Last month I was elected Chair of the new Self Employed Section at Community Union. It was unexpected, to say the least, there are more experienced Trade Union members with more connections, but it is a huge honour to have been elected by the rest of the committee and I look forward to learning from them as I get to know my new position.
Trade Unions had always by-passed me. In the early days I didn’t work in unionised workplaces, and when I because self employed, the idea of needing a union made no sense to me. I thought unions were just about fighting companies to protect workers, and I’d effectively be fighting myself – did I pay myself enough? Hell, no! But if I could I would!
When I applied to join the panel to be a Labour Councillor, I knew I had to be a member of a Trade Union. But it didn’t sit right with me to just join any union. I felt I need to be represented. And that’s no easy thing for a freelancer in a non-specific industry. I was running a social enterprise – a kids club and community space facilitating digital & creative skills. I felt that the issues I faced, as a worker, were related to being self employed, rather than a sector or industry.
Though several unions allowed self employed people to join, there was no evidence of any representation or support for those workers. And then I found Community.
Community had a campaign to help Self Employed Workers take out pension schemes. It was a start. I also found the union was a merger of several creative and manufacturing industries, which appealed to me because our workshop was full of laser cutters, 3D printers and textile machines. I finally felt like I’d found my Trade Union Home.
When lockdown started, Community reached out to check how its Self Employed members were getting on. I wouldn’t normally reply to these emails, assuming no one at the other end would read them anyway, but then I had a change of heart and responded. I explained how due to Covid, I’d had to close my business and was currently wondering what I was going to do next.
Melantha Chittenden responded. And suddenly I had this support network. I spoke to Sean Scorer, General Secretary for the North Region, expressing an interest in being more involved. How did self employed people become more involved in Union life? Representation was so centred around workplaces, I’d wished there was a way we could be represented.
Kate Dearden, Head of Research, Policy & External Relations reached out to me and asked me what I thought would help. I suggested, in the first instance, a way we could meet up with other Self Employed members. She organised a Zoom meet up and on 22nd May 2020 an informal self employed group was born.
We’ve met monthly since then and at the end of 2021, we learned that we were to become a formal section of the Union. Since we first started, we’ve enjoyed meetings with MPs to share our concerns, we’ve run campaigns, raising awareness of the UK’s Self Employed, we saw financial support for self employed workers in line with furlough, and we’re pushing for sick pay to be extended to all workers. Self Employed workers are so often overlooked or misunderstood.
I’m so proud that we are now a recognised section of the union, contributing to union policy and campaigns. And I’m incredibly proud to be its first Chair.