It's day three of our five-part series of blogs and statements from young BFAWU members in the food industry, in relation to Trade Unionism and what it means to them. Today, we have Callum Clapham, a twenty-year old who works for Greggs in Yorkshire. He says:
“We are often faced with the misconception that Unions are militant organisations, with an objective of corporate demise. This is may be true for some factions of the Trade Union Movement, but it's important to remember that it's a broad church, which covers millions of people in various industries and sectors. Trade unionism cannot be simply bottled up and labelled, in terms of explaining the essence of trade unionism. The Movement is dominated by issues of identity and ideology. I solve this issue myself by looking back at where the movement began.
The Industrial Revolution had decayed the artisanal economy and in its place, rose huge factories, followed closely by the expansion of trade and transport. These factories were inhabited by tens of thousands of workers, many of whom came from the country; forced from their farm-land homes, thanks to enclosure laws. These factories were ruled by unscrupulous bosses who failed to deliver safe working conditions and adequate rights for their workers. After years of exploitation, these workers grew restless and decided to organise and form Unions. These Unions would eventually fight employers to gain improved pay and working conditions.
Unions were forged out of desperation, with the purpose of bettering workers’ lives. Unions began as and are now still, the bastion of workers’ rights; the avengers of the working world. I joined a Trade Union to be a part of this. However, the Movement doesn’t just apply to the industrial revolution. I’ve been asked: “are Trade Unions still relevant?”, with the answer being "yes, they are". Though the movement hasn’t exactly succeeded insofar as fully capturing the youth, efforts are being made to rectify this. The McStrike Campaign that we’ve seen recently, has seen a small number of workers take on McDonald’s (a corporate heavyweight), and win concessions on zero-hours contracts. It highlights the power that workers have as a collective. Even if you’re a young worker or only working part-time, Unions are relevant to you. You don’t get paid to be abused at work and you don’t have to withstand it. This is the essence of why I became a Trade Union member; to help protect workers. It is often the case that workers don’t even know that they’re being mistreated in the workplace and it’s such an easy task to inform these workers of their rights, such as when they are legally entitled to a break, for example. Through being in a Union, I’ve helped employees tackle this issue, particularly with one employee who put forward a grievance with their employer, and had that grievance upheld.
So, if you’re someone who is being mistreated at work, know someone who is, or just wants to get involved in an international movement that seeks not just workplace justice, but justice in every aspect of society, then join a Union.”
In 21st Century Great Britain, exploitation and low pay is rife among young workers. Who is going to fight their corner other than Trade Unions? We must engage with young workers and not only make them aware that it doesn't have to be this way, but to ensure that Unions leave a legacy for future generations. The role of Trade Unions is just as important now, as it was in the 19th Century; not just in the workplace, but in society as a whole.