What CWUYouth has done for me

Lee Fishwick NYEE 2014Last weekend I attended CWU’s National Youth Education Event for the last time, and it got me thinking about what the youth movement has done for me. I remember getting involved with the CWU over 10 years ago and being asked by a fellow work rep to attend my first youth education event. He told me that this was an opportunity for me to meet fellow trade unionists at a younger age to learn about and discuss issues in the work place and trade unions that affects young members under 30. I remember thinking that this is good, because I’d only dealt with union reps a lot older than myself and up until that point I had no knowledge of the youth movement.

NYEE2003 Programme CoverI was only 21 when I attended my first education event.

I felt uncomfortably nervous and I did not know what to expect. I’ve always been uncomfortable in learning situations due to my dyslexia which held me back a great deal in school. This has made me feel uncomfortable in group situations, because I felt like I had nothing to contribute with.

But as soon as the event started I could see that this was going to be a different experience. The whole atmosphere of the event was relaxed and the Youth Committee at the time made everyone feel welcome and encouraged us to get involved during the weekend. As the event started I remember seeing youth members getting up to address the event, and I was thinking – I’d never be able to do that. Just the thought of public speaking made me feel sick. But this weekend made me think that one day I’d like to be able to do that.

After the event I decided to get involved with the youth section and I started attending my regional youth committee meetings, but I was still very shy and didn’t speak much during the first meetings. But as time went on the committee work gave me confidence to get more involved in the meetings. As I’ve became more active, I became more involved with the trade union and took up the position as youth officer in my own branch at the age of 23.

One of the first tasks I was given was to write a report for my branch. I felt like that task would be impossible due to never ever having written a report before; but I spoke to my regional secretary who told me that he had dyslexia as well. He had received all the help he needed to do his job through the union, and all I needed to do was ask and I would be provided with the necessary tools to work with dyslexia. Since leaving school, that was the first time I’d felt like the dyslexia wouldn’t hold me back. I took my knowledge and became a work rep, because the union made me feel confident enough to take on work related issues. I’ve been a work rep for 8 years now and counting.

After a few years of attending youth education events, regional events and national events I felt that I had the confidence and the knowledge to stand for the National YouthCommittee. To do this role I knew I had to address my fear of public speaking. I still remember the fear I had for the first few years which involved some uncomfortable speeches that involved me forgetting all the words and struggling to read the actual words on my papers.

But with the help from the Youth Committee, Simon Sapper and Jo Thair, I was helped to overcome my fears. I believe that it is being involved in the trade union movement that invested the time and effort in me that helped me to overcome my fears and insecurities. After becoming active with the youth section I did my union skills courses, which gave me even more confidence to carry out my role in the union.

UNI Europa LogoI’ve also became more politically aware; which led me to finding out aboutUNI Europa, a side of the trade union movement I didn’t know existed. After a few years involvement with UNI Youth – a youth committee made up by young European trade unionists – I was elected vice president in 2011 and then became president two years later. The role requires me to chair meetings, conferences and help organise courses on a international level. Once again, the help I received from the union and the youth section has made this step up possible for me. If I’d been told ten years ago at the first event I went to that I would be representing young people at this level I would never have believed it.

Lee UNI EuropaI believe that without the union I wouldn’t be the person I am today, because it showed me that having a disability won’t hold you back in the union. Even now writing this blog, at some point seemed impossible.

I would recommend anyone interested in becoming involved in the youth section to get active because the opportunities you are given can be life changing.

It was and still is for me.