“This cost of living crisis is a product of privatised systems which puts our ability to live at the mercy of global markets. Prices are not set by workers or by consumers. They are set by firms owned by millionaires and billionaires.”
By Nabeela Mowlana, Young Labour
As always, Young Labour send their solidarity with all those on strike and those balloting to strike. Young Labour members have been out on multiple picket lines and we’ll be getting our members out to the next set of picket lines.
When I started working at 17, I knew nothing about workers rights, and didn’t know what ‘good’ working conditions were. If you had asked me to speak about trade unions I wouldn’t have known where to start. It wasn’t until years later that I became a member of Unite. It was years after that that I actually started organising in my union.
For years my colleagues and I would work 50 hour weeks with no overtime, grievances would go undealt with, and when we asked for a union we were offered a staff forum. I’m sure this is a story familiar to many.
Like many other people in this country, I’m also a private renter. When our first landlord was hostile, we didn’t know who to turn to. When we said we were leaving and he wouldn’t return our deposit, we didn’t know we could do something about it. 7 years later, our second landlord sent us an eviction notice under section 21 of the Housing Act. This came at one of the worst possible times. We had no savings to put down a huge deposit, and we couldn’t find another house within our budget. We genuinely thought we were going to end up homeless. At the time, I didn’t know community unions like ACORN existed.
This isn’t just my story or my experience, this is the experience of thousands of young people across the country. We know that young people today are the largest generation of private renters in this country, are most likely to be in precarious work, and those of us who are students are loaded with thousands of pounds of debt before we even enter the full-time job market. Most of us are one paycheck away from homelessness.
We also know that none of this was inevitable. It was all a political choice.
This cost of living crisis is a product of privatised systems which puts our ability to live at the mercy of global markets. Prices are not set by workers or by consumers. They are set by firms owned by millionaires and billionaires. The same firms that would rather spend time and money union busting than give their workers a pay rise. Because they know that being part of a union doesn’t stop at getting the pay rise we deserve – it’s about improving our material conditions and by extension our lives. Organising as a collective allows us to question the power structures in this country. This terrifies the establishment.
We can’t wait for a Westminster handout from this government. We know our rights, but we also know that rights aren’t given, they are fought for and won.
Posties, teachers, call centre workers, rail workers, train drivers, factory workers, nurses – people who keep this country running – are all going on strike. Its clear that millions of us are no longer willing to settle for crumbs. The tide is turning. We are demanding for what is rightfully ours.
I joined my union because I didn’t want to just hear about a housing revolution, a climate revolution, or a workers revolution. I wanted to be part of it. I truly believe our time is here and now, but we must take future generations of workers with us.
So remind your neighbours, your family, your colleagues that there is strength in a union and we don’t have to put up with things as they are.
Right now, there is another 17 year old starting her working life. There’s another student signing their tenancy agreement without knowing their housing rights. Another young person has been pushed to take on a job that pays them less than minimum wage.
Just like the rich fight to protect their class interests, we must fight to protect ours. It is our job as socialists to fight like hell and make sure that every worker in this country is unionised. We can’t afford to leave anyone behind.
Young Labour, alongside our comrades in the trade union movement, and community groups, have a duty to help organise these young people in our workplaces, communities, and town halls to raise our living standards.
One of the greatest lessons from Labour movement is that we fight for bread, but we fight roses too. I look forward to fighting for a world of roses with each and every one of you.
- This article is adapted from a speech given by Nabeela Mowlana the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom Conference on December 3rd, 2022.
- Nabeela Mowlana is the Chair of Young Labour, you can follow her on twitter here.