The Open University in Scotland, together with The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) and Scottish Union Learning have developed a collection of learning materials in relation to the role of women in Scottish railway history, highlighting in particular the contribution of railway women to trade union struggles within the industry. RMT Scotland student learners came together with dedicated Open University tutors to create an online learning resource to celebrate the achievements and struggles of women members working within the rail industry in Scotland, for the period starting around 1900 until the present day.
The role of women in Scottish Trade Unions, and in the wider Scottish Labour Movement since the mid to late 19th Century, has been under-researched in important respects. While important work has been done, much remains to be uncovered, not least in relation to women’s role in the railways in Scotland and, in particular, in relation to their role in the National Union of Railwaymen (and women!) and latterly the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union and as trade union activists involved in struggles of many and varied kinds. We are seeking to uncover important aspects of this hidden past, and hopefully in the process will establish firm foundations for further work in this field in the years to come.
Susan Stewart, Director, OU Scotland:
“This great new free resource in OpenLearn helps shine a light on the often-hidden struggles women have faced in the workplace. It has been made richer through our collaboration with Scottish Union Learning by unlocking stories, experiences and perspectives from trade union activists across Scotland.
“The collection is particularly powerful because each article comes from either the lived experience of the author, a particular work or political interest, or a personal role within a strike or dispute. These are voices that should be heard.”
Mick Lynch, General Secretary, National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT):“I’m delighted to see this collection of powerful personal testimonies and stories from RMT members in Scotland.
“This partnership with The Open University has not only filled gaps in our existing knowledge of the role of women in railway trade unionism but given a number of women members the skills and confidence to pursue other learning opportunities with the OU. I hope that this will lead to further collaborations of this kind. Well done to all involved in this exciting project.”
Jim Gray, Secretary, RMT Scottish Regional Council:
“The RMT Scottish Regional Council were in full support of this initiative organised by the RMT Learning Organiser Dennis Fallen with funding from Scottish Union Learning in coalition with The Open University and OpenLearn.
“The Regional Council was proud to fund this initiative through organising and paying for a unique designed polo shirt for our Sisters who gave up their free time to study online and deliver historical documentation of the history of women in Scotland’s railway.”
Curating the collection
This collection of learning materials was produced in 2021-2022 by a team of RMT women members in Scotland. With the support of RMT Learning Scotland and funding from Scottish Union Learning, tutors from The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at The Open University in Scotland supported the group through a series of interactive workshops aimed at enhancing writing skills, researching the past and editing and presenting learning materials. Each article in the collection represents the end product of this learning experience.
"This is a heartfelt collection of trade union activities highlighting that it is through storytelling that we share with each other and with future generations how we challenged inequities within the workplace.
"We continue to build on this project and are particularly keen to hear from those who have been involved in struggles around issues such as pay and fairness at work, defending jobs as well as campaigns, disputes and strikes to defend or improve workplace conditions. We are interested to hear from across all sectors of the economy and from every locality in Scotland.” Khadija Patel, Partnerships Manager, OU in Scotland.
“Far reaching social, economic, cultural and political changes over the last 120 years contribute to the discrimination that women have faced, and this continues right up to the present day when austerity polices and the Covid pandemic have impacted more on women.
“The Women and Workplace Struggles collection provides vital social context as we continue to tackle discrimination. There is still today a significant gender pay gap in Scotland with women often less well-paid, in temporary, part-time and or casualised roles.” Suzi Collins, OU Associate Lecturer in Social Science and author.
Other related collections
As with this collection, the Women and Workplace Struggles collection contains a rich array of articles, interviews, video materials and accounts of the role of women in workplaces disputes, strikes and struggles more generally across many different sectors of Scottish industry and society. Covering a century and more of workplace-based conflict from across Scotland, it seeks to provide a resource that can be used by generations of trade union members, labour movement activists, researchers and academics.
Women and Workplace Struggles: Scotland 1900-2022
The Red Clydeside Collection was produced in part to commemorate one of the key events that took place during the Red Clydeside period, the Battle of George Square, Glasgow, January 1919. On January 31 2019, The Open University in Scotland, with the support of Glasgow City Council, Scottish Union Learning, the Scottish Labour History Society and trade union members and activists, came together in George Square to mark the centenary of the Battle and the launch of the collection which sought to bring together many of the existing resources and learning materials that have been generated in relation to the event as well as well as introducing newly author materials.