Baroness Margaret Prosser of Battersea reflects on career in new book
The journey from a run-down council estate to the hallowed halls of the House of Lords is not a well-trodden path.
But Baroness Margaret Prosser of Battersea has done exactly that, working her way from her humble roots in Tooting to become a peer truly deserving of her title.
Her new autobioghraphy, Your Seat is at the End, tells the tale of how she achieved this while working against a backdrop of sexism in high-profile roles in the Trades Union Congress (TUC).
The book, which has been co-written with Greg Watts, begins with the Baroness reminiscing about her childhood in Coteford Street, Tooting.
Scenes depict a working-class childhood in the 1930's buying eggs from Tooting Market and being schooled at St Boniface Primary School, in Undine Street.
Air-raid sirens were common when World War II hit South London, with Baroness Prosser and her friends making grottoes among the bomb debris in Franciscan Road.
When she was older the family were moved to a house in Wrythe Lane, Carshalton, with Baroness Prosser securing a scholarship at St Philomena's School.
But at the age of 15 she quit her studies and married young. Disaster struck a few years later when her husband became paralysed at the age of 29.
Stuck living in Somerset Estate, Battersea, with three children, she did not give up hope and campaigned for the creation of services for young disabled people.
She said: "We had a really good social worker who introduced me to some people who were campaigning locally, campaigning to get a special day centre for young and disabled people in the London borough of Southwark.
"That was successful. It sort of introduced me to the fact that if you wanted something to happen you have to get the politics of it going, because it was all political at the end of the day.
"I got a recognition that council politics and all of that was very important so I joined the Labour Party at that stage in 1971."
Following the campaign she got her first job as organiser of the centre, moving on to work at a law centre and then joining the Transport and General Workers' Union (T&G).
Before she knew it she was on the women's advisory committee at a national level, but was faced with sexism when working as a national organiser.
The title of the book, Your Seat is at the End, refers to how her fellow colleagues treated her during union meetings.
She said: "The title was taken from a conference at the confederation of all these blokes who worked at big engineering plants and shipyards.
"The leader of the whole delegation, Tom Crispin, he said morning Margaret - your seat is at the end. But that was the attitude, put women away."
She went on to have the last laugh, progressing further than he could dream of and eventually becoming president of the TUC in 1995.
She was made a baroness in 2004. Then she became chairwoman of the Women’s National Commission and travelled the world campaigning for the rights of women internationally, even facing tear-gas when demonstrating in Chile.
Looking back to her 20s she said politics would never have crossed her mind back then.
She said: "I only became interested in politics because of what happened to my husband and saw how politics effected people's lives - it wasn't until then.
"I've always thought that women didn't get a fair shout, I've seen from society women weren't taken seriously.
"But I really didn't have the background or knowledge to put it into any context at the time."
Despite her success and the high offices she has held she sometimes she gets picked up on for her South London accent.
One viewer of the Today programme even went out of his way to send her a postcard telling her off for her poor dialect.
Reflecting on her title of Baroness of Battersea, she said she can imagine her father lighting a cigarette up in heaven and being very proud of her.
The campaigner is unsure of how the book will be received, but was pleased with the foreword by her friend Tony Blair.
In it he writes: "Margaret was one of the most remarkable people I came across in politics.
"This is a great book for anyone who thinks life has dealt them an impossible hand. Margaret shows how the impossible became possible."
She said: "I really hope it will encourage women in particular who feel that they're stuck.
"If you keep on going, if you work hard and you make sure you are a bit indispensable...they can see that you are helpful that you have got value in some ways."
Visit amazon.co.uk/Your-Seat-End-My-Story to purchase the book online.
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