Women need unions and unions need women

Author
Published date
06 Jun 2018

Whilst there is a welcome number of women general secretaries, men continue to dominate many of the senior positions within our movement.

However, the good news is, that it’s beginning to change.

Increasingly, we are a movement led by women, shaped by women, winning for women.

Today, women are more likely to belong to a union than men. Our membership is split 50:50 between men and women. And a new generation of women activists, officers and leaders is emerging.

As we celebrate our 150th anniversary we remember the women who went before us and shining through so many stories from history is the passion and commitment of women trade unionists. Pioneers like Mary McArthur who, almost a century before it became law, championed a national minimum wage. And Emma Paterson, who in the 1870s set out to establish a union in every job in which women worked. Lucy Masoud, a fire fighter is supporting colleagues and the community in the wake of the Grenfell disaster. And of course, Frances O’Grady, the daughter of a car plant worker who founded the TUC’s organising academy – and later became the first woman general secretary of the TUC.


Women need unions; and unions need women. That’s something I’ve believed ever since I first started working when I was a teenager. I’ve always been inspired by ordinary women who joined together to win a better future for themselves and their daughters.

That’s why I was proud to be able to take the Northern TUC’s 2018 women in leadership course participants to Westminster to meet the region’s parliamentarians and use it as an opportunity to raise issues affecting women across the North East including period poverty, female genital mutilation, sexual harassment and domestic violence. 

Northern TUC’s 2018 women in leadership course participants at Westminster
Northern TUC’s 2018 women in leadership course participants at Westminster

Our programme has built the capacity of women to engage in leadership roles in their unions and workplaces. Together they have been learning leadership, strategy and practical skills they can use to get where they’re going.

Advancing the cause of ordinary women today and our daughters of tomorrow is very important issue to me.

What happens in the workplace is absolutely crucial. Not just at the top – but at the bottom and in the middle too.

Our offices and factories to be places where people can balance work with other responsibilities without detriment to their careers. Not just women, but men too. So we begin to break down some of the institutional barriers that have historically held women back.

Equality and inclusively are the cornerstones of trade unionism and the workplace is a microcosm for society.

So, I am proud to say that as a movement in our 150th year are contributing to driving the equality agenda forward both inside and outside of the work environment; setting positive precedents through both individual representation and collective bargaining.