Steve Croke left school with no qualifications. Today, he’s a lead union learning rep for the Communication Workers Union (CWU) – with a degree in Trade Union and Labour Studies.
How long have you been a member of the CWU?
I joined the CWU the day I joined the Royal Mail, 28 years ago. I went from being a member, to a political officer, to a parliamentary election agent, to legal services secretary – to where I am today, the lead union learning rep – a ULR – for the South Midlands Postal Branch.
How has the CWU helped you?
I left school with no qualifications and no interest in further education. When I became political officer for my branch, I signed up to a four-week Trade Union and Labour Studies course. At the end of the first week we had to write a short essay. And I was absolutely terrified. I didn’t think I could do it but – with a bit of help – I did. And the next week, and the week after that.
After a few more courses, I applied for a degree – the CWU had accessed some government funding. I thought, “Nah, it’s not going to happen”, but I was accepted. Six years later after a lot of hard work, I had a degree. I’m the only person in my family ever to go to university. I started off believing I couldn’t write a 200-word essay and now I know there’s nothing I can’t do … if I put my mind to it.
What are you working on at the moment?
A few different things. We’re doing a driving apprenticeship with about 20 of our members. They’re learning how to drive a Royal Mail vehicle – loading and unloading vehicles, being observed while driving. When they finish, they’ll get £825 towards a licence. It’s a lot of work – but it’s worth it and people are enjoying it.
We’re also revitalising our union’s learning centres – there are three big ones in this region. The CWU has a lot of online learning resources and we’re making them more accessible to Royal Mail and Parcel Force employees – whether they’re union members or not. After all, our mantra is “learning for all”. Workplace education is also a very good recruitment tool for trade union membership.
What challenges are you facing?
Times are tough, money is always an issue. It doesn’t help that the Royal Mail is a private company now. But I believe in the power of education, and that makes me hopeful. You see, the simplest things can change someone’s life. For me, it was realising I could write a 200-word essay on Rosa Luxembourg. It’s a cliché, but it’s also true. I pass that message on to members because I want to inspire them to take a leap of faith.
What are you planning next?
I’m currently planning some accredited mental health courses. I want to offer them to members and managers because it transcends the usual trade union management issues. If we can get a lot of people trained, it’ll benefit the whole workforce.