Shanahan Shines as Youth Issues Top Workers Agenda

Gemma Shanahan, Labour candidate for Cannington & Wembdon

Labour candidate for Cannington and Wembdon in May’s Sedgemoor District Council elections, 18 year old Gemma Shanahan, has once again taken centre stage after a year of Party Conference debuts, picket line protests and Branch debates. This time it was Bridgwater Trades Union Council that saw her passionate socialism in action as she spoke out for workers rights at a youth focused event at the Bridgwater Railway Club alongside young Trade Union reps and political activists.

Gemma said she had joined the Labour Party when she was 16 and at 17 was speaking at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool. By 18 she had been selected to stand for council. Her own workplace was strongly unionised through USDAW and because of this it was a good place to work with above minimum wage levels fought for and won by the union. But talking to her friends she could see how they often weren’t so fortunate when they were in non-unionised workplaces and often simply accepted their lot. Poor wages, long hours. Sometimes employers tried to exploit young people by making them do the same work as older workers but on a lower wage. She was clear that if people did the same work they should get the same pay. She said political education was so important for young people, and again she was lucky that her school had run citizenship classes, but many hadn’t and this lack of understanding of how things worked politically was something that was missing for young people. Another key issue was mental health. Young people were more aware, more issues motivated and willing to talk about what concerned them and one of these was mental health. It was crucial for young people to know their rights, especially in the workplace, and it was important for them to know that it’s OK to speak about what concerns them and that they do have a voice and will be heard.

The importance of Unions Today

Ines, PJ and Gemma at Bridgwater Trades Council

Paul Wand, PJ to his colleagues and friends, is a UNITE member and grew up around farms and not knowing what a Trades Union was or why it should matter to him. “I thought Trades Unions was all about coalminers and the 1970s” he told the packed room. But then, through apprenticeships, he got involved in well paid skilled work and larger modern workplaces and came across unions that actually mattered to him and he understood and embraced the movement to the full. First involved with UCATT the construction union, he then merged along with it into UNITE. Working on the Crossrail project he eventually got work at HPC where he is now a senior rep. For PJ the message is simple “We have to push the TUC to get out their and engage with non-unionised workplaces. These are the sectors young people mainly work in.”

We’re All Workers

Gemma Shanahan taking on the Tories on their home ground

Ines Lage of the South West TUC Young Workers Project was able to explain the modern phenomenon of youth engagement with unions with a wider picture backed up by statistics. “Young people are in fact 35% of the entire workforce. And this workforce is the biggest workforce in history. Soon that will be 35%. Young workers have grown up in a different world. One where globalisation is normal, where we can travel, where we know what it’s like to go abroad. We’ve grown up in a more diverse world, with a better school experience and a world of IT . At the same time the divide is getting bigger. A few generations ago there was a kind of class mobility but now the trend is that if you’re born poor you’ll die poor. Most of the young people in work today cam into employment after the recession and were basically just simply so glad to have a job. But employers can exploit this and unions are less available in their world. They don’t have a daily experience with words like collectivism, solidarity and unity. Yet this is what is needed. But, we should remember, young or old, we’re all WORKERS.”

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Bernie Grant
Bernie Grant
4 years ago

Gives you a warm feeling knowing the Younger generation are becoming more political, well done Gemma, I wish you all the luck in the World in your political future.

George Macpherson
4 years ago

Well done you! It’s young people who have to live on this earth in the coming years – so good to see that some are taking the future so seriously.

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