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Young Members Officer Report to 2011 AGM

Young Members Officers Report to AGM 2011 – Rosie Huzzard

This year I have been involved locally, regionally and nationally with the Young Members Network and organised a number of local events myself. Below members can see the report from Young Workers Week 2010, from last September, and my report from the National Young Members Forum.

I have kept in regular contact with the branch young members by email throughout the year to update them on regular events and changes in the branch. I was nominated for the Group Young Members Advisory Committee to the GEC, continued to attend Regional Young Members Committee meetings in Leeds, the National Young Members Forum in February 2011, and other training events. I attended National and Group conferences in Brighton and spoke on Young Members issues to the conferences, as well as networking and attending fringe meetings.

This year was my last as YMO for the branch, I have held the position for two years and for several reasons I am now stepping down. We have a new YMO who has run unopposed and I would like to welcome Faye Bates into the BEC. I will be passing on my knowledge and experience and helping her initially.

It is extremely important to me that Young Members issues continue to be at the forefront of the union’s priorities, and I will continue to prioritise it in all my work.
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Young Workers Week 2010

For this year’s event I thought it was important to cover as many of our members as possible during the week, as our branch covers a number of Jobcentres and offices across Sheffield. Because of that I knew it would be a bit of a challenge, but I was willing to take it on!

I negotiated a lunchtime stall in various offices over the week with management, and at each location there was present myself and at least one of the local reps of that office. I’d advertised the events by email and word of mouth several times, and sent an email each morning letting the Young Members know what was going on that day.

Monday was Bailey Court Jobcentre. It’s a large site with around 130 members, as well as a minority of non-union members. I set up a stall with our Branch Treasurer Chris (also a young member) and spoke to a few people and gave out some leaflets. It was a slow day but not bad in general – the problem was that this office has several small canteens and no main social area so many people didn’t come across us. On a positive side, the young members we did speak to were positive, and we spoke to a large number of older staff and explained the YMN to them. We also discussed the PCS Credit Union and the Tax Justice/’There Is An Alternative’ campaign with them.

On Tuesday I headed down to Cavendish Court Jobcentre which is a very large two floor Jobcentre with 140 members and a number of younger members of staff. This time it was myself and a local rep – Stefan, and our Branch Secretary Tom. This was another quiet day – staff here all tend to go out at lunchtimes and it was hard to coax them back in. We sold some of the raffle tickets we were selling, and spoke to a young member of staff who was adamant that she didn’t want to join PCS. We tried to persuade her but she didn’t want to discuss which was a shame. Some of the Young Members came and spoke to us and took some literature, and I spoke to a few new faces.

Wednesday came and I headed up to Eastern Avenue Jobcentre – one of our medium sized local offices with around 60 members. This was – retrospectively – the best day of the week. It was great to get out to a new office and meet some new people, and the fact that it is an out of town office meant that it was more of an ‘event’ for the members there. I spoke to a few people, and signed up several people to the network. I also spoke to a number of older members about the ‘There Is An Alternative’ campaign, and the PCS Credit Union. I think it really showed how important it is that our Young Members Officers are fully rounded members of their Branch Exec, and aren’t just pushing young members’ issues. It also helped that one of our local reps there is also a young member (Steve), so we manned the stall together. As he is on a fixed term contract we used to opportunity to discuss the DWP FTA campaign with members.

Thursday we had a stall in the main canteen in Hartshead Square – by far our biggest office, and since the TPIP transformation, largely occupied by the Contact Centre which makes up around 400 people. There was a disappointing turnout of people considering the high membership density, with just a few coming up to see us. This really highlighted once again to me how difficult it is to communicate with staff who are tied into the phones. The scheduling in DWP’s Contact Centre Directorate means that getting people out of work is practically impossible, as their breaks are so fixed that they have just thirty minutes to grab something to eat and get back (unless they want to be subject to disciplinary action). On a positive note, two young FTA members helped me out with the stall as well as two of our branch officers – it was really positive to have other members of the BEC help out with the event.

Last of all was Friday, at Hillsborough Jobcentre. Hillsborough has roughly 47 members, but the lowest density in our branch (60%). It was a bit difficult to engage staff because of the low density, and the fact that they didn’t know me. I still signed up a couple of young members to the network, and spoke to some others about union campaigns. It really highlighted to me that this is one office where we must focus our branch recruitment.

So overall it was a mixed week, and exhausting for me! On Friday night we held a branch social in a bar in Sheffield which around thirty members came to over the course of the night – this was another good way in which to engage with staff about the event, and we drew the raffle for the branch Hardship Fund which we had been selling tickets for throughout the week.

PCS Young Members Forum 2011

The Annual PCS Union Young Members Forum took place on 4th-6th Feb 2011 in Manchester. This event functions as the largest annual event for the PCS Young Members Network.

At present, due to existing union policy, the event does not accept motions, or have any policy-making role within PCS, or control over its own structures. This is all carried out through the small number of officers positions or through the National Young Members Committee and Group Advisory Committees. This leaves the forum, then, without a decision-making function and leaves the whole thing feeling rather flat. Subsequently it is largely made up of training workshops, on subjects such as ‘Managing Personal Cases’, ‘Trade Unions and the Green Agenda’, ‘How to Make Your Vote Count’, and ‘Setting Up a Community Campaign’. These tend to be pitched at a very basic level which while useful for some attendees, is far too basic for plenty more. One session on Personal Case work consisted of a senior PCS Executive Member talking for 90 minutes with no ‘Young Members’ angle – content already covered by several TUC and PCS run training courses which reps can attend. Existing activist experienced is also rarely recognised unless it has come through existing PCS structures, and due to the Left Unity dominated structures, this leads to a contingent of activists of other groups being left with very little to ‘get their teeth into’ throughout the event. The activist movement is continually presented as something to ‘get involved in’ or to wait for some steer from elected officers, rather than something that the YMN is already a part of.

There are a number of positive features of the event however. A talk and discussion on the current events in Egypt and the Middle East from NEC member John McInally was generally a very useful introduction to the conflict and contained some good basic and uncompromisingly socialist political content, discussing the merits of the trade union and workers’ input in the resistance. The responses from the floor highlighted that there is in fact a much higher level of political consciousness in the group than the agenda and other sessions perhaps give credence to. This was further backed up by networking outside of the planned session, where in breaks and social events, the attendees discussed political and industrial issues at great length, providing as much if not more political education than at the planned sessions.

The whole event came off, as in previous years, as less of a real conference, and more like the aforementioned training event.

It has been noted in the past that the PCS Young Members Network functions as much as a Left Unity recruitment ground as anything else, and that the internal structures are extremely complex and regularly held year on year by the same Left Unity young members. In 2010, I challenged the position of Chair at the Forum, losing with about one third of the votes to the existing Chair – Alan Warner. At the time, much was made of the fact that there was an election at all, as if the democratic functions were there more as a token than a route through which any real change should be made.

The real shame is that this is a huge network of engaged young trade unionists who are neither being politically educated, nor utilised, to the full extent. The event is generally considered to be a positive and useful thing to do by all attendees, and I would also consider that to be the case. But the most useful things are often those which are not built in to the programme. PCS Young Members deserve a voting conference of their own by which they can control their own political campaigning agenda from the membership base through the existing regional delegate system. Any training sessions that do exist should be in addition to a broader discussion on Young Members issues, and should be pitched at different levels in order to accommodate varying experience. The PCS Young Members Network is often proclaimed as the best of its kind in the Trade Union movement, but at present, it still has a long way to go to be the real fighting force it could, and should be.

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