From a report by Pauline Bradley
About 320 delegates, from all the major unions and some of the smaller ones, attended the Women’s TUC Conference this year.
Only a few motions caused any contention. One on “Artistic freedom of expression” proposed by Equity, which raised concerns about the cancellation of the play Behzti, depicting a rape in a Sikh temple, caused a discussion. There were several good motions on pensions and equal pay (which were what we sung about at the social!) and a good one on trafficked women and children too.
We were graced with the presence of Tessa Jowell MP, who has tried to use International Women’s Week to win back public confidence by making the most of her feminist credentials (she’s separated from her husband you know!) Delegates listened politely but were clearly not impressed. Other guest speakers included Brendan Barber and Gloria Mills from the TUC, Norma Stephenson from the Labour Party — and, more interestingly, five women from the Iraqi and Kurdish trade unions.
Composite 5 from the CWU, about equality structures, passed where it had fallen last year. I like to think that the song I helped the CWU delegation write about it played some small role in this victory!
The motion on International Women’s Day, this year proposed by the RMT, called for the General Council to organise an annual demonstration. If it is properly built for, this demonstration will be something to look forward to. The motion also called for repeal of the anti-trade union laws, defence of women’s pensions, closing the gender pay gap, better childcare and family friendly working, solidarity with women workers against sweatshops and defence and extension of abortion rights.
For the last year, the TUC has been working with the Iraqi Workers’ Federation to organise a delegation to the UK. Due to the stupidity of the immigration service, the women could only come for a week, so it was a packed one. The delegation included members of Iraqi and Kurdish general, journalists’, oil and gas and printing unions.
The Iraqi and Kurdish comrades spoke under the repression and murder their families had experienced under Saddam, and about reactionary traditions such as “honour killings” which still oppress women in Kurdistan despite laws against them, and are that much worse in the rest of Iraq. They also spoke about campaigns to stop the privatisation of oil and for repeal of Saddam’s labour code and other new anti-union laws such as Decree 875.
It was an enjoyable conference, but a bit tame. A lot more work is needed on getting unions to develop structures to help women get involved, to involve trades councils to participate more fully and to build serious campaigns through which our working women’s movement can make a difference.