When it comes to young people and trade unions, the great challenge of today is to promote better knowledge and understanding of workers’ rights, especially as we’re talking about Europe, where we find so many differences in the labour market.
The different experiences of youth involvement in trade unions reflect this diversity. Sharing different best practices and networking become fundamental for contributing to positive change at national level.
There are formal and informal ways of involving young people in the trade union movement. One of the formal ways is to establish youth structures within the trade unions, involving young people in decision-making processes – seeking their opinion, accepting ideas, and implementing declarations and resolutions.
In informal ways, we can organise events to help make young people aware of what a union is and why it matters, offer techniques for protecting themselves and their colleagues at work, and provide tips on working more actively at lower levels of the union; from the union branch, to the region.
Young people need to be aware that workers’ rights are not someone else’s rights – they belong to everyone, because for the most part everyone will be looking for work and spend most of their lives as workers. We must not therefore stand aside and expect someone else to do everything for us. We need to get involved, be proactive, demand changes in our unions and make the changes we want to see. These changes cannot come in one or two years, but through long-term initiatives – that give young people their place in the union – we will make progress.
It is clear how long and difficult the recovery from the last financial crisis has been, with youth unemployment remaining a key issue in several European countries, and young people sitting at the top in terms of the probability of unemployment and the bottom in terms of their position in the labour market. Further, due to the lack of decent work, more and more young people are unable to secure an independent life.
To fashion unions that are receptive to our input and can fight for us effectively in the modern world, each of us must be active, volunteer and give our time to the organisation: union workers hold all the tools in their hands. “Be the change you want to see in the world,” is the famous saying of Mahatma Gandhi, which can serve as inspiration for us, to lead us to re-examine ourselves and discover what we as members and workers want and can do.
Today, one of the biggest challenges for both workers and unions is precarious work. which hardly allows the younger workforce to hope for what it should: job security, job opportunities, family planning, work-life balance.
Unions are having severe difficulty in adjusting to our changing times. It is regrettably the case that the vast majority of unions are rooted in the ways of the past. Perhaps this is the reason that unions are struggling with a poor reputation among the public, and so among young people. The constant quarrels of individual union leaders, the fragmentation of the union movement, and the perceived distance between unions and ‘ordinary’ people are contributing to this negative public perception. We young people need to realise that it is our responsibility to shape our societies, our communities, and, especially in this context, our unions.
Young workers across the world are helping deliver positive change. We are the foundations of our Unions a pledge for the future.