The social construction of women's trade union participation : the role of women-only courses in MSF and TGWU
Women have struggled for more than a century for equality within trade unions and various forms of separate organising have played a central role in achieving incremental gendered transformation of internal structures and hierarchies. Despite huge advances, the goal of gender equality or democracy has not been fully realised in 2003; hence women's separate organising remains an important strategic vehicle through which union women are able to access the necessary power resources to continue their struggle. This thesis provides an original, in-depth exploration of the impact and influence on union women of one form of separate organising, namely women-only courses, in two large, male-dominated trade unions. It contributes to the growing body of feminist industrial relations literature concerned with women's under-representation in union structures. The thesis establishes the link between a significant, but under-researched area of union activity - union education - with the debates surrounding gender democracy, by showing the enormous impact women-only courses have on participants, their gender and union identities and their union careers. With its primary focus on a group of union women, rather than on a union structure, the study also produces important methodological insights for industrial relations research. By taking a qualitative, multi-method, case study approach within a feminist paradigm, the thesis investigates the women's routes to participation and involvement, their perceptions and experiences of women-only courses and the unfolding of their union careers over time. In so doing it engages with contemporary debates surrounding women's lesser participation in the structures and processes of union democracy, the gendered barriers to union involvement, the role and utility of women's separate organising. Importantly, it also offers insights into the myriad ways in which women use their personal agency to surmount such barriers and navigate a union career.