Charlotte Upton, a Unite Rep at Tata Steel in Scunthorpe, has received the TUC Youth Campaigner of the Year award, which celebrates effective and innovative campaigning by young trade unionists in the UK.
TUC affiliated unions are invited to nominate one of their young members who have campaigned over the last year. Unite the union nominated Charlotte for her significant part in the Save Our Steel campaign that started in October 2015.
Charlotte decided to take action and be heavily involved in the campaign when job losses were announced in the steel sector. Charlotte said “at a time when the Government seemed insistent on watching the steel industry die, we needed a grassroots campaign that would capture the minds and hearts of the general public”.
Along with 1200 other workers at Tata, Charlotte was told that her job would be cut. She realised that the workers needed to do something locally to put pressure on both the company to act responsibly, and the Government to help create a level playing field for the British steel industry.
Charlotte, along with her fellow workers, organised a public march through Scunthorpe. Charlotte says “we needed to show the public that we weren’t a forgotten breed of skilled workers and that we are a young, vibrant and innovative industry with a future that hinged on the UK Government standing up for British steel. We needed the public to engage with the campaign and highlight that the demise of the steel industry would be a devastating blow to everybody in the communities that depend on the steel industry. We also needed the media on board both locally and nationally to give the campaign the voice it needed. Lastly we needed a combined trade union effort from all unions involved, to overcome local issues and work together to ensure that the workers held a united front and presented the strongest possible argument”.
As well as the march through Scunthorpe, the campaign involved a petition that was handed in to the local council seeking a reduction in business rates. Activists then spent each Thursday and Saturday collecting signatures on the High Street and at the local market. Following this there was then a national rally held in Sheffield which was addressed by Len McCluskey, Unite the union General Secretary. Charlotte also gave an impassioned speech in Sheffield about how the steel industry is rooted in her family’s history and how she wanted it to continue for her children and their children too.
The campaign led to a Government pledge to set up a steel summit for the industry’s key players where the activists were able to put forward their arguments and advise the Government on what help the industry needs.
On finding out she had received the award, Charlotte said “I am proud and honoured to have won the award. The Save Our Steel campaign is growing from strength to strength and it is wonderful to know that I played a small part in that. I know that the steel industry is still in dire need of help, not least from the Tory Government that are dragging their heels at every turn, but I am confident that my comrades and myself will not let this industry die without one hell of a fight”.
Karen Reay, Unite the union regional secretary, said “I’m delighted that Charlotte has received this award from the TUC. It’s recognition of the extremely hard work that Charlotte has put in to fighting for not only her own job, but the jobs of thousands of other steel workers across our region and the UK as a whole. The passion and determination shown by Charlotte proves that our union has a strong and vibrant future”.