Our Chair Max Freedman writes for Unions 21 on the importance of social networks in union branches

Below is an article from Branch Chair Max Freedman, originally posted on the Unions21 website:

Parliament is an intimidating workplace for your first job. There are over 2000 people who work for MPs, and for many of them, it is their first job after leaving university. Turnover is high and staff typically work in an office of 2-3 people or fewer without obvious opportunities to meet and socialise with staff of other MPs.

This is where the UNITE Parliamentary Staff branch has an important role to play.

As well as representing our individual members and arguing for better terms and conditions, we ensure that we host regular social events to bring people together and to help isolated staff make friends and become better acclimatised.

When I speak at induction events, I stress the social aspect of union membership: the events that we hold, both informal and with speakers, and the opportunities for members to sign up for Workers’ Beer Company and other activities. We also encourage members to join us on branch trips and events to things like the International Brigade Memorial Day, which appeals to many people who work in Parliament. Frankly, people just entering the workforce for the first time often will not realise the practical virtues of union membership and support, but can easily appreciate the value of a social network.

The value of emphasising friendship has been highlighted by a recent Unions21 survey, which shows that young workers (18-24) are most likely to consult parents or friends outside work or to look on the internet, whereas established workers (45-54) are most likely to turn to a union or the TUC for advice. The earlier we present ourselves as a friendly and trusted face, the better we will be able to help these younger, vulnerable workers.

Our policy of holding frequent and varied events is in tune with Unions21’s recent focus-group work with young people which showed that groups of young workers should be brought together to be invited to join unions as well as being asked individually, to avoid any fear of isolation.

Building friendships with new staff and encouraging their membership not only helps them settle in and make the most of their opportunities in such an unusual workplace, it helps ensure the branch’s future: most people work for an MP for less than two years, so it is important to keep recruiting new members, with fresh energy to sustain us into the future.  A social approach really is win-win.


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