Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Proud to be union

Heart Unions week presents us with an opportunity to shape the trade union movement of tomorrow, writes Lee Barron

Over the past week, tens of thousands of trade union members and activists have been joining together to celebrate the positive impact unions have on workplaces where they have members and the communities to whom they serve. Heart Unions week is now well and truly a part of the TUC calendar as we take the case for trade unions out to the wider public. If we do not do it, we cannot expect anybody else to.

And why shouldn’t we, we have a good story to tell. In workplaces with recognised trade unions you get more pay. Your workplace is safer. We brought you equal pay. We continue to fight against inequality, against the dogma of outsourcing and privatisations, working with others for better public services and rebalancing the economy so it delivers to all regions of the country. As a strong and confident trade union movement we expose bad employers and bad practices and promote best practice and quality jobs for all. That is why it is the trade unions at the forefront of modern day employment abuses, exposing the goings on in Sports Direct, challenging the gig economy, stopping umbrella companies charging an ‘administration’ fee for giving workers their own pay and taking on high profile cases of bogus self-employment.

This week we have been out at street stalls, engaged the public with leaflets and flyers (even given out red roses in Wolverhampton) all with a trade union message on them. We have had the Big Workplace meeting with Frances O’Grady, we have taken mobile union offices around, done a tour of libraries to get people talking and we’ve filled out speech bubbles for social media. We have also shone a light on fights against injustice like the Derby Teaching Assistants fighting pay cuts of over 20 per cent and the Picturehouse Cinema workers fighting for the living wage. We have highlighted modern day employment abuses like that at Sports Direct here in the East Midlands, and umbrella companies charging workers an administration fee to receive their own pay

The reason the Heart Unions week is so important, and should be an annual celebration of what we do, is because so many of us have forgotten how to tell others of the good we do as a movement. Sometimes we have to remind each other of the good that our representatives do when they are protecting colleagues at work, or defending somebody from unfairness or bullying and the like. If we did not exist today, we would be created tomorrow.

We need to tell our story, and tell it loud. It will not make the press a good headline so they will not write it, our movement has to be confident of looking outward. We need to get out more, to tell the public about trade unions more, celebrate our achievements more. We need to write the headlines.

Facing up to our future is to realise the challenges we face. The world of work is different now, the days of large workplaces to build bulk membership has gone. The vast majority of workers are in small to medium size businesses so our message has to resonate with a new generation of trade union members. We are the largest voluntary organisation in the country and the world, but the 21st century workplace is a different one to that of the past generation. Young workers who face unrecognisable precarious employment, treated worse and paid less, our role is to be heard speaking up for them.

So in moving forward and facing our future Heart Unions week is a celebration of all the good that unions do and to turn to each other and promote that. And it is also an opportunity to start to shape the trade union movement of tomorrow who not only survive but grow with the next generation of union members and activists.

Proud to be union.

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Lee Barron is regional secretary of the Midlands Trades Union Congress. He tweets @unionbarron

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Lee Barron

is regional secretary of the Midlands Trades Union Congress

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