A woman's place is in her trade union
18 January 2021
In November/December 2020 Unite the Union offered significant financial support for the community campaign Every One Eats which many in this constituency Labour Party (CLP) also supported both in the campaign and financially.
It was good to see that thanks largely to the national campaign of Marcus Rashford – but also of smaller local groups like this one – the government did another of its U-turns and eligible Erewash children were issued with food vouchers for the Christmas holidays and should receive the same for February half term and Easter.
As a departure from tradition, as part of my Trade Union Liaison Officer (TULO) officer reports I will profile some significant and under-celebrated trade unionists. This time WOMEN – courtesy of Claire Mullaly who wrote this piece (edited by me) for the TUC in June 2018.
A woman’s place is in her trade union
The average trade union member is a woman
The face of trade unionism is changing – the average British trade union member is a 40 something, degree-educated, white woman working in the professions. Women now outnumber men, and we have the first female General Secretary of the TUC – Frances O’Grady. Senior leadership in unions is still generally male-dominated, for now.
It is time for women to get active in their unions, to recognise that the unions belong to them and to use the strength of the union movement to push agendas on women’s issues from abortion rights in Northern Ireland to the gender pay gap across the UK. In modern trade unions, the equality structures are already there, intersectionality is recognised, and the political influence is already there.
A senior trade unionist in the trades union congress (TUC) – Becky Wright said “When I was 19, I was asked if I’d thought about joining a union. I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant. They said, ‘Do you want to learn how to be a campaigner?’ And I thought, ‘Yes I do’”. We are trade unionists because we want change so we should use every tool in the armoury to achieve it.
Women make a different in the trade union movement
‘Made In Dagenham’ depicted the Ford sewing machinists’ strike of 1968. This landmark labour-relations dispute was a catalyst for the Equal Pay Act 1970, and there are plenty of more recent examples of union wins with women at the centre. Think of USDAW’s Freedom from Fear anti-violence campaign for shop workers, Aslefs toilets for train drivers campaign, Unite’s breastfeeding at work campaign and Prospect Union’s newly voted upon menopause policy.
95% of the teaching assistants taking action against pay cuts of up to 25% are women. Female hospital workers, cleaners and catering staff took on the multinational private contractor Aramark in an NHS Trust. Two Ecuadorian cleaners who were members of the United Women of the World Union, launched the campaign against Philip Green’s Topshop for a living wage. Trade unions are a vital mechanism for the powerless to get their voices heard.
Professor Geraldine Healy of the University of London conducted a two-year study of 130 women trade union leaders in the US and Britain. She found that women union leaders have a strong sense of social justice and accountability. Many articulated the need for women to work collaboratively, to build consensus from the bottom up and to help others. One female trade union leader in the study used the phrase made popular by American activist Angela Davis, saying the aim for a woman trade union leader should be to “lift as you rise”. Because a woman’s place is in her trade union, owning her trade union and leading her trade union.
As always, we remind all members of the close links between the Labour Party and the trade union (TU) movement and would ask that all members of the CLP also ensure they are members of a trade union (community membership available for non-wage earners). Find your TU here.
Blog post published by Diane Fletcher, in her capacity as Erewash Labour constituency Trade Union Liaison Officer. Photo taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
All opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and are not official Labour Party policy.