Representing Grass Roots Unions, Globally

Recently I’ve had the massive pleasure of welcoming back our friends from IATSE in America to our annual BECTU conference that was hosted in Eastbourne in the UK, and thought it would be a great opportunity to write about the amazing international work I’ve been doing over the past few months.

It seems like only yesterday I was sat in a cool air-conditioned hotel conference room in a very hot and sticky Philadelphia, joining a large number of IATSE members at their first Young Workers Conference. I had to check back and it was actually September 2012. Wow, well it doesn't feel like nearly two years ago, but it’s interesting to realise it was actually the catalyst to the start of my deeper work with unions.

I’ve been working on making my union BECTU, more responsive to young members both locally, in the North West and Nationally. This year I’ve had even more amazing opportunities to represent our UK members in some European visits too. Representing not only BECTU but an active member of the UK society it was interesting to take part in discussions with other members in EU countries, learning how different our working lives are, and how there are some human rights that everyone can agree are absolute basic needs.

In February I flew to Brussels to be in the heart of the EU capital for a Uni Europa Youth Winter School to join another 19 representatives, to network within the different European unions, but also hear from different organisations about their global campaigns. Along with getting to talk direct to MEPs and learning how to lobby MEPs, we also got a chance to visit the EU Parliament buildings and talk to a variety of staff there. We even sat in the European Economic and Social Committee meeting which agreed the draft European Directive on carrier bags. Interesting to see that 4 months later the British Queen is adding support to that in her summer speech, it’s actually already an EU policy being brought into force. So this gave me a great grounding and understanding of the much bigger, European picture, not only for workers, but for all.

Then in March I repacked my bag and flew out to Athens for the Uni Europa Seminar. A ‘seminar’ in European phrasing, basically means an AGM style conference with a few breakout sessions in UK style. This was a way that UNI Global could disseminate the latest information and gain feedback from the EU nations we were representing. Another great way to network, share best practice and also, due to the larger number of attendees, also network with UK reps from Unison, Unite and Prospect. These are some of the largest unions in the UK, so for me to be attending on behalf of, in comparison quite a small union, goes someway to showing how forward thinking BECTU actually are.

Then in May, my story went full circle at our Annual Conference #BECTU14, when I met up with IATSE’s International President Matthew Loeb and Director of Communications Emily Tao again. It was great to be able to repay their warm welcome from Philly in 2012 and be able to share our achievements and how they had inspired us.

Nearly two years on I’ve learnt so much more about the European and Global landscape for workers rights, issues at work, and the everyday issues that are affecting the grass root society the majority of us live in. I’m even more driven to fight for the basic human rights, workers (and people) should be entitled to. Being an active member of a union makes that possible, being in a union means that when things don’t go right, there are people standing up for you and your rights. I was never in a union before I started working for myself, not because I didn’t want to, I just didn’t know. I can very confidently say, I would never be without a union now, and I’d suggest others do the same.

It’s bigger than your 9-5 job, it’s global.