After an amazing first couple of days to the TUC Women in Leadership course, we met again for day 3 and 4 of the course – this time in Newcastle airport, to board a plane to Brussels.
After a comfortable short flight, we arrived in Brussels and headed to the ETUC (European Trade Union Confederation) building. We had a lovely lunch waiting for us, and once we were settled we began by refreshing ourselves on what we had learnt and discussing what we hoped to get out of the couple of days we were there.
Elena Crasta, Chida King and Cinzia Sechi joined us over the course of the afternoon, giving us a variety of presentations, speeches and Q&A sessions on things such as Brexit, ITUC gender policy, ETUC gender policy and what we can do back home to support women in trade unions. We touched on some statistics of female involvement in trade unions and looked at the reasons for higher or lower participation in different areas of the world – very interesting stuff.
The next day was our trip to the European Parliament. The architecture and area was stunning, but seeing the UK flag included in the row of all EU countries brought a bit of a poignant feeling to the group, as it won’t be long before our flag won’t sit there. Once we made it through security, we were met by a civil servant who gave us a very thorough and interesting presentation on how EU parliament operates. The most interesting part for me was hearing about why the MEPs are required to also meet in Strasbourg, and the history behind that.
Our Northern MEP Jude Kirton-Darling then came to meet us and I was surprised to hear how much they actually do for us. I’d never really looked into it before, as my personal politics tend to focus on local and national issues and it was eye-opening to see how our MEPs actually interlink with those things.
We finished with a visit to the demi-circle, and an explanation of where everybody sits and how voting works. The experience was invaluable to me, I learnt so much and came away with fresh motivation to fight for workers’ rights to be enshrined in UK law in preparation for our leaving the European Union.