Youth conference hears of tough times ahead
for trade unions and democracy
10th February 2010
General Secretary Billy Hayes stressed the importance of youth to the future of the CWU at a time of contracting membership and financial constraint.
Addressing the annual youth conference in Birmingham, Billy set out a national picture where only 28 per cent of the population are members of trade unions with the rest unaware even of what a trade union does.
The GS though was not downbeat on the prospects for increased union membership, pointing to historical lows in the past. He claimed that there is too much looking to the US where union density is 11.6 per cent rather than countries like Sweden with 70.8 per cent union membership.
The GS called for new leaders to come forward in the trade union movement. "They don't come perfectly formed. We are looking for people with a sense of social justice, who know what is right and wrong," said Billy, who highlighted the role that new communication methods like Facebook and Twitter could play in recruiting members
Turning to the situation at the CWU, Billy told how the union had lost members last year. "And we know there are going to be significant job losses in Royal Mail and the telecoms sector," warned Billy, who highlighted how the economic crisis had hit the young particularly hard. "There are one million out there who don't have a job and would have your job tomorrow," said Billy.
The youth conference committed to redouble efforts to combat the rise of the far right.
Proposing the motion that binds every regional youth committee to "carry out some sort of activity to fight the far right prior to the general election taking place," Rob Witherspoon of Bristol and District Amal highlighted how when the BNP gain seats, it gives confidence to those who will carry out homophobic and racist attacks. "People feel less safe in our communities," said Rob.
The motion passed after Simon Sapper, CWU national officer, had rallied conference calling for more enthusiasm for a crucial motion.
Ralph Ferret, for the Youth Advisory Committee, gave an impassioned plea for support to a motion calling for a change in the electoral system from first past the post to proportional representation.
Ralph described a political system in crisis with a lack of confidence in politicians after the expenses scandal and a general feeling of votes not counting. "It is a narrow band of people and seats that decide the election," said Ralph, who saw the motion pass amid calls for an end to "the corrupt political system."
One of the two motions going forward to general conference concerned the failure of the TUC general council to act on the recommendation of the TUC young members' conference that the different bands of the minimum wage be collapsed.
Kye Dudd of the YAC told how the motion had gone to the TUC general council for six years and been ignored.
Kye told how the CWU together with other unions put forward an amendment accusing the general council of supporting age discrimination if it did not act. "The amendment passed but was ignored by the general council," said Kye, who hoped that the motion gets carried this year.
The second motion for general conference called for a review of the youth structures. "The CWU has reached an important juncture with the high turnover of youth officers, there is a need not only to renew the structure but for it to reinvent itself," said Maeve Kennedy of the YAC.
There were concerns raised about the attempts of Royal Mail (RM) in particular to target young workers for worse treatment.
A motion passed urging RM to "formally agree to maximise its intake of full time staff."
This it was argued would "help reduce the unequal impact of the employer's current temporary/part time employment policy up on young workers such as students and school leavers."
Luke Mason of Western Counties branch argued this amounted to RM "getting work on the cheap."
A motion calling for youth officers to be able to shadow jobs in the union in order to get a better understanding of how things worked passed.
Other motions passed calling for support for the Kick it Out and Show Racism the Red Card initiatives in football and for the CWU to work with progressive NGOs on inititiaves for sensible drug laws.
"support the right to political dissent, free speech, equality and free trade unions."