Defend the “beauty” of trade union education, scores of MPs tell the Tories


Scores of MPs have defended the “beauty” of the Union Learning Fund, as they demand that the government “considered the future” of the fund and halt plans for its abolition.

Moving the Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday morning, Labour MP Lilian Greenwood opened with the story of Paul Glover, a Nottingham refuge driver who left school without qualifications due to his dyslexia.

After having trained as a Union Learning Rep (ULR), Paul began to gain real confidence in the workplace. Now other workers approach him for help, as he has established a workers’ group for those who struggle with literacy issues.

Reminding her parliamentary colleagues that “school was not a happy experience” for many workers, Lilian pointed out that many workers go into the workplace “with few qualifications and even a sense of failure.

“That is a terrible waste of talent and, for many people, it can be hard to overcome. However, Union Learning and Union Learning Reps – volunteers in the workplace are uniquely well placed to help their workmates do just that.”

Lilian, who was a trade union official for 22 years before becoming an MP, said that she “saw the difference” that the ULF made to people’s lives, and urged the Tories to “confront what the decision to withdraw funding from the ULF really means.”

Her colleague Mick Whitley concurred, telling Westminster Hall: “As the virus tears apart our industry, resources need to be put into rebuilding our skills base, retraining the workforce and developing people capable of taking up new jobs in new industries.

“At least – that is the view of the devolved governments. I must ask why that view is not obvious to the Conservative government.”

Mick went on: “If someone thinks education is not for them or struggles with reading, writing, numbers or using new technology, they might not want to tell their supervisor or someone in HR.

“But they will talk to a colleague, someone like them, especially if they know their colleague faces the same problem.

“That is the beauty of union learning. Believe me, once they get going, there is no limit to what they can achieve.”

Mick’s sentiment was echoed by Zarah Sultana, who said the ULF was “needed in normal times, never mind times like these, when Britain has entered the worst recession on record, unemployment is surging to levels not seen in decades and the climate emergency is already with us.”

The ULF was founded in 1998 to provide educational and skill upgrading opportunities to full-time workers.

However, it was announced last month that 100% of its funding would be cut by the government starting next year.

The CWU have criticised the government for effectively abolishing ULF, believing that its complete defunding is an attack on workers’ aspirations and the trade union movement as a whole.

In October, an early day motion (EDM) moved in parliament by Easington Labour MP Grahame Morris was signed by 85 MPs.

Other Labour MPs who spoke were Mike Amesbury, Fleur Anderson, Rachel Hopkins, Kim Johnson, Seema Malhotra, Rachel Maskell, Catherine McKinnell, Kate Osborne, Taiwo Owatemi and Sarah Owen, while Wendy Chamberlain and Kenny MacAskill spoke on behalf of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party respectively.

You can sign the TUC’s petition to defend the ULF by clicking this link.