SCOTLAND’S leading woman trade unionist has said that women have always been at the forefront of the trade union movement, as she reflected on her own experiences as a trade unionist.

Roz Foyer, general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), spoke to The National about how her experience as a young woman entering the workforce led her to join the trade union movement.

“My story of how I ended up joining a trade union is linked to my experience of entering the workforce as a young woman,” Foyer (below) told The National.

The National: Members from various trade unions gather for a pay protest rally at the Buchanan Street steps, Glasgow. Pictured is Roz Foyer, general secretary of the STUC...Photograph by Colin Mearns.26 August 2022.

Foyer was sexually harassed by a manager in her first job, working for the civil service.

“I wasn’t part of a trade union at that point, and nobody had asked me to join the union,” she said.

“I felt that I had no option other than to leave that role and seek employment elsewhere, because it had a detrimental impact on my mental health. I was a young woman worker; I was 19 years old at that point.”

As she started working elsewhere, Foyer was introduced to a trade union rep and became actively involved in equality policies.

Now, elected as the general secretary of Scotland’s largest trade union body, Foyer reflected on her journey in the movement.


“There’s been lots of points in my trade union career where it has been really male dominated,” she said.

“There were cultural issues you came up against, and you had to become strong and be able to get your elbows out and hold your own in a way that sometimes you probably shouldn’t have to.

“I’ve seen plenty of things that I was unhappy with over the years, and it’s probably hardened me a bit and shaped me, I’ve had to be quite feisty and vocal at times to be heard and make sure that my position has been taken seriously.

“There’s been times when I’ve felt like the lone woman doing things. But on the other hand, there’s a huge sisterhood within the trade union movement.

“Women have always been at the heart of the trade union movement. From the very beginning, there have been key battles for and by women that have really pushed us forward.”

Foyer was proud that she was “not alone” in being a woman in a senior position within the trade union movement.

“Woman are a real force to be reckoned with here,” she continued.

She pointed towards women leaders in Scotland such as Mary Senior (UCU Scotland), Lilian Macer (Unison), Andrea Bradley (EIS), Louise Gilmore (GMB) and Tracy Gilbert (PCS).

“But just because we’ve got a few women in leadership roles, just because we’ve had a woman First Minister or a woman general secretary – that doesn’t matter,” Foyer added.

“What actually matters is we start to make systematic changes for all of us.”

The National: Roz Foyer, general secretary of the STUC, pictured at the STUC's new offices in Bridgeton, Glasgow
Photograph by Colin Mearns, Jan 22, 2022

Foyer believes there’s still more work to be done when it comes to intersectional gender equality.

“For every woman that feels liberated, I’ll show you women whose experience of gender is compounded by class, race, disability or sexual orientation that results in a doubling down of the discrimination that they experience in society.


“We need to get better at understanding that, and until all women feel liberated and equal, then we’ve not finished our jobs.”

She encouraged all women, particularly young women, to join the trade union movement.

“Women are disproportionately affected by low pay in the workplace, women disproportionately work in public sector roles, where their work can be undervalued,” she said.

“Unless you’re prepared to come together and fight for change, you’re not going to get it. Coming together to exercise collective power is the best way of making progress.”

The STUC Women’s Committee is organising an event to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 14.

The event aims to engage, encourage and empower trade union women to share their own experiences, and support other women to do the same.

Members can register their interest here.