chapter  1
13 Pages

Introduction

WithGERALDINE HEALY, GILL KIRTON

In some ways we [US and UK women trade union leaders and activists] are similar; how we started off in the workplace, different problems we encountered. So in many ways we are similar and they have been through the same things. (Post-exchange focus group, UK)

My experience was a very deep desire to keep connections with women in the UK . . . our intention in our local is to bring some of that sisterhood here and . . . expose other women in our local to that expansive view of the world because it was noted in the conference we attended today that we have got to stop thinking about the labour movement being an American movement. If we do not begin to understand that we are representing workers all over the globe, then we are losing the battle. (Post-exchange focus group, USA)

When I took the trip [to London], I was very naive, I had no idea, about women and all that and every day since London has been a learning experience and you see it now in a different aspect. (Post-exchange focus group, USA)

The above quotations refl ect some of the thoughts of British and US participants in a women and union leadership development exchange programme that we organized as part of the research project on which this book is based. The quotations illustrate the personal, the political and the global thoughts that the exchange generated. This book is about that exchange, but it is about much more. It aims to provide a comparative in-depth study of women’s union leadership in the UK and the USA. We wanted to provide insights into the barriers standing in the way of women’s progression into union leadership, but we also wanted to identify strategies and practices that women had found enabling. Ultimately, we wanted to stimulate a debate among American and British women union activists, leaders and scholars that could generate creative and innovative collective and individual ideas and practices that might over time enable more women to access leadership. It is important to note that we do not see increasing women’s participation

in union leadership as an end in itself, but rather as a vehicle for increasing unions’ capacity to improve women’s working lives globally.