Blog: Attending UNISON’s first ever young members conference. Guest blog by Jamie Dickinson

Picture of UNISON flags

It was a real honour to attend the first ever organised Young Members National Conference as part of the Northern delegation in Cardiff last weekend.

What struck me was the poignancy in hosting the inaugural event in Wales – where under the Welsh Labour government led by Mark Drakeford we have a leadership working in the interest of our members, whether it be the legislating of free school meals, an exploratory committee into looking at rent controls and a nationalised care system, all whilst mitigating austerity sent from Tory ran Westminster.

The conference itself demonstrated the enthusiasm of our young members in UNISON – with a delegation from every single region and nation of the United Kingdom, focused on bringing motions to the conference that really spoke and demonstrated our collective struggles from a pre pandemic and current pandemic world which were discussed and continually debated in a comradely manner.

The road to securing the first ever conference for young members has been an arduous and timely campaign, which made it all the more worthwhile that we were able to have it in person and with such huge levels of participation from young members from across our movement.

What is even more promising is the work currently in motion with the member engagement programme which seeks to look at how our union can become even more effective in communicating to the very grassroots of our movement which demonstrates the leadership of our unions willingness in prioritising promoting participation in UNISON at every possible level.

As we now enter a second decade of Tory rule, we see a growing number of young workers who have only known pay cuts and caps, privatisation and an absence of investment in their places of work. COVID-19 has highlighted these existing problems in our public services and yet again it is young workers getting the blame and who will be fitting the bill for this government’s mess.

This government’s response to the pandemic has unsurprisingly been a shameful one particularly in looking out for young workers across our economy, from the pitiful annual real terms pay cut to our frontline NHS key workers after their incredible effort throughout the height of the pandemic, to a targeted mental health budget for young people that whilst being welcomed had to take a national pandemic to initiate. This is simply not good enough.

Young workers who choose their career paths to support and ensure the wellbeing of our communities need the assurance and certainty that they will be supported too. A weekly clap on a Thursday is simply performative when the calls for the government to pay up and give these carers a well-earned pay rise in line with inflation is wilfully ignored and disregarded.

It was UNISON’s young members that came together to discuss these issues, energised and enthusiastic to confidently make clear our demands and priorities for our union to take forward and create winnable campaigns from the issues that we can fight for in our workplaces and lobbying those in positions of power and authority.

The discussions that took place over the weekend were hugely representative and in tune with the biggest issues facing young workers at the present time, with motions from highlighting the real crisis of mental health in the workplace, the lack of support for young workers in our National Health Service who have only ever seen disinvestment and pay cuts year on year, to the need for the climate emergency to be given the platform young activists have fought for it to be given by bosses in workplaces across the country.

As Angela Rayner put it so simply in her speech during the inaugural conference, UNISON is a place where you can find your voice, your politics and most importantly your belief in fighting for social justice. I truly believe this young members conference was a space for our members to achieve this. Leaving the weekend feeling a sense of renewed energy in my activism as a young activist in our growing union.

Jamie Dickinson