Women making a difference!

Dagenham machinists on strike 1968

The film “Made In Dagenham” is one of the few images out in the public arena of what it means to be a woman trade unionist and to be involved in an industrial dispute. It is still rare to see women shown in these roles in the media . Most of the images of trade unionists are of men, usually manual workers being well…masculine and often stereotyped by the media as threatening.
Recently I was invited along to the CWU North West Regional Women’s Committee meeting. The CWU is an interesting union as its membership is a mixture of privatised industries such as British Telecom, the publicly owned Royal Mail as well 02,Orange and Santander. The CWU has 207,500 members and is a small union in comparison to my union, Unite, which is about 2 million strong.
At the meeting there were women from CWU branches across the northwest. There was also one man there, the committee does allow men to join them as representatives from branches rather than have no rep at all. It was a lively and inspiring meeting. The discussion ranged from issues regarding the internal politics of the union to the need for women to be active in their union and their workplace. Although many women are union members, its still rare to see women in the top jobs in unions so it was great that the new Vice President of the CWU, Beryl Shepherd was present.
A Geordie woman, she spoke about her experiences as a woman worker with a child (and a supportive husband) and her involvement in the union. She talked of the need for women in the CWU to challenge negativity towards them and that sometimes the best people to challenge this was the people who had faced these problems. What was inspring about the meeting was the warmth and generosity of the women, not just to each other but caring about society generally. Apart from the stresses and strains of doing two jobs at work ie their job and being a trade union representative, they were interested in the world. They discussed the welfare cuts and they had made the time during the year to collect Xmas gifts for women in refuges.
My own experience of trade unions is that their collective nature can bring out the best in us all. And that is about supporting the vulnerable in society as well as sometime being confrontational by saying that some things are just wrong. Racism, inequality, injustice, bullying are just some of the issues that trade unions have historically campaigned against and won many battles. Most of the time these things go unnoticed because all the work takes place in meetings such as the one I attended. Just another reason why everyone woman/man should not only join a union but also play an active role.

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About lipstick socialist

I am an activist and writer. My interests include women, class, culture and history. From an Irish in Britain background I am a republican and socialist. All my life I have been involved in community and trade union politics and I believe it is only through grass roots politics that we will get a better society. This is reflected in my writing, in my book Northern ReSisters Conversations with Radical Women and my involvement in the Mary Quaile Club. I am a member of the Manchester and Salford National Union of Journalists.If you want to contact me please use my gmail which is lipsticksocialist636
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3 Responses to Women making a difference!

  1. Jane LaTour says:

    Thanks for the great photo of the women machinists and the coomentary! Such a good movie and so inspiring–and as you say, progress but still women have a long way to go in the leadership of the trade union movement.

  2. Jane LaTour says:

    Thanks for the great photo of the women machinists and the commentary! Such a good movie and so inspiring–and as you say, progress but still women have a long way to go in the leadership of the trade union movement.

  3. Louise Raw says:

    It’s peculiar that people still think that trade unionist=male, and important that you’ve pointed it out. Your piece got me thinking that it’s proved a dangerous myth, as well as untrue and damned annoying.

    The movement got a right kicking because it fell for old canards: that the average member was and always would be a male manufacturing worker, women don’t make good members, they have no concept of solidarity, etc. etc.
    Then Thatcher pretty much abolishes the male manu. worker – and whoops, the movement loses 7 million members! Only then did attention really turn to recruiting the little lady.

    We need to learn the lesson of the Bryant & May matchwomen (and not just because I did a book on it, though since you ask it DOES make an ideal Valentine’s gift). They actually started the whole global-labour-movement shebang by striking in 1888. Unfortunately historians buried the importance of their role, though even tough Victorian blokes like the dockworkers were happy to admit that the matchwomen’s victory against their rotten old employers inspired everyone.

    I’m doing a lot of talks for women members at the mo and they find the story inspiring too – in fact I’m being gently pushed to organise a Matchwomen’s celebration in London next in early July year, as a huge celebration of women’s contribution to- well, everything, and to mark 125 years since the strike. I think we should try to make it a biggie: a female, London Tolpuddle (men allowed too of course!) – it’s about time. Drinking, dancing and big hats welcome. See you there?

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