CWU Youth rally against austerity

Tony Kearns youth event
Senior deputy general secretary (SDGS) Tony Kearns (pictured right) has claimed the present younger generation will be the first since the early days of the industrial revolution to be poorer than their forebears.

Opening the National Youth Education Event in Belfast, Tony said: "It is a condemnation of how the country is being run and a reason for young people to fight back. We now stand on the precipice of a generation looking backwards."

Pointing out that austerity was not hitting the rich elite who run the country, Tony said: "The elite are exclusively white male and they run the country for themselves." Tony called on trade unions to unite with other social movements in the fight against the injustice of the present elite dominating society, saying: "Get involved in the trade unions and other movements to make society a better place for yourselves and generations to come," and paid tribute to the way in which the youth profile in the union has built up over the year.

Tony pledged that as long as he was SDGS there will always be an active youth constituency and education event.

General secretary Billy Hayes (pictured left) highlighted how the one depiction of the workplace on television at the moment is the Apprentice series.

Billy criticised the programme for promoting some of the worst elements of human behavior. "It seems to promote the view that the way to get on in life is to do down the person next to you or they will do you in," said Billy, who believes the programme could be seen as promoting a form of bullying. "The high point is when Alan Sugar says 'you're fired' - and that is the world of work."

Billy highlighted the culture of the Apprentice as representing what the unions are fighting against, the view of everyone as a commodity to be bought and sold at will. He recalled some positive things happening, like the creation of 1,000 jobs at Parcelforce but overall the union is battling on all fronts.

Billy paid tribute to the Bootle branch that has recruited more young people than any other in the country.

Stressing the importance of obtaining proportionality in the union and the ongoing pro-active initiative to bring this about, Billy said: "If the union does not reflect the people it represents you get bad decisions. You get decisions that represent what 50 year old white blokes think." Billy raised the possibility of reserved seats within the Northern Ireland context and recalled how a similar approach was used with the Police Service of Northern Ireland in order to get a 50:50 representation between the two communities. "It makes for a better, more inclusive society," said Billy, who declared that the union is looking for the next generation of leaders, "many of whom maybe in this room."

Lawrence Huston
Welcoming delegates to Belfast, Lawrence Houston (pictured right), Northern Ireland regional secretary, called for the Northern Ireland (NI) assembly to strike out in a different direction to the Westminster Parliament. "Austerity cuts have historically failed and the current strategy being pursued by this government is also doomed to fail," said Lawrence. "We cannot accept arguments that pretend there is no alternative. It is now time for the NI assembly to say 'enough is enough' and start getting people back into employment."

Once the youngest elected councilor in England Roxanne Ellis urged delegates to be pro-active rather than reactive, saying: "Women are more likely to lose their jobs and it's more difficult to find a job."

Roxanne (pictured left), who has been unemployed for a year now, was 23 when elected as Labour councilor for Bonington on Geding Borough Council, Nottingham. Since then Kate Taylor has taken over the mantle of the youngest councilor, getting elected at 18.

She believes Gedling Council provides a great example of what can happen when people get organized. A healthy Tory majority in a council where there were just nine Labour councilors was totally over turned. The Tories were routed with Labour taking 32 seats to become the ruling party.

Roxanne puts the victory down to a focus on local issues like parking charges. The Labour group focused on getting the local community, including business, behind a manifesto that was based on local need.

Roxanne comes from a background, where her family encouraged her to take an interest in the wider world. Returning from university she got actively involved in the local Labour Party branch. The 23 year old has come up against ageism but found that with the support of fellow council members, both young and old, that this can be overcome. "We come together and support each other in solidarity," she said.

As for the future Roxanne is happy with her busy role as ward councilor. "As long as I know I am making a difference I will be happy," said Roxanne.

Mel Corry
Mel Corry (pictured right) and Joe Law from the cross community organising group Trademark gave a potted history of life in Northern Ireland over the past 50 years.

Joe warned that despite the peace process, violence and sectarianism remained prevalent in Northern Ireland citing examples such as the murder the previous week of a prison officer, the rows over Remembrance Sunday and specifically the role of the poppy underlined that sectarianism is far from dead.

The Loyalist community proudly wore the poppy, no doubt as a sign of their Britishness, whilst those from the nationalist areas showed a disdain for the symbol by refusing to wear it.

Joe LAw
As Joe (pictured left) later pointed out on a specially arranged bus tour of Belfast, wearing poppies in areas like New Lodge and the Springfield Road would likely result in "a dig in the gut."

The idea that the peace process has helped heal divisions appears misguided. The number of peace walls put up to keep the communities apart since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 has doubled. "We keep the peace by building barriers," said Joe.

Joe claimed that a form of "benign apartheid" now operates in Northern Ireland. "The Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein are happy with that," said Joe.

Mel believes that the Good Friday Agreement created the space whereby people could be brought together. "Few though are taking advantage of that space," said Mel, who is worried that as the economic recession deepens and Westminster politicians continue to fail to deliver the promised peace dividend that violence could erupt once again.

Many of the youngsters today have grown up in a period of relative peace, so have not seen the devastation caused by violent conflict. If things continue to get worse, Mel believes disillusioned youth could drift toward the paramilitary organisations that remain ready to restart the violence.

Youth education event
Joe decried the naivety of those who say forget about history and let's move on. He listed the upcoming anniversaries from the centenary of the Battle of the Somme and the Easter Rising in 2016 to the War of Independence in 2019 and the Partition and Government of Ireland Act in 2021. All provide opportunities for trouble to erupt.

Joe told how education remains strictly split on sectarian lines, with each community getting its own narrative of history taught. "The political progress is not reflected at community level. People in this city can live totally separate lives - the one place they can come together is in the workplaces," said Joe.

Joe told of ongoing victimization going on in the workplace and the challenges that this raises for trade unions. He believes racism and homophobia as well as sectarianism are all rife in Northern Ireland.

As is usual, the event had a series of workshops on Saturday morning for participants to choose between.

Jelena Timotijevic, convener of Defend the Right to Protest campaign, told how the right to protest is under threat. Jelena believes that the aggressive approach taken by police to the student protests of 2010 was intended to send a message to not come out onto the streets again.

The disproportionately heavy sentences imposed on the students provided further evidence of this thesis. By contrast, no police officer was charged with any offence.

She recalled the devastation caused to youngsters who had been imprisoned for activities on that day, their whole futures ruined.

The campaign, Defend the Right to Protest, seeks to roll back this wave of oppressive state behavior. It includes students, parents and lecturers, indeed people from all walks of life concerned about the ongoing attacks on the rights to free speech and assembly.

The campaign has supported Alfie Meadows, a young student who was beaten by police, incurring a fractured skull, before being charged with violent disorder. His retrial was ongoing at the time of the youth event.

Jelena believes constant action on the streets can make change. She thinks that people and organisations in the UK could learn from places like Spain and Greece where there is a much quicker move to the barricades.

"It is about having a space where movements can come together," said Jelena, who sees the need to unite people in collective actions against a neo-liberal capitalist system that always seeks to individualise things. In this way people become disempowered and can be picked off.

Jelena predicts that as the ideologically driven cuts bite ever deeper people will come out onto the streets more in protest. She thinks the movement needs to build from the bottom, via the rank and file with the trade unions having a crucial role to play.

The workshop on sectarianism in the workplace focused on the way that almost everything in Northern Ireland remains divided along religious lines. From swimming clubs to leisure centres, each community has its own base. There was the story of an Asda worker who drove into work with music on. He was confronted for "playing orange music," a clash resulted and there was division in the workplace.

Another store that adopted a policy of stopping staff wearing symbols, like the poppy, had problems. A worker was approached and told he should not be working there.

The workshop underlined the divisions that remain in the workplace and in society at large in Northern Ireland.

The workshop held by Hope not Hate, and facilitated by Matthew Collins, on fighting the EDL and Islamophobia told of the battle to drive back fascists across the UK. The growth of nationalism in all parts of the British Isles was also highlighted as likely to cause growing problems in the future. The group produced motions for the mock conference that called for education of CWU members to the dangers of the far right. This was to include "myth busting some of the far right's views of Islam and the tabloid view of immigration."

Carl Roper, the TUC's National Organiser hosted the employment rights workshop which came up with the crucial finding that one of the reasons that many people do not join a trade union is because they are simply not asked. A motion passed at the mock conference calling for the designated officer to ensure new entrants were introduced to the union. The deadline set for such an approach was seven days.

There was also a call to get the subject of trade unions into the schools by making it a core part of the Citizenship syllabus by 2013/14, something that the CWU is already actively involved in trying to achieve.


Trademark organized a tour of Belfast for those attending the youth event. The tour took in areas that many will only have known before from media headlines, highlighting violence and killings.

So there were the areas of New Lodge, Springfield Road, Turf Lodge, Ballymurphy, the Milltown cemetery, the Falls and Shankill Roads. In none of the Catholic areas, Joe advised, would it be wise to wear a poppy.

On the Shankill Road was the longest peace wall in Europe. Most striking were the proximity of the communities throughout the city, sitting side by side, often separated with peace walls.

A number of interface points, comprised gated and CCTV monitored positions. The Trademark offices are sited at an appropriate interface point between the Shankill and Falls Roads.

The murals on various walls were striking, underlining just why history cannot be forgotten. The murals varied from the iconic images of hunger striker Bobby Sands in the Falls Road to others of King Billy and the present Queen in Protestant areas.

Mock conference

There was lively debate at the mock conference taking place for the final session of the weekend.

Committee members frequently adopted extreme or controversial positions to stimulate debate.

Simon Sapper
Out of the workshop sessions came 17 motions, of which nine got debated. National officer Simon Sapper (pictured left) took this as a sign of the success of the weekend: "Never before have we run out of time for the mock conference because delegates had so much to say for themselves" he said, pointing to the 44 contributions from 26 different speakers during this session.

A motion on the need for a better justice system that was not biased in favour of the police brought some heated debate.

Introducing the motion, Ian Barwell highlighted how despite all the violence at various demonstrations, no police officer had been charged. "We want a fairer justice system that treats police and protesters the same," said Ian.

Ben Abram took a different view, pointing out there had been charges in the case of Ian Tomlinson, who died at the G20 protest in 2010.

Lennie Shail from Coventry branch attacked the class based institutions like the Independent Police Complaints Commission. He wanted inquiries led by the working classes.

Dave Chivers for the Youth Committee supported the motion, recalling how school children had been intimidated and students sentenced to years of imprisonment.

Ryan Case
On a motion on death benefit, Ryan Case (pictured right) described the payment as a waste of time, calling for the resources spent on it to be redirected toward youth activities.

In response, Ian Emms decried the attitude of taking money from the dead.

In summing up Simon sapper reassured participants that "the mock conference is as close as possible to the real thing. The issues you are debating have done and will come up at Youth and General conference."

 Hayden Newsam & Clare McGrath
L-R: Hayden Newsam & Clare Mcgrath
Views from the floor

Sadie Fulton of Northern Ireland Telecoms branch, believed the youth education event offered a good opportunity to get stuck into the issues. "It is possible to get stuck in the rut of one issue, this allows a focus outside the box," said Sadie.

Many of the new jobs coming in NI are in the call centre and retail areas.

Sadie believes the terrain for organising workers in call centres is particularly difficult. "There is high turnover, difficult conditions and anti-union managements," said Sadie. "We need a really focused strategy and dedicated people."

Ian McCardle, head of organising at CWU Ireland, was impressed with the number and diversity of the young activists attending the weekend. "Our unions learn from each other and are working across the border," said Ian, who believes the austerity package applied in Ireland has been accepted too readily by many. However, he believes this will change soon, as things get worse, people will take to the streets.

Olufemi Igbekele of the CWU Capital Branch, has been a member of the union for a year. He was impressed by the level of commitment shown to youth by the CWU with both general secretary and senior deputy general secretary attending the weekend. "I think this weekend has helped me be better equipped to be a youth officer in the branch," said Olufemi.

Ryan Case, chair of the Youth Committee, declared the youth event by far the most successful he'd attended. "The participation and determination of the young members exceeded anything that went before. The unique setting of Northern Ireland opened our members' eyes to the amount of work that needs to be done in society," said Ryan. "The weekend clearly shows that people shouldn't be worried about the future of the union when we have such focused and determined young members to fight for members' rights and society."

Kye Dudd (Small)
Kye Dudd (pictured right), Youth Committee and NEC member, thought the event offered a great introduction for new members. "It offered a progression for people to get into union activism," said Kye, who thought Belfast offered a real eye opener for many people.

Chris Hand from Greater Manchester branch, was attending his second annual youth event. "It has been very good, with a lot of new faces, a great diversity," said Chris.

Dave Chivers, vice chair of the Youth Committee, felt it was the best youth education event he'd attended. He was pleased at the engagement with the leadership of the union and officers. "There is a sense of fighting back, both politically and industrially," said Dave.

Jordan Bryce, NI East, was a first time attendee. He found out a lot more about the union from the experience. "I've got a lot to take back to the branch from it," said Jordan.

Sara Barnicourt
Sara Barnicoat (pictured right), SW region and Youth Committee, thought the event very good. "I was impressed with the number of first timers and with it being in Belfast," said Sara, who also thought the weekend offered a good chance to learn about Belfast past and present.

Ian Emms from Peterborough, was attending his ninth youth event. He described it as one of the best, with the opportunity to see two sides of Belfast, especially useful.

In closing the event, Simon Sapper paid tribute to the Youth Committee and HQ staff who had made it all possible and urged participants to take strength and confidence from the weekend. He reminded everyone of the forthcoming Youth Conference (in Bristol on 12 January), and the range of courses run by the union's Education and Training Department.

For more photos have a look at the album on the CWUYouth Facebook group and have some fun tagging yourself and your friends.

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