Remember Rosie

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Next time you are walking down Clarendon Street take time to glance at the plaque beside the Unison front door, Inez McCormack writes.

It says the offices were opened by a Unison National Officer and “Rosie Carlin – home help”. Rosie died last week. I only just heard as I have been away.

Rosie was a tiny, quiet, determined and gentle woman.

Over 30 years ago she fought for the dignity and rights of the invisible women who cared for the ill and elderly in their homes.

She fought for their rights in the middle of a war and the brutality of a Thatcher dogma that declared there was ‘no such thing as society’.

The rights of women like Rosie were at the bottom of every trade union, political and health care agenda. They were paid the equivalent of 30 pence an hour and were treated as skivvies without rights.

She was told it was the wrong time for change. She did, what women I have met all over the world do and ignored the doctrine of ‘unripe time’.

She understood what that meant was the powerless should wait, because their voices were not at any of the decision making tables Rosie didn’t wait.

I remember being with her one evening many years ago at a home help meeting in the ‘Corned Beef Tin” – the name given to a rackety community hall in the Creggan.

There was shooting and rioting going on outside. Rosie had persuaded home helps to come to the meeting to join the union and campaign for their rights.

I remember her ignoring the mayhem outside and quietly signing them up in the union and arranging another meeting to get the campaign off the ground.

That was the start of it. To begin with there was Rosie and a few others. Now there are thousands in the union.

Rosie didn’t want recognition or publicity. She did what she thought was right.

Like many women who fight wrong all over the world, the only affirmation she sought was that of her own conscience.

She was astonished when we asked her to open the office but pleased when her very proud grandson brought her to the opening.

When everyone said it wasn’t possible she and other home helps in Derry, fought wrong, won rights as workers and protected those they looked after. .

But every victory has to be fought for again and again.

New generations in Derry are fighting the battles against cuts and the sophisticated political arguments that really mean the most powerless should pay the greatest cost.

Remember Rosie.

Inez McCormack is an internationally acclaimed women, human rights and trade union activist living in Derry. She is a former President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and NI Unison Regional Secretary.