08 March 2000
Union women everywhere, except the top
As trade union women meet for the first TUC Women's Conference of the century, they find themselves absent from the most senior tier of the trade union movement, according to Labour Research magazine. However, they have seen some advancement at less senior levels.
Even though women now constitute two-fifths of union members, there are no female general secretaries of unions with over 7,500 members. There are seven unions with women at the helm, but the largest of these is the 7,468-member Abbey National staff union, headed by Linda Rolph.
The position of women as union figureheads was similar in 1998 but before then there were women at the top of two middle-sized unions - garment workers' union KFAT and the AUT lecturers' union. Earlier still Brenda Dean was general secretary of the large SOGAT print union.
There is some positive news for women, however. Labour Research surveys the 10 largest unions (representing over three-quarters of TUC membership) every two years to monitor the progress of women in their structures. This time it finds that seven of the 10 unions have seen increases in the proportion of women in full-time national or regional official roles.
There have been a number of senior appointments of women in the period covered, including that of Margaret Prosser, who is now deputy general secretary of the T&G general union.
There has also been a rise, though less marked, in the proportion of women in senior lay positions, although just five of the 10 unions have as high a percentage of women on their national executives as they have in their membership.
These are mostly the same unions who have implemented rule changes to improve the female representation on their senior decision-making bodies (the T&G, the AEEU engineers' and electricians' union, the GMB general union, technical and professional union MSF and the GPMU print and paper union), indicating that "positive action" has some effect in achieving "proportionality".
Notes to editorsThe survey of the 10 largest TUC unions, comprising 78% of TUC-affiliated membership, is published in the March 2000 issue of Labour Research. The price of a single copy of the magazine is ?2.95 (?3.25 including postage).
The Labour Research Department is an independent trade union and labour movement organisation founded 88 years ago. More than 2,000 trade union organisations, including 56 national unions, representing 99% of total TUC membership are affiliated.
For further information contact Clare Ruhemann on 0171 902 9825.