As the latest wave of strikes take place across the UK, the public is used to seeing a certain narrative of Trade Unions. They know that we defend workers and make a stand for decent pay, fairer working conditions and for workers to have a voice in how they are treated.
What the public don’t often see is the work that goes on behind the scenes like the hours of negotiations that never get televised. So many of the achievements of our movement are not remembered, simply because they were organised by women.
So, let’s spend some time on International Women’s Day recognising the work of women in our movement on who’s shoulders we stand. Women whose contributions and determination to stand up for workers in Wales and the world have often gone unnoticed.
Elizabeth Andrews’ motto of “educate, agitate and organise” still inspires many. She was a Trade Unionist from Hirwaun, an Internationalist and a Suffragist who was a pioneer of the Labour movement.
Elizabeth set up ‘Working women’s universities’ and gave women a chance at education beyond school. She was instrumental in improving the health of mine workers by leading the calls for pithead baths. She also led the way in advocating for Women’s pensions.
She was also responsible for the opening of the first nursery school in Wales in the Rhondda in 1938.
Thora Silverthorne from Abertillery was a Trade Unionist and nurse who co-founded the National nurses association. She highlighted the poor pay and working conditions of British nurses.
Thora travelled to Spain during the Spanish civil war and was involved in the creation of the first British hospital. Thora led a delegation that met Clement Attlee to discuss the establishment of the National Health Service and was a full time official of the Civil Service Clerical Association.
Moving on to more recent times, our Trade Union movement in Wales is led by Shavanah Taj.
As Wales TUC General Secretary during the Covid-19 pandemic she fought for workers to have access to proper PPE and worked to dismantle the structural racism that still blights our workplaces and society.
Shavanah’s work has led to a formal agreement in how Government engages with Trade Unions in Wales, meaning that workers have a seat around the table to negotiate the changes they need.
These brilliant women in our movement inspire me to never give up and to always find ways of negotiating, bargaining and making a difference.
Who inspires you? Tell us on Twitter!
Want to know more about the history of Wales’ labour movement? Take a virtual walk through this excellent online trade union history exhibition by UNISON.