Celebrate May Day and get the security and protection you need

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UCU strike action to defend the USS pension in 2018

I’ve been a trade unionist all my working life. The idea of working anywhere, for anyone, and not being in a trade union would never cross my mind. So when I repeatedly tell people that they should join a union — and they don’t — it leaves me totally confused.

It does cost money to join a union, but then not joining a union could cost you tour job, or your career. Over the past thirty years I’ve had to call on union assistance four times and they have never let me down. Wanting to pay some of that back is the reason why I became a union rep five years ago, trained as a caseworker and more recently as a Health and Safety rep.

In the past five years I have helped over two dozen people with problems ranging from redundancy to harassment. In some cases it has been one chat or a phone call, in others investigations that have gone on for almost an entire year. And in every case I’ve wondered what would happen to that person if they hadn’t had the good sense and foresight to join a union.

In some cases, I do know. With the blessing of the union I have also assisted non-members as a rep on the staff consultative committee at my place of employment, but obviously what I can do for these staff is severely limited in scope compared to how I can represent and be pro-active for members. I’m also aware of what has happened to some staff members who did not seek help because they simply did not know it was available, or went into disciplinary hearings accompanied by a well-meaning though completely untrained and inexperienced colleague. These stories never end well for the member of staff.

You may work for an employer you regard to be one of the best in the world. The environment may be nurturing, they may claim that staff don’t need a union, that it’s virtually a co-op anyway. But all it takes is one poorly-trained line manager, one overly-keen HR director, or one year of poor commercial performance, and you are left entirely exposed if you aren’t in a union.

Quite often I hear the argument that there is no point joining a union if the union doesn’t have ‘recognition’. Recognition for collective bargaining does bring additional benefits but these don’t affect the additional rights, protections and benefits that you gain simply by being an individual member. These protections apply anywhere, whether there is an official recognition deal or not and your employer has to respect them as they are legally obliged to do so — but even without recourse to legal action, the employer would portray themselves in a very bad light if they didn’t.

You do have to pay — and that subscription is your insurance policy. It pays for the training and resources that lay reps like me receive and goes then immediately to the quality of care that you receive. It pays the wages of the full-time union officers and the support they provide to the reps, and the national organisation of the union. In my union, the UCU, it funded the strike action that defended the pensions of all staff on the USS pension scheme, whether they are members of the union or not. Obviously it’s best if you never have to call on the union yourself, but also consider all the members — your colleagues, friends and family — who do need that assistance, and your subs will go to help them too.

Sometimes people come to us wanting to join the union when they have a problem, and in almost all cases we have to turn them away. Joining the union at that point is like buying insurance after your house has burned down. I say in most cases, as the union can still act with discretion, and even then would not turn away someone in desperate need, but at the same time we have to be fair to all those members who pay their subs very month — and these members must always take priority.

So, once again, for your benefit, for peace of mind, for security in these troubled times, join a union. Don’t be the next person I have to turn away. Help yourself — do it today.


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