Women united to achieve
Ruth Elliott - COHSE Education
By Richard Ross
Wednesday 17 February 1999
There are still too few women in senior positions within the trade union movement. That there are any owes a lot to Ruth Elliott, who has died aged 50. She spent most of her working life in trade union education, for 12 years with the TUC and then with Cohse (now part of Unison).
She was one of a group who saw trade-union education as the life blood of unions, and believed that it should be for all - members, shop stewards and officers. In particular, she set up courses to help tackle discrimination, and courses for women unionists taught by women tutors. Inside and outside the TUC, she had to battle to establish these courses in a male-dominated union world. Ruth was an inspiration to a whole generation who carried her ideas forward, so that many now seem mainstream.
Many people who come on union courses have few educational qualifications, and Ruth had a rare talent for devising innovative methods to awaken and stimulate their desire for learning. An excellent tutor herself, she also knew how to write materials that could be used by tutors throughout the country as part of the TUC's national programme of union education. Some of the TUC's first and most exciting educational publications sprang from her initiatives. Ruth lived most of her life in London, where she was active in union branches and trades councils, in community groups and in socialist feminist politics. She was part of a network of women trade unionists who offered each other support; there were, as one recalls, 'laughter and parties'. Ruth was born in Hull and educated at Newland High School, at King's College, London and at Chelsea College, where she met her future husband, David Elliott. (They eventually divorced amicably.) She worked at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, where she was encouraged to undertake research and, as a result, completed a PhD at the London School of Economics. Ruth joined the TUC in 1975, leaving to join Cohse in 1986.
She started a Research Fellowship at Warwick University in 1989, but became too ill with ME to complete it. Accustomed to being in control of her life, she searched for an effective treatment for herself and others. Sustenance came from books and music - she was a good cellist and pianist. Used to supporting others, she valued the support she received from friends and family. Despite being unable to work, she remained politically aware and intellectually curious, and was a constant source of advice and inspiration.