So this International Women’s Day, I’d like to call on women to protect their interests in the workplace and join the trade union relevant to their workplace. Join up with your colleagues and create a force so strong that no employer can treat you unfairly or take you for granted.
When writing about trade unionism for International Women’s Day was first suggested to me, I immediately dismissed it as I often feel like a fraud when I talk about trade unionism. I came to trade unionism through the Labour Party – whereas for many it is through their trade union activity that they get involved in the Labour Party.
It often feels like trade unionism isn’t for women like me. Educated to degree level, working in Parliament, a decent income, living in the greatest city in the world – do I even need representation in the workplace? I’ve been a member of a couple of trade unions due to change of workplaces. I was my branch youth officer in my first one, and I do my best to attend the meetings at my current workplace.
But sometimes I feel a bit like a fraud. I feel like this because I question whether my voice is really one of those facing the biggest problems in our modern day workplaces, and this thought pushes me to the sidelines to let others lead the way. But the more I think about it, trade unionism is for everyone, including women.
I’ve been a dinner lady. A waitress. A cashier. I’ve been a receptionist, a community organiser, a tour guide, and a researcher. I have worked on minimum wage. I’ve juggled multiple jobs to make ends meet. I’ve been on a shift where the rota says I finish at midnight, but management made me stay until 2 in the morning, long after the buses had stopped running. I was denied a proper break, and I’ve experienced team meetings being categorised as my lunchtime. I’ve experienced unfairness and bad practice in the workplace – but I felt like my voice was too small to change anything. And now that I’ve found my voice, I wonder if I’m getting involved in a cause that isn’t for me.
I am proud that my union branch has been so loud and involved in Parliament’s handling of the numerous harassment allegations that have come out in recent months. But my experience of trade unions in general is that they seem to be overly male. Through my work and activism in the Labour Party, I meet many union reps – and they’re overwhelmingly male. Perhaps unions tend to be very strong in workplaces with a greater focus on manual labour, and these are often filled with men. That’s just how things have fallen – but just because you may have a desk job or work in the public sector, it does not mean that your employer can be carrying out bad and harmful workplace practices.
Our workforce, and our trade unions, should be reflective of society as represent the voice of those who most need a trade union and the Labour Party. The latter to tackle legislation and improve the national position on workplaces, but the former to be on the ground demonstrating solidarity and defending those who have been victims of injustice in the workplace. That means women too.
So this International Women’s Day, I’d like to call on women to protect their interests in the workplace and join the trade union relevant to their workplace. Join up with your colleagues and create a force so strong that no employer can treat you unfairly or take you for granted. Be a good comrade, speak up when there is injustice, because we genuinely are stronger together. We really do achieve more together than we do alone.
Kerri Prince is a Young Fabian member. Follow her on Twitter at @_kerriprince