Mary Sawyer of Unite in Schools says that educating students about the vital role of unions in an increasingly casualised world of work is essential

Michael Heaton (Letters, 17 July) called for the “basics of workers’ rights and the law” to be “explained to everyone before they start working”. For several years now at Unite in Schools we have run sessions with students and school leavers at hundreds of schools all over the country. We demystify trade unions, explain workers’ rights, the power of collective action and the truth behind zero-hours contracts. We consider it young peoples’ entitlement to be prepared for the increasingly casualised world of work.

Initially, very few students know what trade unions are or how to protect themselves at work. We place all our discussions in students’ own experience and look at ways they can use social media to campaign for justice and equality. We tell them that they are the next generation who will be running the unions and the campaigns. Unions need wider representation: more young members, more women, more BAME and LGBT activists. By the end of every session the students’ lightbulbs come on – they realise unions are fundamental to protection, that collective action for it is the most natural response in the world. By the end of a good session, the students are telling us what they would want from their trade union, and showing us how to campaign creatively using social media. We ignore the next generation at our peril.
Mary Sayer
Unite in Schools national coordinator

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