TUC Women's Conference should be accessible to any woman trade unionist elected to respresent her union. But how can it be, when childcare is provided only during formal conference hours and only for pre-school kids?!
A couple of years back, I circulated a letter around TUC Women's Conference delegates, asking for childcare to be provided for some periods of time out of conference hours, thus enabling women with kids to attend fringe meetings etc. Loads and loads of delegates signed it. The TUC Women's Committee, apparently, endorsed its view.
But the great TUC bureaucracy has taken a different view. The cost of some out-of-hours childcare is surely minimal in the grand scheme of TUC expenditure, but if you take your kids with you, don't expect to attend any fringe events or to socialise/"network" with your fellow delegates.
Even worse is the rule that you cannot take school-aged kids to TUC events that take place during the school term. TUC events that take place during school holidays will accommodate school-aged kids, so there obviously isn't an obstacle in terms of practicality. No, this seems to be the TUC acting as our moral guardian, perhaps scared of a reprimand from on high for "encouraging" parents to take kids out of school. On which I would make the following points:
- The decision to take kids out of school is negotiated between the parents and the school - it is not the TUC's place to take that decision out of our hands.
- Not all schools have the same holidays (and some kids are home-educated), so the TUC will be in the ridiculous position of allowing some school-age children in its creche but not others - and, presumably, having to check out each mother's circumstances in order to police this.
- Some mums have pre-school and school-age kids - the TUC seems to think it has the right to separate them.
- If the TUC is that concerned about not taking kids out of school, then it should organise Women's Conference during the school holidays.
As it is, many mothers of school-age kids - especially single mums and those without extended-family assistance or an expensive nanny - will simply not be able to contemplate putting themselves forward to be a delegate to TUC Women's Conference. Once women get past the difficult and demanding pre-school years, you'd think we could look forward to a bit more freedom to be active in our unions and in the TUC. But apparently not.
There is an inescapable logic to the TUC's position that if women have school-aged kids then we "ought" to be at home ensuring they attend school, rather than indulging ourselves in trade unionism.
Mind you, if you have a spare few quid, you can buy a nice-looking pamphlet about childcare from the TUC. Ironically, it's called 'Who's looking after the children?', a question that prospective delegates to TUC women's conference will doubtless be asking themselves.