This paper explores the impact of the decision by the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) in 1975 to revise its constitution to include elected reserved seats for women on its executive and other bodies. The analysis is situated within the context of women’s employment and trade-union representation in the UK at the time. Reserved seats for women were part of a wider restructuring of NUPE intended to extend democracy, incorporate the emergent system of shop stewards formally into its structure and government, provide for more effective representation and mobilization of different sections of members, and increase the accountability of full-time officials to lay members and their representatives.
The initiative was successful; and although women’s participation in NUPE did increase, this was uneven. This was not entirely unexpected given the limited change initiated in just one haltingly democratizing trade union and the wider social and economic forces that constrain women.