Challenging the perception of retired union members
At a union’s recent conference for Retired Members in the UK, one of the last motions to be heard called for the generations to work together to get rid of our appalling government whose current policies many of us feel simply trash the lives of ordinary people regardless of how old they are.
“The motion was passed, however, in this case I feel that actions must speak louder than words and trade unions must also lead by example and recognise that retirement does not mean an end to usefulness nor to the ability of union members to make a difference to the world around them.
When I retired 5 years ago, I remember looking forward to being able to spend more time on union activity and on campaigning for the things we all want, such as a living wage, decent housing and properly funded public services. I was astonished – horrified even – to discover how limited my role within my trade union became on the day I retired, and I felt myself to be well and truly thrown on the scrap heap. I know that many in my union feel just the same, going from hero to zero on the day they leave paid employment.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. We know from experience with other unions both in the UK and abroad that it is possible to make far better use of the enormous pool of knowledge and experience that retired members have to offer. Retired members do not have to be treated as though they pass their sell by date on the day they leave work.
So if we are serious about combatting the appalling image of older people presented by the main stream media, I believe we must also challenge the perception of retired members within our own organisations. Supporting motions like this gets us only so far, and I also want to see far greater commitment from my trade union towards eradicating all forms of ageism and towards making the organisation one which welcomes the contribution that Retired Members can make.
Many have served and sustained the union throughout their working lives, and it is foolish and wasteful in the extreme to blindly accept the stereotypical view that older people must be kept on the sidelines and that they have nothing further of value to offer. In my view, there really is no place for such outdated views in any trade union.”
Ruby Cox, trade union activist
Ruby Cox lives in Hastings where she is a local Labour councillor. She retired five years ago after working in local government for 25 years and being a trade union activist at local and regional level for most of that time. She continues to be active as a retired member and is passionate about trying to bring a European perspective to any discussion about the issues facing older people.