UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Young Members Organise!

In Cardiff last weekend, about a hundred young members came together for UNISON's national young members weekend. In a change to the normal workshop format, delegates this year had the chance to put theory into practice there and then - out in the streets!

Before we got outside, young members heard from Peter Crews, the regional convener for the Cymru/Wales region, on the issues Welsh public service workers face in their workplaces and communities. I was heartened that delegates responded positively to our first annual report-back from the National YM forum, another new tradition that I hope stays for a while.

Caucus groups also met at the weekend for the first time, which I hope will only be the start of a closer engagement between young members and our self-organised groups. A wide range of workplace and societal issues came through from the groups that wouldn't normally be heard by the National YM Forum, helping us to improve how we represent the 75,000 young members of UNISON.

With a few sore feet from the Cuba Solidarity salsa night on Friday evening, delegates heard from Vice-President Eleanor Smith, sharing her experience of being a UNISON activist and the important battle for our services that we face. Inspired, delegates went into workshops on the Saturday morning - the aim; to develop the skills needed to effectively organise in their workplaces, to build confidence in speaking with members and the public using the 'anger/hope/action' methodology.

After some nerves and trepidation, with the vast majority doing this for the first time, we then put those skills into use straight away. Groups armed with Million Voices speech bubbled and surveys engaged with shoppers on Cardiff's busy streets on Saturday afternoon. Breaking assumptions by some, we got a positive reaction from the vast majority of shoppers we spoke with. Purely by chance, the first two people I spoke with were UNISON members, glad to see their union speaking up for the public services we all rely upon.

Returning to the hotel, the feedback from delegates showed that they had the same positive reaction to their presence; some were initially reticent about going out, but were converted within a couple of hours! Assistant General Secretary, Roger McKenzie emphasised that message in a passionate speech about the need for effective workplace and community organisation, reminding young members that we act alone at our peril.

After a fantastic quiz on Saturday night organised by NYMF rep Sean Hanlon, we met on the Sunday morning to present regional organising plans. (I'm not ashamed to say that Scotland won that part at least!) Seeing the diverse range of ideas coming through was excellent to see, confirming my theory that young members are undoubtedly the most innovative section in our union!

My thanks go to our staff both in front and behind the scenes for putting together and making it the fantastic weekend that it was; but it wouldn't be without the time and enthusiasm from our young members from across the UK. I hope to see delegates there becoming more active across the union, organising to ensure that the energy felt at the weekend goes back into their workplaces and communities.

Graham Smith,
NYMF Chair

See also http://unisonactive.blogspot.com/2011/05/unison-young-members-hit-streets-of.html