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My becoming of an activist with a cause

My becoming an activist with a cause

Written by: Carl Messenger, the Library

My first involvements with trade unions are probably some of my very earliest memories - I grew up in a small mining town during the 1980's and everyone in my life was in some way effected by the miner's strike in 1984-85.

I still remember the sense of solidarity, people cooking for each other and rally's being held throughout that year. I was only five years old, but I think I just about managed to follow the main points of the many heated debates about Arthur Scargill’s leadership of the union!

Unfortunately, these formative activist experiences didn’t lead me to pursue the career of a social revolutionary and, aside from a few anti-war demonstrations at university, I like many people of my generation became disengaged from politics and got busy with living. Deep down, though, I always considered myself an activist, albeit an inactive one. "An activist without a cause", if you will.

That latent activism lay dormant for the next thirty some years until I found myself working at the university of Warwick. My path into activism with UNISON was really brought about by my seeing several colleagues unable to stand up for themselves being mistreated by their workplace and I didn't think I could allow that to happen.

After a while of speaking up on behalf of people and accompanying colleagues to meetings a couple of them asked if I would consider being a union rep. Initially I thought it might help to have the official title and people would take my complaints more seriously. It certainly has done that, but moreover it has personally given me a lot more than I thought it would.

First and foremost, the training that UNISON provided has been very empowering.

When speaking to managers about workplace situations it is a great help to have the knowledge of what the law requires of both employers and employees and what their respective duties and responsibilities are.

Secondly, the skills I have gained from UNISON have in turn has led to some successes in improving colleagues workplace situations, which is a very rewarding and enriching experience. I don’t think I quite appreciated the effect this would have on my sense of purpose and subsequently my own mental health, which has been much improved since becoming a UNISON rep.

Thirdly, getting involved in UNISON has allowed me to meet lots of like-minded people from a host of backgrounds - not only the members who I try to help, but the other reps and branch committee members and colleagues from a wide range of sectors at regional events. I have now met people from pretty much every area of the university and count many people I’ve met through UNISON as friends. Having this sense of community is a great resource when encountering challenges to one’s personal resilience and I consider myself very lucky to have found this through my union involvement.

Trade union activism has obviously changed a lot since the 1980’s, and the challenges we face now are very different. Thankfully, due to the sacrifices of our predecessors, strike action is now rare and most disputes are resolved long before formal action is taken by either party. However, the goals of trade unions remain the same as do the rewards of getting involved. I would encourage anyone who has thought about it in the past to give it a go - the most important quality you need is the will to act in the interests of your colleagues. So if you’ve ever wanted to make your workplace a better place to work, please do come forward and make a difference.