CWU General Secretary Dave Ward called on youth members to embrace an agenda of fundamental change in order to ensure the futures of their children and children’s children.
Addressing the Youth conference in Manchester, Dave outlined a world today where things like the NHS and social care could be taken away unless workers are prepared to fight for them.
He called for a new deal for workers and radical solutions to address the housing crisis. Looking back to his younger days, the GS recalled how as a postman, he had a contract of employment that enabled him to plan life. “I got a council house without too much difficulty and paid into a pension, with the employer paying three times as much as I did,” said Dave, who declared that since those days “we have seen an explosion of low income employment and zero hour contracts.”
The GS explained that in order to meet the new challenges, the union has to structurally change, which is what the Redesign project is all about. “We are willing to take a long hard look at ourselves,” said Dave. “The reasons for change are growing day by day, we need to make the union stronger,” said Dave, who called for a change in the membership package, looking beyond existing industries.
He recalled how the industrial terrain is changing with a number of companies all competing for the same work. So there are people doing the same job for 30 or 40% less. “We need to get members in those companies and drive up terms and conditions,” said Dave.
In terms of the youth agenda, the GS outlined how now the union was looking much more to the youth members to take the lead. In the past, there has been much education and fostering of trade union ideals but the time has come now for the youth members themselves to be much more hands on.
Dave challenged the youth members to put their heads above the parapet and take up positions in the CWU. “The union needs re-energizing,” said Dave.
The GS warned of a future work terrain where digitisation and robotics will play key roles. The big businesses are trying to set the framework for this brave new world, mainly to ensure that they continue to gain an ever greater share of the spoils to the cost of the workers.
He attacked the destructive nature of many business leaders, committed to smashing things up rather than building a better more equal world. “We will build a society more equal,” said Dave.
The GS paid tribute to the work of former youth officer Simon Sapper, who left the CWU at the end of last year. “Simon deserves great credit for building the youth section and taking things forward. Simon built the foundation up for people here to take forward,” said Dave.
The previous evening, youth members paid tribute to Simon’s 15 years working on the youth agenda.
Former chair of the youth committee, Ryan Case recalled during his first meetings with Simon, wondering “who is this old guy and what’s that shirt all about.”
Ryan then credited Simon for being at the heart of the movement and helping him get to where he is today – working for Unite and a councilor in Wakefield.
Simon thanked all those he had worked with over the years, expressing his hope that left looking governments will triumph in the end, when the present dark period typified by Donald Trump in the US and Theresa May in the UK passes. “We are part of the movement for hope, a future for the many not the few. We will prevail,” said Simon.
In debate there was strong support for an industrial motion calling for the same level of release for youth reps as has been obtained for the union from BT.
Proposing the motion Nick Moore of Western Counties pointed out that none of the BT provision existed with Royal Mail. “More time would enable us to spend more time with branches and get non-members into the union,” said Nick.
Elli Long for the National Youth Executive (NYC) said the change “could improve the quality of work done by youth officers.”
A further motion calling on the NYC to lobby the PEC relating to the ratios of part time to full time workers at Royal Mail and against the companies proposed closure of the defined pension’s scheme passed.
Catching the mood of the conference Matt Bellamy of Eastern Number 5 recalled seeing five rough sleepers on the street outside with blankets over them. “The government has no idea and no plan to tackle homelessness,” said Matt, addressing a motion calling for an awareness campaign relating to the increasing number of young people becoming homeless in the UK.
There was strong support for two motions relating to mental illness.The first called for the NYC to work with the charity Papyrus on one of their awareness campaigns, creating suicide prevention material and organising a fund raising event.
The second motion highlighted how suicide was the biggest killer of men under 45, with 13 taking their lives every day, called for the creation of a safe environment for people to share their problems.
Scott Hartles for the NYC told how he suffered anxiety attacks when he moved out of his parent’s home. He then suffered depression, recalling how he would pick up a knife at the dinner table and wonder what could be done with it.
There was a lively debate on a motion calling for efforts to counter the media negativity about Jeremy Corbyn and campaigning for the Labour Party.
Michael Goozee for the NYC told of a report that found Corbyn was often misrepresented, denied a voice, scorned and ridiculed. “Corbyn’s anti-austerity pro trade union platform is important to us,” said Michael.
Dan Lewis of the Bootle Financial Services branch declared that Jeremy Corbyn stands for everything we stand for. “It has been proven time and time and time again that they are not reporting him factually. They are confusing readers and changing what he is saying to mean something else,” said Dan.
Another view came from Jack England of Great Western branch who questioned how well the approach would play with a number of ex-British army personnel who have joined BT. They view Corbyn’s record on Ireland and the IRA unfavourably.
Michael suggested that conflicts like those in Northern Ireland are solved with words, not bombs.
A motion was passed calling for CWU Youth to be renamed CWU young workers.
Billy Hunt of the South West Regional Committee argued that the new name was more appropriate and would attract new members.
Other motions passed calling for a relaunch of the union’s regional youth structure and a general strike.
Santiago Bell-Bradford, the group development and volunteer coordinator at Momentum, told of some of the early problems the group had with the press, running an open office policy which enabled reporters to infiltrate.
He told how Momentum formed around Jeremy Corbyn’s platform for the leadership of the Labour Party. The mass of people were under 35s, with 100,000 quickly joining the cause.
“We were full of people new to politics and also did things in a new way,” said Santiago, who told of the struggle to get young people actively involved in the work and structures of the Constituency Labour Parties rather than simply being treated as token representation.
Santiago told how Momentum uses social media, sending out different emails with pictures and videos, seeing what sort of response they get and then acting accordingly.
Momentum has managed to build up a database of skills which can be called on as and when needed.
The fledgling organisation has looked at how it can make meetings more engaging and interesting for young people. “We were struck by how stale and off putting for the young some of the meeting formats can be,” said Santiago.
“There is a big opportunity to get more young people involved. We hope to get much more youth engagement in the Labour Party,” said Santiago, who admitted Momentum are organising now around council selections and the Labour Party conference.
“We want Momentum to be a strong left voice in the Labour Party,” said Santiago, who insisted that deep roots need to be put down, so that if Corbyn does go away the foundations don’t fall apart.
Becca Hufton of the NYC led a presentation on the activities of UNI. She told how UNI organise across America, Asia, the Pacific and Africa. The international union body runs summer schools and does training. There are conferences on a biennial basis, with seminars on the years when there is no conference.
“We are always looking for people to get involved,” said Becca