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A festival of trade unionism by young people for young people

THIS weekend sees the picturesque Quorn Grange hotel located in Quorn, Loughborough, open its doors to young trade unionists for a weekend full of inspiration, opportunity, education and networking.

The hotel, which is owned by the General Federation of Trade Unions, is the ideal location for young members to learn about the history of our movement, our role as trade union members and activists within it, understand the meaning of solidarity and to recognise just how large the movement is internationally. 

We have a range of members attend from different trade unions and from those who are fairly new members who want to find out a bit more, to those who are more experienced and active in their union but want to connect with other young members and fill in gaps to their knowledge.

The youth festival has become an annual event and each year we have success stories of members coming along to dip their toe into the relatively unknown and leaving hungry to be actively involved in their union whether in their workplace, region or nationally. 

In previous years we’ve had members attend the festival, which has started them on a journey that has seen them progress into paid trade union officials. 

It’s a weekend where members can meet others like them from different unions, share their experiences realise they aren’t alone in facing the issues they do at work and that collectively they are stronger not only to make a difference in their jobs but actually within the trade union movement too.

Andy Hodder will open this year’s youth festival by introducing trade unionism and what it actually is, why we fight for the things we do, where we have come from and what battles we have won (and lost) that have contributed to shaping the union movement we have today.

Then over the weekend delegates will have the opportunity to speak to Acas about their employment rights and how in some cases legislation is adapted for young workers.  

They will look at what happens around the world, which countries have trade union rights and in which countries you can be locked up or even killed for being an activist. 

We will be talking about trade union education, looking at their experiences of it and what they want to see going forward in order to help the GFTU in developing its educational programme.

GFTU general secretary Doug Nicholls is running a workshop called Economics Debunked which went down a storm last time he ran it. 

Delegates attended thinking they knew very little to nothing about economics. All were surprised however at how much they actually did know when the language used to talk economics was recognisable.

Enrico Tortolano is covering media and politics and his workshop is designed to make you question your sources of information — can they be relied upon or do you need to check somewhere else first? 

He also encourages delegates to challenge their own opinions and how they are formed in order to broaden their understanding of situations.

Theresa Easton from Artists Union England is running a creative campaigning workshop which will give the delegates another perspective and tool to use while organising and campaigning, and Jess Green will be reciting some of her fantastic spoken word poems ensuring that the arts are involved from an early stage with our young members and rightly encompassed into their understanding of the trade union movement as a vital part that needs to be kept alive.

We will be holding a session around trade unions affiliating to political parties and asking why? Why do some affiliate while others don’t, why can’t some trade unions affiliate to one party, why do some change their minds and what happens in other countries?

There is also the opportunity for two delegates to partake in a study trip to Venezuela thanks to the international links the GFTU has.

To decide who goes, nominations will need to be made with the traditional proposer and seconder followed by a hustings session Sunday morning with a final vote to decide who the lucky delegates will be.

The weekend has been organised by young people for young people. A few years ago the GFTU recognised that something different was needed to attract young people into the movement, something that didn’t revolve around motions and formal conferences as that can be daunting for any first-time attendee, but something that was welcoming, educational and enjoyable.

The youth festival is designed to encourage young people to be active in the movement, give them the confidence and the tools to do so while validating their knowledge and experiences. 

We are hoping that this year’s festival will be the best yet and will lead to the movement having a group of dedicated activists who will become the next generation of leaders.

Sarah Woolley is BFAWU paid officer and a GFTU executive member.

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