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Rax Interview with Bob Crow

In July, New Internationalist will publish the Rax Active Citizenship Toolkit. It is aimed primarily at teachers and students of Citizenship Studies in UK schools but in fact it can be used by anyone seeking to engage more actively in the world around them.

The Toolkit is a landmark in textbook innovation, graphic style, approach to content and attitudes to learning. It also contains exclusive interviews with a range of voices, from popstars and politicians to young active citizens. Over the coming weeks we will be posting the full text of the Rax interviews.

Bob Crow is a trade union leader, the General Secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) and a member of the General Council of the Trade Union Congress (TUC). The Rax team caught up with Bob in February 2010.

What are the main issues that you think young people should be most concerned about today?
The economic crisis which gripped Britain and the rest of the world from 2008 has led to an uncertain future for us all, but particularly young people as they prepare for their working lives in the midst of a deep recession. Ordinary people are paying the price for the reckless folly of the bankers and the politicians who egged the financial class on with the mantra that greed is good. Unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, is rocketing and the government is cutting health, education and other vital public services while wasting billions on nuclear weapons and pursuing criminal foreign wars. Meanwhile the fascist British National Party is exploiting the crisis to pursue its divisive, bigoted agenda with lies about foreigners being to blame.

How do you think young people can be best engaged in the political process?
When the veteran campaigning MP Tony Benn retired from Parliament he joked that it was to “spend more time involved in politics”. His point was that politics is not just confined to Parliament or about voting in an election every five years. Democracy is not a spectator sport. There are countless campaigns for peace, anti-racism and the environment for people to get involved with – and of course trade unions, which fight to win a fair deal for workers both in the workplace and through political lobbying. Most of these organisations have their own youth section to help introduce young people to campaigning and ensure that their voice is heard.

How does the work of the RMT connect to the lives of young people?
RMT has thousands of members between the ages of 16 and 25. These are young workers who have joined the union because they know that it will fight to defend their interests in the workplace in the face of employers who continually try to drive down pay and conditions in order to cut costs and boost profits for shareholders. The union negotiates on behalf of its members with employers and is not afraid of using its most powerful weapon – the strike – if it believes they are being treated unfairly. RMT wants the lower rate of the national minimum wage for workers aged 16-21 to be abolished, believing that they should receive the full amount paid to other adults. The union is also affiliated to Youth Fight for Jobs (www.youthfightforjobs.com) – which campaigns for measures to combat unemployment among young people.

In what ways does RMT make efforts to engage with young people?
RMT has its own vibrant youth organisation, open to any member between the ages of 16 and 30. This has its own annual conference and elected officials, who advise the union over issues faced by young people. As with other RMT structures these members are ordinary workers who give up their spare time to participate in union activity. They are the lifeblood of the organisation. We also run education courses for young members aimed at explaining the principles of trades unionism. RMT is at the forefront of moves to ensure that the role of trade unions is taught in schools and colleges and included in careers advice to school leavers.

Learn more/get involved: www.youthfightforjobs.com

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