 'study leave' during the hectic exam period. Access to the standard minimum wage if you're in an apprenticeship that's chucking you a meagre £2 per hour. You and other young people could find yourselves entitled to these rights. But without a strong trade union as your representative, you have no hope of reaching the negotiation table.

This is why young people must start engaging with their trade unions. USDAW won over £19million for union members through their legal service in 2014. Their highest contribution rate is £2.29 per week. Contrary to what Murdoch's media outlets and The Conservative party would have you believe after the Winter of Discontent some forty years ago, ignoring your trade union is only tantamount to ignoring your self-interests. To act against your interests in the workplace by not taking your union seriously is senseless. So why not get yourself involved?

Nobody is asking that you throw yourself on the picket line, or exchange your Friday night benders at XOYO for the organisation of nationwide walk outs. All you have to do is put pen to paper, or your fingers to keys, and sign yourself up to your relevant union. Just having your name on a union's membership list will lend them bargaining power. The threat of 1000 employees walking out can instigate change. The threat of five 'union loons' waving a megaphone around the car park is a non-affair.

It is crucial that young people start to fully value their rights as workers and join the organisations set up to defend them from exploitation in the workplace. If we are not seen to be actively protective of basic employment standards, both in the retail riddled years of early employment and during the salaried careers of our future, we will effectively allow those standards to be stripped away. Don't fall into the traps of the generations before us. Don't sit on the thought of it. Sign onto a union today.

Links: USDAW (retail) the CWU (telecommunications) GMB (general union) Unite (general union).