Enhancing Trade Union Skills and Finding Your Voice

On Saturday 20th September, women from trade unions across Scotland were welcomed to the Golden Jubilee Conference Hotel to engage in the first STUC Women’s Weekend School since the start of the pandemic. The purpose of the two-day residential was to help women learn new skills, encourage participation, build confidence, and find their voice within their trade union.

After registration on the first day, Fiona Steele, STUC Women’s Committee Chair, welcomed everyone and introduced the tutors. Each delegate was assigned to a group so that the learning could begin in small break out groups. The learning environment was informal and light-hearted, but this did not water down the meaty content.

Saturday morning saw us getting to grips with the mechanics of a trade union conference, building our understanding and confidence to participate. Many can relate to this; it can be difficult to take in what is being discussed at a conference if some of the terminology goes over your head. It can be daunting to ask questions, but the small group arrangement provided a safe space to seek clarification and reassurance, in the knowledge that ‘there are no daft questions’. We received a wealth of relevant knowledge from well-equipped, experienced tutors and peers.

Once we had demystified the terminology, it was time to prepare for the mock conference. We spent some time in our groups agreeing and writing a group motion before submitting it to the Standing Orders Committee for approval. We returned to the main room for a plenary session to give us hints and tips about public speaking and what makes a good speech. The school element closed after each group had a delegation meeting to make final preparations for the next day’s mock conference.

A full day but it wasn’t all business and no fun! After the hard work, we mingled, chatted, and made connections. In the evening we enjoyed a lovely meal together before dancing and singing to our favourite songs. Meeting new friends was one of the highlights of the weekend.

Day two dawned. Blissful trepidation is all we can say. A test of knowledge. This was where the art of public speaking was put to the test. Theory and practice blended. Pounding hearts and sweaty palms diminished as women representing different unions took to the stage to move motions for debate. The atmosphere was electric, the utter pride and support for one another was palpable, our faces lit up with smiles and the room filled with laughter and applause.

We used humour as an outlet for debating serious topics to ensure that the weekend wasn’t too mentally exhausting. The main themes included:

  • Highlighting women’s health priorities (mental health, domestic abuse, sexual harassment and the menopause)
  • The Gender Pay Gap
  • Automation

The event finally came to a close, with the Chair thanking everyone for their contributions over the weekend. Each delegate was presented with a STUC suffragette badge. And after hugs and group photographs, we reluctantly dispersed to our various localities across Scotland, ready to use our newfound confidence -and voice – within our trade unions and beyond.

Jacqui MacKenzie
North Ayrshire Local Association Secretary

Jacqueline Fitzpatrick
ESOL Lecturer, Glasgow Kelvin College

Lynn Davis
Sociology Lecturer, Fife College

Women representing different unions took to the stage to move motions for debate. The atmosphere was electric, the utter pride and support for one another was palpable