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New community membership campaign meetings – Edinburgh & Glasgow

23 Oct

Unite is the biggest trade union in the UK and Ireland, with 1.5 million members and over a century of experience in organising to stand up for our rights at work.

Now Unite wants to take the unions beyond the workplace and into the community.

Community membership offers the chance to join for people who wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to be part of a union because they’re not working – unemployed people, disabled people on benefits, retired folk or students. Community members get the support of the union with issues like free legal advice and access to training and education.

But it’s also bigger than that.  Being part of the union is about being part of a movement to build a better society. We want to bring people together who want to change something and who want to work with others to make their community a better place to live.

It could be something local like saving a library that’s closing or it could be a national issue like defending vulnerable people losing out through welfare cuts.

Unite will give you the support you need to build successful campaigns and groups – and make change happen.

To get things going in Edinburgh and Glasgow, we’ve organised our first meetings.  We want to bring together everyone who’s interested in organising and campaigning out in the community and has ideas about what we should do.

The meetings are open to all, so please come along and find out more.

Edinburgh: Saturday 27th October 2 – 4PM, St John’s Church, Princes Street, EH2 4BJ

Glasgow: Monday 29th October 6.30 – 8.30PM, John Smith House, 145-165 West Regent Street, G2 4RZ

 

For further information and to find out more about Community Membership, please contact Unite Scotland’s Community Coordinator, Jack Ferguson, on 0845 604 4384 or via email at jack.ferguson@unitetheunion.org

 

Radical new step for trade unionism in Scotland – introducing the Community Membership

20 Sep

By Jack Ferguson

 

“Unite community membership could vital for many. I’m part of a generation that feels like it hasn’t got a future. Since I graduated uni I’ve been unable to even find minimum wage employment, let alone graduate work. I think the only way we’re ever going to change that is if we get organised.”

Those are the words of unemployed 22-year old Liam Turbett, one of the over 43,000 young Scots surviving on Jobseeker’s Allowance. He signed up to become a community member of Unite as soon as he heard about the scheme.

“Young people are also a lot less likely to have worked in a secure permanent job where they will have heard anything about trade unions, and may not know anything about them. I hope that community membership is going to help develop a whole new generation of activists who’ll stand up for their rights at work and in the community.”

 

Community membership is a radical new step for Unite, and for the trade union movement as a whole. It opens up the benefits of being a trade union member to all those who are out of work for whatever reason. They could be unemployed, a student, retired, or a person with disabilities on benefits. At a much reduced rate of 50p per week, they can now become members of Unite. It also takes the union beyond just organising in the workplace, and into supporting ordinary people and fighting for trade union values out in the community.

As members, unwaged people will get access to the full range of benefits that come with being a part of Unite, such as free legal advice and debt counselling, as well as specific support for members who are trying to get back to work with CV writing, interview skills and a Unite job board.

However, the most important aims of the community membership scheme can be summed up in the old trade union slogan, ‘Educate, Agitate, Organise!’ Unite is aiming to build up a network of local community branches that are actively discussing issues in their area, and campaigning to bring about positive change.

It could be something really simple and local, like traffic calming for a busy road. Or it could be saving a library or community centre threatened by government cutbacks. Or organising a consumers’ co-op to tackle fuel poverty. Where possible, Unite can help organise joint campaigns between workers and users of threatened services. And of course, perhaps the most major issue effecting people who are out of work: the attacks on the welfare state and benefit system.

In order to support these local groups, we’re developing an exciting range of training to allow local activists to be as effective as possible, in areas such as community organising, using the media and the internet, how to engage with councils and government, as well as specific information about rights and benefits to ensure members get everything they’re entitled to.

The union isn’t going into communities with its own agenda and priorities to impose on people. Community membership is completely new, and we want it to be bottom up, and led by its members from the outset. People who actually live in communities are the ones who know best what affects them. What the union can do is provide resources, training and backup to people who want to take the initiative.

Having said that, it’s already clear what one of the main tasks of the union is set to be: standing up for the rights of benefits claimants. We’ve seen scandal and protest when it emerged that the Paralympics were being sponsored by Atos, the private firm tasked by the government with creating humiliating tests to get disabled people off benefits. Disabled people and others that rely on the welfare state for survival are constantly vilified in the media, meaning that some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society are made to suffer as scapegoats for the greed and incompetence of the financial elite and government.

Attacks on people with disabilities or the unemployed come because those who victimise them believe they are weak and disorganised, and in no position to fight back. But with the whole of Unite the union as allies, that situation looks set to change. We aim to develop a network of members who have been trained in welfare rights and the procedures used by the likes of Atos, and are equipped to support each other through the bureaucratic hell of getting what they’re entitled to, buddy people to meetings and help prepare appeals.

Another group at the sharp end of government policy are those unemployed people effectively forced to become slave labour through workfare schemes. This issue is a key concern for the labour movement as a whole, as employers will delight in using workfare workers to undermine wages and conditions for all. Community membership offers a way to help organise people being forced to work for their benefit.

The trade union movement in Scotland has a proud history of improving the conditions that people work under. The key lesson of that history is that the only thing that makes the rich and powerful change their mind is when the people get organised about standing up for their rights, and force them to.

People throughout Scotland have had long experience of the consequences of decisions taken by people outside their communities, in which they have had no say, wreaking havoc with their lives. With the decline of traditional industries communities have become more atomised, with people living individual lives with little connection to their neighbours or others round about them. As Glen Hunter, a community member and community councillor in Glasgow’s Pollokshields, puts it:

“The first thing we need to do is rebuild and foster communities. Bringing people together through social and community events is so important if people aren’t going to be completely isolated from each other.”

Community membership offers a way for communities in Scotland to find their voice and rediscover the power of getting organised.  They might not have money, or political influence, but they have got people power – it’s just a matter of working out how to use it.

 

Jack Ferguson is the Unite Scotland Community Coordinator. You can reach him on 0845 604 4384 or via email at jack.ferguson@unitetheunion.org

 

New Unite Scotland Community Co-ordinator will mobilise unemployed and retired to improve communities

14 Sep

The unemployed, students and the retired are among the groups that Unite, the largest union in the country, wishes to mobilise so that they can make improvements in their local community.

Unite has appointed  28-year-old Jack Ferguson to bring together groups not covered by traditional trade union membership, so that they can get involved in campaigns in their area, for example, to save their local library from closure.

Jack Ferguson, Unite community coordinator for Scotland said, “Across Scotland communities feel like they don’t have a voice. Unite community membership is going to help change that. We think it’s time that people who don’t have a job for whatever reason are now going to have access to the benefits of trade union membership.

That means members will have access to all kinds of training and education in order to enhance their skills. But most importantly, it will allow communities to come together and get organised to create positive change. By becoming part of the UK and Ireland’s largest trade union, you’ve got 1.5 million allies in standing up for your rights.

People have already been getting in touch to join. I’m really looking forward to working with communities throughout the country, helping them identify their own campaigning priorities and work to bring them about. It could be something as simple as getting a zebra crossing put in on a busy road, or it could be saving a much loved local library, or supporting vulnerable people in navigating the benefits system.

Ordinary members will decide how community membership develops, and I’m really excited to see what good ideas people have.”

Jack Ferguson originally from Fife, will be based in Glasgow and is one of six community co-ordinators appointed by Unite across the UK whose role is to engage with the community at the grassroots and offer new community members the benefits of a trade union for the cost of 50p a week.

Unite Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty said, “The community membership scheme, launched by Unite, seeks to energetically engage with groups not covered by trade union membership.

We need to mobilise right across communities to improve lives and take a stand against the austerity policies of the coalition which have brought misery to millions of people, not just in Scotland but across the UK.”

ENDS

For further information, please contact Unite campaigns officer, Liane Groves on 07793 661657 for interviews with the new community co-ordinator.

Award ceremony at RBS Greenock

20 Jan

A group of Unite union learners recently participated in an awards ceremony at the Royal Bank of Scotland mortgage centre in Greenock.

The learners were presented with certificates by Stow College for courses they completed in Understanding Pensions and Computing. The courses were delivered as part of the active lifelong learning project on that site.

The learning programme was launched on 15 July last year, and a learning survey was conducted, gaining 226 responses – more than a quarter of the workforce. The learning programme was designed to meet this need. In addition to the courses mentioned above, there are also courses running in Spanish and British Sign Language, with a further British Sign Language course due to start on 24 January, and Communications on 1 February.

To address some of the higher level skills, the Open University will hold an open day on site on 27 January. We hope to be able to replicate the successful partnership programme we have with the OU at Rolls-Royce.

The lifelong learning programme at RBS Greenock started when ULR Sonya Cassidy and workplace rep Stephen McCauley did their training in November 2010. After meeting with management in February and developing a plan, the lifelong learning project was officially launched in July last year, with the open day and online survey.

Sonya and Stephen have also succeeded in recruiting other reps, and are in the process of setting up a workplace branch. They have also created a branch website.

By organising at work, creating effective structures and having visible union activity that responds to members’ needs, the reps have been very successful at recruiting too. RBS Greenock is a Unite 100% target, meaning it is a workplace where we have recognition, but we’re working to increase our density and quality of representation. When Sonya and Stephen came on board, density on site was very low. It has since risen by more than a 100%, and new members are continuing to join, encouraged by the reps effective response to their needs.

Because this approach has been so successful, we are hoping to be able to replicate it at other RBS and finance sector sites.