OPINION

Young people’s non-representation

The problem is not being broached for the first time, but it is likely that its scope has increased without us having even realized it. As noted by the Italian professor of economics Tito Boeri in his recent article in the Financial Times, the increase in youth employment in Europe has lowered the average age of the working citizen to 35 years, although the average age of the trade union member fluctuates around the 45-year level. In other words, young workers aren’t inclined to join trade unions and, as a result, are under-represented. Meanwhile the unions, suffering from a lack of young members, put more emphasis on workers who are close to retirement or who have already retired rather than the younger generations. Irrespective of the extent to which youthful «abstention» from the unions is linked to the unions’ emphasis on pensions, it is a fact that younger workers are so disinterested in labor unions that the historic German syndicate IG Metall has started offering its members gifts if they secure new registrations. The situation is no different in Greece, where aging and indifference are equally manifest. And the compulsory participation of workers in unions is no solution either – all this does is transfer the expression of indifference from non-registration to essential abstenance from any union activities. The only positive aspect of these situations is the compulsory payment of union contributions (which, however, workers tend to regard as a heavy tax). And if the lack of «young blood» among labor unions is evident in the memberships, it is even more characteristic in their leaderships, where the presence of veterans and pensioners continues to predominate. Having little in common with most of the work force and detached from the hopes and fears of the young, union chiefs watch the «flight» of the young in a country where there is virtually no union representation for private sector workers. It is true that deficient representation is not only to be seen in the trade union sector – it can also be seen in Parliament with the phenomenon of «hereditary» succession. But in the trade union sector, the consequences of this non-representation are more obvious – starting from a refusal to adapt to future needs and culminating in deals which go against workers’ interests.