A Lady in the Lords

A Lady in the Lords,

from a Housing Estate

There I was working with people with university degrees, and me from a housing estate.   ” I’ve always been from a housing estate.”   says Baroness Prosser.  “It was a shocking eye-opener. There were children thrown out of school, housing estates due to be pulled down, dysfunctional families.   I had lived on housing estates, but I had never realized that people like that existed. “

Baroness Prosser of Battersea

Deputy Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and a  former trade unionist she is particularly interested in work, equalities and equal pay.   Now in the Lords, Margaret Prosser is still working for peoples’ entitlement :

“The right to have equality of opportunity, not necessarily equal  outcomes, but an opportunity to fulfill your capacity. And of course it has implications for your responsibilities.”

“My husband was suddenly in a wheel chair and we were very young, we were poor, but we were the deserving poor.     I was involved with the Community Development Project, campaigning to get  Southwark to open a day centre for young people with disabilities, because he was young, we both were young, and they only had day care for geriatrics.”

It makes me smile, but the community development people asked me to come in and cover at lunch time, because I knew so much about entitlement and benefits; and they paid me £4 a week, that was the most they could pay me without me loss of benefits.”

Amy Johnson the pilot, was my role model when I was young.    I didn’t even perceive her as a woman holding her own in a man’s world.  I saw her as daring and brave and prepared.  Amy deserved a big bit of applause really”.

Martin Luther King was important: “Because of his pride; not taking it laying down, but also not showing off, just proper.  He had no-one to stand up for him, and yet he remained proud and proper in he those circumstances and at no time did he lose it.”

 The Women Sewing Machinists at Ford Motors Dagenham In 1968  their strike launched the battle for equal pay.   The baroness admires them “ in the face of not a great deal of support, they  thought this is bloody unfair and stuck to their guns. In fact they had to challenge it twice as a result of the European Union making another claim possible: the concept of equal value”

The worst time in my life was making Xmas decorations. Tinsel everywhere and still in the carpet the following July.   “To be so hard up, and the tinsel and it’s so depressing.  Unable to feel joyful about life.   Others could afford things, and I couldn’t tell the children why we couldn’t afford things.  I like to be positive and energetic and get on with life. What kept me going was my kids.

The most memorable, most surprising was the period with the union 20 years

But in the TNG (Transport and General Workers’ Union now Unite), you’re on your own. They didn’t know about management skills or training.  Almost immediately the largest group  of workers for whom I was responsible had come out on strike.

“I didn’t know what I was doing, I had no-body to talk to. No one to stand in the corner and have a tantrum with!”

However, in June 1983 Marie Paterson, one of the top union officials decided to leave office, and since the union had so few women, there were only 4 women out of 400 paid officials, I applied.

So to be a national officer, promoted without training, was amazing.

“I was astonished by my meteoric rise ,scrambling about, TUC general council and Madrid,

Wonderful years, 20 wonderful years”

The Peers I most admire are   Baroness Joyce Gould who continues to commit to the right thing.  She is not pushy or interfering. She is also really knowledgeable.    Adair Turner who was director of CBI until 1999.  He was appointed chair of low pay and pensions.  One of the cleverest people from Merrill Lynch, a man who would not naturally have been an expert on low pay, yet he really got his head around it, and his heart. He is very self effacing considering he is such a ‘big biscuit’.

Advice for young people

 First,  “when you close your eyes at night, to be true to what you think is right!”

Secondly “Hard work; yes, you get your stroke of luck, but you must work it all out.

Hard work, make your own luck.    You can have all the luck in the world, but you must step up to the plate.”

Finally like Martin Luther King, you must have confidence in yourself.

The Baroness’ story seems even more relevant today, being the deserving poor, and then rising to represent workers, and to speak for Equal Pay, and Human Rights, all of which are under threat today.

©2013 christrainers

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