A View From A Young Worker

Submitted by AWL on 4 March, 2007 - 9:44

Welcome to life working on the railway. Goodbye social life!

Working in a station surrounded by buzzing nightlife means the life you are missing out on stares you in the face: a constant reminder that while you are working, others are having fun. Your free time rarely coincides with others', so you are less able to use your time off effectively.

Too many railway jobs still have low pay and poor conditions. In many companies, we have a 'two-tier workforce', with older workers who started when the railway was still publicly-owned on better conditions than newer, usually younger, staff.

But in my particular job, I am in a better position than many others of my age in other industries. I am often asked, 'why the railway?', as if I am missing out on a world of opportunities available to the young generation! The shifts are a pain, but as a result of the union fighting this job is secure, with a half-decent wage and pension. To be removed from precarious living and have enough money to meet the cost of living is a small ask, but sadly is rarely seen in modern times under our 'flexible' economy.

Rights that rail workers have won for ourselves - longer holidays, shorter working hours, liveable wages - are vital for keeping your morale up in the job. Without these, it could feel like you were sacrificing your life to your employer. So we should not feel 'grateful' to our bosses for giving us these 'perks'. We have a right to decent quality of life outside work and we deserve everything that makes up for the anti-social shifts.

Unions may seem to belong to history books to most young workers. But bosses still exploit workers, so trade unions are as important as ever.

Management try to put you off the union, telling you that trade union agreements and practices are old-fashioned when in fact they provide vital protection for workers. Or your manager will use your probationary period to try to make you scared to join a union or go on strike. In truth, for probationers as well as everyone else, you are safer in a union.

Employers are legally entitled to sack you unfairly during your first year on the job. It's an appalling, discriminatory law that this pro-business New Labour government has kept on the books. Its new Age Discrimination Act has done nothing to change that.

When I went to my RMT branch meeting, I was the youngest there by years. The unions could do more to make themselves relevant to young members. Young people can bring energy to the unions. We should be impatient with the union bureaucracy and its slow, distant, lumbering ways.

We should also get our unions to link with movements that many young people support - such as anti-sweatshop and environmental campaigns. Our unions need their support; and the social movements - often dominated by charities and single-issue campaigners - need to see that the workers' movement is the real force for change in society.

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.