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Trade unions: know your facts from the fiction!

Facts from fictionFiction: Trade Unions aren’t for people like me 

FACT: Unless you win the lottery or have millions in the bank, the chances are you’ll spend roughly a quarter of your life at work because that is the only – legal – way to earn money.

Anyone that goes to work and who cares about their pay and conditions – holiday entitlement, pension and so 
on – equal rights, safety and training needs a trade union. 

Young workers are most likely to be vulnerable to exploitation as some unscrupulous employers will assume 
that they are less likely to know their rights. 

One in four young workers has experienced bullying and 53 per cent fear they can’t support a family on 
their wages.


Fiction: Trade unions are only for people in particular types of work, working full time all year round 

FACT: Around half of young workers work to pay for their education. 

Research shows that between 1996 and 2006 the number of full time students with a part-time job grew by more than 50 per cent, with this figure set to only increase alongside the cost of higher education. 

Union membership is more diverse than perhaps you would imagine and includes full time, part time, agency and seasonal workers. 


Fiction: Trade Union membership wouldn’t have any benefits for me 

FACT: Time and time again it has been proven that workers in unionised workplaces get far better pay and terms and conditions than those that aren’t in a union. As a member of a union you are entitled to free representation and legal advice should you ever need it. 

This applies to both within and outside the workplace and can include help with employment matters, personal injury, wills, conveyancing and more. 

Many unions also have agreements with third parties for additional benefits, such as cheaper insurance and discounts. 


Fiction: Trade Unions are just about workplace disputes and strikes 

FACT: Despite what the right wing media and politicians will have you believe, going on strike in the UK is very difficult and is always the last resort for workers and trade unions. But the right to withdraw labour is and should stay a human right. Going on strike remains rare here and is a tough call for those taking strike action; not least because you don’t get paid when you’re on strike. 

Whilst a trade union’s primary role is to represent their members on employment issues, trade unions have a much bigger part to play in civil society. They offer educational, lifelong learning and training opportunities to their members, many of whom would have not had this chance had it not been for their union.

Historically, trade unions have not only negotiated for and championed workplace rights in the UK, but for a better deal overall for working people in the wider world. Having battled to extend the right to vote, it was the unions that created a political party that working people could vote for – the Labour Party. 

The Labour Party was established by unions just over 100 years ago in order to give a political voice to the values and aspirations of trade union members. 

Today that link remains strong with fifteen trade unions affiliated to the party. Labour’s key achievements in government – the welfare state, the NHS, the minimum wage, and the right to union recognition to name but a few – have made a real difference to the lives of union members. Trade unions also provide a direct connection to working people - a key benefit for the Labour Party. 


Fiction: Unions aren’t formally recognised in my workplace so I can’t join 

FACT: Anybody has the right to join a union regardless of whether their employer formally recognises trade unions or a union organises within their workplace. 

When you sign up you should be given information about which branch you belong to (this could be for a local
area if there’s not one in your workplace). Unions also have contact numbers and/or helplines for members to access legal advice. 

You can also get more active in your union by getting involved with campaigns and other activity/events. 


Fiction: I don’t work so there is no point in me being in a union 

FACT: Unite's new reduced rate 'Community Membership' will open up union membership outside of the workplace to members of the community who may not currently be in work and other people who may not traditionally feel a union is for them. 

People who sign up to this new membership will gain access to a number of benefits but, more importantly will get the opportunity to be in the fabric of a union and have a voice – to form policy, participate in campaigns and create an active branch. 

Being part of a trade union is not simply about ensuring you have representation in the workplace but also about being part of a wider movement to create a better society.

Click here to download Trade Unions: Know your facts from your fiction!