This is a callout to local union leaders. There is a pattern of exclusion and barriers for new and young workers and it has everything to do with the maintenance of power, hierarchy and careerism within the labour movement.
We’re sick of being told that we’ll learn how things work “one day”. We’re sick of being told that we need to calm down. We’re sick of you telling us that we don’t care because we aren’t at meetings. We’re sick of having to suck up just to get involved because we need your approval. If you actually want to build your local union and the labour movement into something that capitalism will reckon with, it’s time to make space for young people to be part of the struggle, right now.
Until you recognize this, your local union and the labour movement will continue to suffer. There will be more wildcats, there will be more internal disputes, there will be more petitions to recall your ass from office, and there will be more plotting behind your back. The labour movement doesn’t need this but unfortunately, it’s a by-product of exclusion and when it goes unnoticed or when we are outright repressed, everyone loses. It is a different, more political kind of ‘race to the bottom’.
Spend more time encouraging the young workers in your local to get involved and then dedicate resources to the ones who step up to the plate.
So many young workers are serious and passionate about the political dynamics in their workplace and want to get involved. Most don’t. Most feel like it is an exclusive club or worse, a second boss. It is crucial that local leadership recognize those interested, just like in an organizing campaign and devote the time and resources to encourage young workers participation.
Here are some of the things that your local can do to make sure that young workers are getting involved to reach the maximum level of worker power within your local:
- Negotiate a paid orientation period for all new hires. This is a time slot for the union to speak to new hires about the union and it should be a full day or a minimum of four hours. If you already have it, make sure that you get someone 35 or under to run it. This is a crucial time to talk about some of the misconceptions people have about unions they may have got at home or from right wing news.
- Send young workers to conventions so they can network and build confidence to execute the ideas that they already have. Never let that extra young worker credential go to waste, ever.
- Involve Young Workers in your negotiating committees to ensure that you have solid representation from those who will be most impacted by two or three-tier agreements.
- For larger locals, appoint a young worker to a full-time organizer position to get out on the street and start building your local.
- Make sure your bylaws include the support of a young workers committee and show some enthusiasm and support for those who want to join.
Local Union leadership has a huge responsibility to listen to what their members are saying but also what they are not saying. Make sure there is space for people to get involved and you might be surprised who enters it. Building young worker power means that the ‘Old Boys Club’ has to give some of their power and if they aren’t careful, we’ll take it anyway.