You can’t get me ‘cos I’m part of the Union!

I’ve recently completed a Trade Union course where I spent time refreshing my knowledge and dare I say it, skills. I’ve had a little bit more spare time recently and wanted to fill it usefully and this seemed a decent thing to do. I’m thinking about becoming a lay companion which is what the law calls someone who goes into a non-union workplace to represent someone who needs help with a discipline or grievance. There are more of these around than perhaps people realise as most workplaces are small or medium enterprises that don’t recognise trade unions. The right to have representation was enshrined in law by the last Labour government and so far has not been a right which this government has sought to get rid of, though I won’t hold my breath on that one.

The purpose of this post though is not to tell you all about Trade Unions or comment on the terrible things the government are doing to worker’s rights but to talk about how liberating the course was. It was a breath of fresh air for me and reminded me how much I enjoyed being a shop steward and convenor and how much I have missed it. A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work is all ultimately, people want, and it is amazing in this day and age how many are denied this basic right.

It was great to share stories and experiences of cases we had all dealt with in the past and the surprising amount of similarity many of them had with each other. What also came across loud and clear is the desire of my colleagues to help those that need it. In politics some lose their purpose in the race to be promoted, elected or indeed in the day to day running of a department or a council. Being a lay companion puts you right at the sharp end where you see the reality of decisions taken and the sometimes devastating impact they can have. That’s a big motivation for me. I don’t believe I’ve ever lost that sense of ‘why’ I am doing something and have always sought to do my best and work through the consequences of decisions enacted.

In this day and age of harsh austerity, which is still with us no matter what the government try to say about the economy, workers more than ever need help and support. With continuing wage freezes and rising prices you can see the need for a fair days wage more than ever today. It almost sounds old fashioned when you say it, yet is as relevant today as it ever was. Unions get a bad rap which is both unfair and inaccurate. They do a great job in really difficult circumstances and deserve our support.

It was also good to spend time with people who had no side or angle to them. Egos were left outside and the ribbing and mickey taking was liberating and funny. It was great to actually have a laugh and a joke with people who didn’t take it personally. That was the high light for me and showed working people at their best. Politicians, please take note!

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