From the TUC

Be empowered, I am!

12 Dec 2008, By

In the OR Team we are always looking for case studies to illustrate the work of unions and what this has meant for union members and working people. Recently I’ve been developing a guide for non-union members about the benefits of joining a union (look out for it in the New Year) and I’ve come across some cracking, inspirational stories which I wanted to share with you now. These are the stories of five women and about how the union has made them strong. There will be a new story over the next five weeks. The first of these, and in her own  words, is from Joan Wallace a UNISON activist from Surrey.

If you have a story like Joan’s, or know someone who does, and which you think would encourage others to get involved in the union movement, please let me know.


In 2002 I, as a very timid person, attended a meeting regarding Agenda for Change and at that meeting the Branch Secretary asked if there was anyone willing to help by agreeing to be a steward.  Well after much thought and being a very timid person I went and spoke to the Branch Secretary and said that I couldn’t be a steward but I could help by doing any typing that anyone needed (because that was all I felt that I could offer).  The Branch Secretary was very kind and said that any help would be gratefully received, and so the link was forged. Time went on and I attended all the meetings I was meant to and felt happy because I was usually always with the Branch Secretary who was still doing an excellent job of mentoring and I was gaining more and more confidence.  So much so, that by this time I was serving my Branch as a steward and also Education Coordinator.

I was going from strength to strength and gradually feeling brave enough to participate in more and more events in my union. I eventually ended up sitting on the Regional Health Committee and Regional Women’s Committee. I also attended Guilfest for two years supporting on the Unizone and had a great time!

During October 2006 I attended the Regional Women’s Forum in Eastbourne, again with my Branch Secretary who by this time had become my best friend.  At the Regional Forum one of the seminars was entitled Public Speaking with Confidence.  Well I could never see myself doing that – but went along anyway.  Fiona Roberts, S.E. Regional Women’s Officer was running the forum and gave tips on firstly writing down and getting clear in what you want to say and then just before speaking to breathe deeply to calm yourself and when actually speaking to fix on one area in the room and forget about all the others and speak slowly but clearly.  And yes, you’ve guessed it.  I did it!  I managed to get up and give a talk about why I wanted to start a women’s group in my branch.  The achievement felt so good.

In February 2007 and February 2008 I attended the National Women’s Conference.   These were my 2nd and 3rd time of attending but something different was occurring.  On both occasions a motion was to be moved to conference regarding a Definition of Domestic Violence. The motion was being moved by my Branch Secretary.  This was something I knew about.  I wanted to help raise awareness of how important a Definition of Domestic Violence would be to those experiencing violence and abuse on a daily basis.  I also wanted to support my friend and Branch Secretary.  So I took the bull by the horns, so to speak and decided to speak to conference.  Remembering all Fiona’s tips I managed it.  I spoke in front of possibly 2,500 people and yes a lot were in ‘high authority’ and there was even a man there!

I have blossomed into a new person all thanks to my union and the Regional Women’s Forum which has given me new found confidence, new friends and skills, and self worth. So be empowered!  It doesn’t matter how long it takes.  Everyone has a role to play and can contribute in any setting.  Go on have a go!  You will be so pleased you did.

Joan Wallace, Branch Education Coordinator, UNISON Surrey and Borders Health Branch