Last week it emerged that Momentum - the grassroots movement supporting Jeremy Corbyn - now has over 30,000 members. But how many of those are in a trade union?
With the Labour party now boasting nearly 600,000 members, the Jeremy Corbyn surge has got thousands more people active in politics. For the first time many of us on the left have hope for the UK’s future. Yet there are ways you can start to change things now.
Trade unionism offers the opportunity to start creating the society we want to see – while learning all-important political skills that help party political campaigning on the ground and nationally.
Here’s why Corbyn supporters should get involved in unions now:
1. Trade unionism – done well – means understanding what people’s issues are, and activating everyone around you to be part of creating the change.
You will never forget the achievement you feel the first time you save a person’s job, or stop someone being bullied by a manager. Demonstrating that organising makes a difference creates more activists in and of itself.
2. Trade unionism involves working with people and escalating issues.
It means getting support by educating members and other activists, so you can create consensus on policy changes. It is politics in action – and strengthens skills that are vital for party activism too.
3. The trade union movement offers training to its activists that is second to none.
It’s tailored to develop grassroots organising skills, to build confidence, and to gain knowledge and practical experience in areas like public speaking, negotiating and law.
For trade unions this matters, because many of the 30,000 Momentum members and 600,000 Labour members and supporters will be working in businesses that don’t currently have a union presence.
Trade unions in the UK lost a record 275,000 members last year according to figures released by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Meanwhile, it is no coincidence that one in ten workers in the UK are in precarious jobs. Trade union activism can change that.
As Maria Exall, National Trade Union and Labour Organisation, and Momentum National Committee member told me: joining a union ‘is the best way to put Labour values into practice.’
So why is this so important for Corbyn supporters? Because getting Corbyn elected as leader of the Labour Party and then as Prime Minister is only part of the battle. His legion of supporters, while full of enthusiasm, need to skill up fast.
Actively doing politics can be very hard. Having the skills and judgement that come through experience will mean that at every level we are ready to fight the battles that are coming.
In my own experience, challenging mangers that have bullied staff means I know that I now have the strength to challenge the Conservatives in Parliament. And negotiating my way through labyrinthine pension proposals to ensure young people’s interests were represented has given me confidence that I won’t be overwhelmed in the face of complex financial proposals.
Even the process of organisational change – quite a hot topic in the Labour party at the moment – can take tremendous skill: patiently canvassing and convincing disparate groups to unite around a compromise agreement.
All of this means doing politics in practice. It’s time for Labour’s new mass membership to get active in a union. You can join here.
Jennifer Forbes is a TUC Tutor, and a Labour activist in Truro and Falmouth CLP
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