International Youth Day: Join a union, shape the future

photo: ITUC young workers in Melbourne, Australia, 2022

For International Youth Day, 12 August, the youth committee of the ITUC, representing the 400 million young people in the global workforce, sees an unprecedented opportunity for the trade union movement, the world’s largest democratic social force, to renew itself.

We live in a critical time for our own future generations of young workers. The accelerating pace of national and global events and our ability to witness them in real-time has left our societies fragmented.

We are not content to sit by as a passive audience. We are working to build a new, more just world, built around a New Social Contract as agreed upon at the 5th ITUC World Congress.

We are at the forefront of massive social, economic, and climate upheavals. We are:

  • Informal workers without social protection.
  • Precarious workers in a lawless, low-wage gig economy.
  • Migrant workers without freedom of association.
  • Women workers demanding an end to violence and harassment.
  • Industrial workers embracing our fundamental right to occupational safety and health and fighting for a just transition.
  • LGBTQIA+ workers demanding our human rights.

When our communities are threatened, we are often the first in the streets to push back against anti-democratic forces.

Unions have the answers

We call on young workers to join the nearly 200 million members of the ITUC: join or organise a union where you work. There is no greater response to isolation and economic despair than the community and collective action of the trade union movement.

We call on governments and employers to embrace the ILO Recommendation on Quality Apprenticeships made at this year’s International Labour Conference and to commit to a just transition in the interest of preserving a habitable world.

To address the world’s most pressing issues, young workers must be accepted as the peers and leaders of today, not tomorrow. We call on trade unions to revive existing youth structures, build new ones and integrate young workers fully into the decision-making processes of unions. Where trade unions have done so, we have seen national movements renewed:

  • In Chile, as student activists became young workers, they created the largest fast-food union in the country, organised Starbucks and negotiated one of the only collective agreements at that corporation in the world.
  • In India and Pakistan, nurses and healthcare unions found that embracing peer-to-peer organising, especially among young women workers, helped overcome misperceptions of the trade union movement.
  • In Germany, public sector unions increased recruitment by one-third by building a robust structure of youth representation at regional level and investing in trade union trainee representatives.
  • Across Africa and the Middle East, young trade unionists helped lead the rapid transition to digital organising and administration when the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
  • In the USA, a new generation embraced one-on-one organising at Starbucks and Amazon: vicious anti-union corporations that make billions by exploiting the precarity of young workers.

Winning a New Social Contract and a just transition, building a stronger trade union movement and resisting the forces of division requires that trade unions be creative, adaptive, strategic and energetic.

The young workers of trade unions are all of that and more. We are not waiting to see what the next chapter looks like; we are writing it together.

Watch ITUC Youth Committee’s video