John’s story: How my experience in GMB influenced my feminism and led me to join Fawcett

In the weeks following Donald Trump’s shocking victory in the US Presidential Election, Fawcett saw a surge of new members, who joined us in order to take meaningful action against gender inequality. While Trump’s win presents, in the words of our CEO Sam Smethers, ‘a real and present threat to women’s rights‘, men and women who believe in gender equality took Sam’s advice to organise rather than despair, and joined us in their droves.To build on this momentum, we’re running a series of blogs from our members, to tell us in their own words why they joined Fawcett.

John Edmonds has been a member of the Fawcett Society since 2014. Here, he tells us of his experience in the GMB trade union, and how it influenced his feminism and led him to become a member of Fawcett.

I joined Fawcett because I am a feminist. My feminism comes from my politics and was reinforced by my experience in the GMB trade union, first as a field officer and latterly as General Secretary. In workplaces up and down Britain I saw just about every type of discrimination devised by man. Even after the most overt discrimination had been dealt with, there still remained the deeply embedded prejudice that men are the doers and leaders, while women should be helpers and supporters.

When I became General Secretary, over a third of GMB’s 700,000 members were women. We changed the rules to give women greater power throughout the union. But changing the culture of male-dominated workplaces was much more difficult. Fairness meant not only paying women more, but also giving women the opportunity to be promoted into positions of power.

At its heart, equality is about power. Five years ago, I talked to Eva Tutchell, also a Fawcett Society member, about our disgust at the way the 2010 General Election had been presented. Hardly a female politician in sight; it looked like a boys’ game. So, in our book Man-Made we explain why so few women hold positions of power in Britain and how we are an 80/20 society with men holding 80% of the power.

Male dominance is very resilient. We now have a female PM but, on the benches behind her, women Tory MPs are outnumbered 4:1 by the men.

Eva and I are now writing about whether the time is right for women to make a new leap towards equality. For inspiration we have studied the votes for women campaign before the First World War and the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970s and 1980. Both demonstrate the importance of politics in achieving equality. Millicent Fawcett realised that, and the Fawcett Society must hold to that belief.

Follow in John and Eva’s footsteps and become a Fawcett member today, from as little as £1.50 per month! 

John’s book, Man-Made: Why So Few Women Are in Positions of Power, co-written with Eva Tutchell, is available now.

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John Edmonds
John Edmonds is a trade unionist and specialist in work organisation. Until 2003 John was General Secretary of the 700,000 member GMB trade union where he increased the representation of women throughout the union. He also served as TUC President. He is a Visiting Fellow at King’s College, London, studying labour markets and gender equality.

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