A little while ago I joined Unite the Union, community branch.This is a new development, a first for any union I think, and its based on the changing nature of jobs and work.
Unions are still mostly workplace based, but if you are moving in and out of jobs, don’t have a job (if you’re young that’s pretty likely at some stage of your post school life) are retired or can’t work, then how do you join? And you need the employment advice, the welfare advice, the feeling that you’re not alone, as much if not more so, than anyone in regular work.
So Unite has come up with a new Community section for all the above categories. Then there’s the slight problem of finding these people- not handily down the corridor or the aisle. In North London we’re concentrating on handing out information outside Job Centres. I was outside one Job Centre this morning and we got a really good response. Oddly it was the very young who looked at us as though we were lurking with ill intent- some of the staff by contrast, were delightful.Almost everyone was keen to find out more.
Two things were apparent.Most people seemed very aware of their own capacities and skills( and this included accepting that they didn’t have many skills) They were being realistic to a degree about the jobs they wanted- security, cleaning, retail. They weren’t setting ‘goals’. No mention of a friendly workplace, or a job with prospects, or a job nearby.
And the second thing that became clear was that there was a degree of quite intense hurt in some of the people we talked to. Jobs had ended badly, they had been trying for months to get something else, they felt anxious and often put upon. Hardly anyone had ever been a member of a union. One or two didn’t know what a union was.
So whatever else this new Community branch does, there’s a communal role in bringing together anxious and isolated people. Time to bring back comradeship among these strangers.This was always an implicit part of trade unionism- but its much more part of a union’s work in these atomised and anxious times.