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Join the unemployment fightback

ANYA COOK explains how the People’s Assembly North East are uniting with others in the community to assist an area where thousands of jobs have been lost or are at immediate risk

PEOPLE’S Assembly North East in partnership with Tyne & Wear County Association of Trades Councils and Durham Trades Council have just launched a short video campaign to highlight the impact of unemployment in the region.

North-east England is facing a jobs crisis. Thousands of jobs have been lost, tens of thousands of people are on precarious contracts, in insecure work and maybe 100-150,000 people identify as self-employed but, given the current situation, don’t necessarily have a regular income with as many as 80-90,000 of those thought not to be claiming relief. 

According to TUC research, the situation is going to get worse and thousands more jobs could be at imminent risk.

Unemployment figures from the Office for National Statistics in December show the region has the highest unemployment rate in the country — and has also had the largest fall in employment.

“The situation is dire,” says campaign creator, self-employed music teacher and activist Ron Brown. 

“We are in a very desperate situation and we need to act now, together, to do something about it.”

A number of short videos have been put together to illustrate the job losses across the region including “talking heads” giving personal responses to unemployment.

We already know that the people most at risk are young people and the over-50s as well as those with protected characteristics. 

Risk comes from job losses and redundancies but these groups are also the most at risk from precarity, insecure contracts, manipulation and exploitation.

“I’ve had jobs where I was told I needed training shifts and then wasn’t paid for them, I’ve had an employer just simply not pay me for weeks of work on a whim. 

“I challenged both of them and won because I knew that I needed to — but it’s not easy and it did affect my confidence,” said young worker Rohan Cook, 21. 

“Signing up for Usdaw in my first job was the right decision, but not everybody knows about trade unions or sometimes they get dismissed as archaic.”

National trade union membership has increased for the last three years according to gov.uk but density among those of working age in 2019 was only 23 per cent and we need to increase that to give all workers a stronger voice and more power to their elbows.

Trade unions alone are not the answer and a concerted effort by left-leaning community organisations to work in tandem is needed.

Campaigns are useful for attracting attention and bringing issues into the public consciousness. 

To sign people up to the People’s Assembly and to encourage trade union growth we need to run a targeted recruitment drive alongside.

People’s Assembly North East is planning a series of Tea and Cake events, linking in with local organisations and mutual aid groups to go out into the community once we can do so. 

We need to go out and meet people where they are. We cannot afford to sit and wait for them to find us.

We will be inviting people to join us to meet, to talk, to listen and to share. 

Taking a soft approach we will talk about contracts, appropriate workplace conversations, linking in with colleagues, the role of trade unions and offering support with personal statements and CV preparation.  

We are linked in with our local Trade Union Education Centre at Newcastle College which is able to provide bespoke taster sessions and we can signpost to some retraining and upskilling opportunities in this joint working project.

We will let The Morning Star know how we get on or you can find us on Facebook People’s Assembly North East.

Anya Cook UCU Activist and People’s Assembly Organiser North East.

To watch the videos, go to https://youtu.be/fFIX-MP9VXM and https://youtu.be/ZrCpCrhz6TU.

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