On 9 February, Lord John Hendy QC, a barrister who has spent his career working in industrial relations and employment law, spoke to students on CONEL’s TUC Contemporary Trade Unionism course.

A champion of the trade union movement and acknowledged as one of the country’s leading experts in UK labour law, Lord Hendy is counsel to a number of trade unions and has been involved in countless high-profile cases, from the Leveson inquiry and the Ladbroke Grove Train Crash inquiry of 1999, to the Grenfell Tower inquiry. He was made a peer in 2019.

Barry James, a student on the course, has written this interesting blog about Lord Hendy’s career and his talk to the students.

An evening with John Hendy QC

My name is Barry James and I am studying TUC Contemporary Trade Unionism at CONEL.

I worked on London Underground for just under 14 years as a frontline worker and was an industrial relations rep for the Transport Salaried Staff Association (TSSA) throughout most of that time. From the very start the addictive nature of trade unionism soon led me down many different avenues within the movement and ultimately I left the underground in 2019 to work with the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, then for Jeremy Corbyn when he was Labour leader, and finally my current role as a Constituency Support Officer for the former GMB official and current Luton North MP, Sarah Owen. It has also inspired me to stand for TSSA President in which I am currently in the middle of campaigning for.

This course has focussed my attention and has given me knowledge of the incredible and mostly unheard history of trade unionism in this country. The sort of things school history books don’t tell you about but should. This, along with the modern interpretation and philosophical debate included in the course has given me a real grounding and understanding of the movement I currently work in and love. It certainly helps that it is presented by an erudite tutor and attended by passionate students from a variety of industries.

I was lucky enough to have come across Lord John Hendy QC during my time with the Leader of the Opposition’s office while Labour were formulating their policy around workers’ rights. John is Chair of the Institute of Employment Rights. He is a barrister in Old Square Chambers, London and is standing counsel to eight unions: ASLEF, CWU, NUJ, NUM, POA, RMT, UCU, and UNITE. He is also President of the International Centre for Trade Union Rights (ICTUR) and a Vice-President of the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom. He is an honorary professor at University College, London.

n 2019 he was made a peer by then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. He has previously represented groups and individuals from the miners and the NUM during the strikes of the 1980s, the NUJ and victims of phone hacking at the Leveson enquiry, and currently the former residents of Grenfell Tower, amongst many other groups.

On 9th February, he kindly came and spoke during our lecture about the current state of the trade unions, employment rights, and his life experiences as a barrister of over 40 years. He spoke about:

  • The methods used by unscrupulous employers within the gig economy;
  • Attacks on trade unions such as the 2016 Trade Union Act;
  • Issues such as blacklisting and institutional racism;
  • The deliberate and damaging underfunding of trade union education and its generational effect on the future of trade unions;
  • The future of trade unions including a lot of praise for the new grassroots unions such as United Voices of the World (UVW) and the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB);
  • His experience of Parliament and the lack of trade unionists within it and the difficulties he had faced from MPs and peers who did not share the same values and ideals as him.

Rachel, a fellow student, Tesco worker and USDAW rep, had this to say:

“Thanks for arranging with your colleagues for us to hear John, if labour law interested me before this course, it fascinates me now. How all this fits into the day job and the wider context of social, economic and political spheres. Feel like I am at the start of a journey which I wish I had started about 30 years ago!”

I would like to thank John for coming and it was a real privilege to hear such a giant of the social justice movement speak and I left the lecture invigorated and inspired. Thank you also to Dave Smith and the other tutors who brought him in. Courses such as mine are essential in providing inspiration for future trade unionists.

Barry James

An aspiring rail engineer has told how his apprenticeship has helped him manage his dyspraxia.

Chris Redshaw is undertaking an apprenticeship with engineering giant Bombardier at the London Rail Academy based at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL).

The 19-year-old, from Sittingbourne, Kent, was diagnosed with dyspraxia, a neurological condition that affects physical co-ordination and social skills, when he was at secondary school.

“My training has actually helped me to overcome and manage it,” said Chris, when asked about how dyspraxia had impacted on his apprenticeship.

“When I first started my apprenticeship, I would take longer than others to do things and perform certain tasks. I had trouble keeping up and would often fall behind. At CONEL and at Bombardier I have always felt supported and my timekeeping and organisation has improved significantly.”

Chris’s enthusiasm for trains and railways goes back to when he was a young boy, and in his early teens he began volunteering on the East Kent Railway Trust heritage railway.

He said: “I have always I wanted to pursue a career in rail. Railways are very complex and it has always fascinated me at how it all works together. My voluntary work on the East Kent Railway also inspired me. I got to see first-hand what it takes to keep trains running.”

Chris completed a Rail Engineering Level 2 Apprenticeship with Bombardier and now works for the company as Maintenance Assistant while undertaking a Level 3 apprenticeship.

He was named the National Training Academy for Rail’s Apprentice of the Year in 2018 and has been an ambassador for Young Rail Professionals for the past three and a half years.

Chris said: “I have learnt so much at Bombardier – how trains, depots and railways operate, how to perform safety work, plan maintenance, carry out inspections, find faults and exchange components.

“CONEL has all the tools, equipment and materials you need. They have parts and components from real trains like bogies and engines to take apart and reassemble, and the tutors are always there if any help is needed.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has not derailed Chris’s appetite for learning and a career in rail engineering.

He said: “Learning in lockdown has been challenging. I would much rather be in college, but learning through classes on Microsoft Teams has been good and not too different.”

Chris is a huge advocate for apprenticeships as a way into work and the benefit of being employed by a company and earning money while gaining skills.

“Rail is a great industry to work in. Trains will always need to be maintained and kept running so the industry will always need new talent,” he said.

“Even if you have no previous engineering experience, you can learn the required skills on an apprenticeship. Unlike university you are being paid to learn, not paying to learn.

“I applied for my apprenticeship as soon as I left school and it was the best decision I ever made.” Click here for more information on Rail Engineering apprenticeships.

Click here for more information on Rail Engineering apprenticeships.