Angela Rayner, member of parliament for Ashton-under-Lyne and shadow secretary of state for education, was 16 when she left school with no qualifications. In the twenty years between then and winning her seat in the 2015 general election the union movement has supported her every step of the way, from when she was working in a care home through to mentoring her to be an MP.
Becoming an MP
“If it wasn’t for the TUC and the trade union movement I would never have considered standing to be a member of parliament. I still sometimes think someone’s going to tap me on the shoulder and say, “Right come on, off you pop, you’ve put on a good show but it’s not really for you!”.
“I became a shop steward when we were fighting against the privatisation of our care service. I didn’t even know what a trade union was at the time, my colleagues asked me to become their union rep and the rest is history.”
How did the trade union movement assist you?
“They took me from the girl on a council estate who thought that she wasn’t worth anything, who thought she’d let the world down by getting pregnant at sixteen and failing at school. They took me from that to a woman who feels like she can conquer the world, be something, and continue to help people and be proud of who I am. That’s what the trade union movement did for me.”
“They gave me lifelong learning. We had learner reps in the workplace that gave us opportunities.”
“I realised that if your heart is in the right place and you have strong values, if you work collectively with your colleagues, you can get things done and that’s how I ended up being elected to be the most senior representative in the region for UNISON.”
Diversity in parliament
“It’s so important to have people from different backgrounds in parliament; people that understand the humiliation of asking for help to feed your family, because it’s different to reading it and actually feeling it.”
“When I’m there, you know, my voice is quite a lonely one. There are a few more MP’s that have come through the union movement, a few more from a working class or BME background or women but not enough.”
Hopes for the future
“Critical for me, is going in to those areas where we have vulnerable workers. As a workers’ movement we have to look after every worker in the workplace.”
“I think the TUC are really leading the way, we’ve had female presidents, we’ve got Frances O’Grady as general secretary. She is not only leading but showing us all that actually you can be who you want to be.”