Corbyn supporters should put their principles into practice – and join a union

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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7 Responses to “Corbyn supporters should put their principles into practice – and join a union”

  1. Alasdair Macdonald

    I was a career-long TU member during my working life and had extended periods as workplace representative and H&S representative, so, I agree with your urging of people to join TUs. We need strong trade unions.

    However, the conduct of some individual trade union members often leaves much to be desired yet they usually receive unequivocal support from the union. Trade Union democracy is often pretty Tammany Hall and leaderships are often cliquish and exclusive. Many Trade Unions are strong supporters of nuclear weapons.

    Mrs Thatcher made hay from the 1980s onwards by monstering the behaviour of ‘trade union barons’ and having a very supportive media, the anti union message was amplified and shouted out every day. Most of it was lies and exaggeration, but there was enough that struck chords with many members of the public (usually, at that time trade union members themselves) that she was able to ram through her punitive and debilitating legislation. The Labour Governments from 1997 were pretty cautious about restoring ‘rights’ partly because their focus groups were indicating public hostility and partly because ‘new’ Labour was pretty neocon in several sections.

    So, if trade unions are to rehabilitate themselves and, we certainly need unions, then they are going to be more transparent, more democratic and considerably more moral. The membership needs to exert discipline on the ‘cowboys (and girls)’ in the membership.

  2. Bruce Poole

    Being in the TGWU was the best move I ever made. They looked after me when I joined a non-union firm, they supported me when I had to go to court, and they gave me brilliant advice whenever I needed it!

  3. Katythenightowl

    I was a Union member for most of my working life – when working in factories – but I moved to Wales from England, and started working in the food industry, where I was then the only union member in my place of employment, despite frequently urging my fellow workers to join.
    Because I stood up for my, and my fellow workers, rights I was sacked – and every person I had tried to help turned on me when I tried to fight it.
    Now I’m disabled, and unable to work, but I can’t find a Union that’s even slightly interested in allowing me to join, let alone supporting me and my disability rights, and so I and, no doubt, many thousands of others like me, are left without representation in the Unions.
    So why should we care about any Union that doesn’t care about us?
    Just like the Conservatives, the Labour Party only seems to consider us ‘worthy’ if we are working – so how can we face a future with Labour in government, when they either can’t, or won’t, acknowledge us as fellow Union members?

  4. Elizabeth Chell

    I couldn’t agree more!

  5. Simon Deville

    This starts with a breathtakingly patronizing assumption that Corbyn supporters aren’t union members.

  6. Martyn Wood-Bevan

    Member of Labour Party, Momentum & Unite – happy to be so…

  7. Mark C

    This article seems pretty out of touch. Joining a Union isn’t an option for many people these days, particularly in the private sector where just a sniff of anyone attempting to unionise their workplace will result in the sack.

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