Unison has almost one million women members, who will be an important part of the current struggle to defend our pensions.
The proposed changes will hit women hardest, since so many are working part-time to juggle caring responsibilities with work, and earning significantly less than men.
Women receive significantly less than the average public sector pension which is, in any case, hardly extravagant at £7,800 a year.
The average is £3,500 for women in the NHS and £2,700 for women in local government.
Women also make up the majority (two-thirds) of public sector workers. Thus they have been particularly hard hit by cuts and privatisations.
Jobs are going, as are terms and conditions (annual leave, sick leave, sick pay, etc).
Even where women still have jobs there has been a generalised attack on flexible working hours and supposed “perks”, such as special leave when your children are sick.
For some women these changes will make the juggling of responsibilities impossible and they will no longer be able to stay in work.
These cuts in services and income are also having a disproportionate effect on women outside the workplace.
We all know that women manage the majority of household finances. Since there’s less money around for working-class families it’s women who have to make ends meet.
Women rely more heavily on local services, and benefits, including tax credits.
Cameron’s “Big Society” relies on women stepping in to fill the gaps where the welfare state should be.
Two-thirds of the cuts made in the last budget came from women (directly or indirectly).
The strikes on 30 November are the start of a fightback in Unison and other unions nationally against the proposed pension changes.
Given all of the facts above it should be clear that women need to be central to the struggle.
We all know that any struggle needs to be under the control of the workers taking part in it.
This is especially important for women workers, since we make up by far the majority of Unison members. Unfortunately, this isn’t reflected in the leadership.
Strike committees are closer to rank and file members, which is good, but they tend to be very male-dominated.
There is not much consideration of timing or childcare, which makes it harder for people (mainly women) with caring responsibilities to attend.
If the fightback is going to succeed it will need to engage the majority of workers including women.
As socialists and trade unionists, we need to ensure that our methods of organising are fully inclusive, and that women workers and service users are fully integrated into their unions.
Women’s input is essential for victory.