RMT Women's Conference: Day One

Submitted by Janine on Sun, 03/11/2007 - 20:22

RMT's national women's conference took place on Friday and Saturday last week (2nd and 3rd March), in Doncaster. RMT members can watch the whole thing by webcast by logging on to the members' section. There were 25 delegates - that's about average, but less than there could potentially be due to the union notifying the conference via branch secretaries, many of whom do not make much effort to pass on the information to women. Overall, it was very good, and most delegates appeared to come away inspired.

On the first day, we had a lengthy presentation and workshop from the Equal Opportunities Commission, mainly about workers' rights to Flexible Working, leave for domestic emergencies, etc. As you might expect from the EOC, it was informative - and therefore useful to reps - but entirely focused on arguing your case with the employer rather than mobilising in the workplace. I also thought that while rightly encouraging women to pursue Tribunal cases, it rather over-egged your chances of winning them given how weak the law is. I suspect that the EOC wants women to take cases to establish case law and strengthen our rights - which is no bad thing, but requires honesty about chances of success, and a campaign of petitions, protests, and where possible industrial action, to back them up.

Bob Crow's report was typically entertaining and verbally supportive of women activists. But under questioning, he revealed that he is still dead-set against any kind of structural changes to guarantee women's representation, for example at the AGM or on the Executive. He says he wants the 13 best people on the Executive. But, given that there have only ever been two women on the union Executive (I mean ever!), who can seriously argue that the current system always delivers the best 13 people?! It also seems odd to me that the constitution of both the AGM and the Executive guarantee regional diversity, but Bob seems unable to support structural guarantees of gender diversity. Ah, well. My head's sore from banging against that particular brick wall. When we have built a stronger base of rank-and-file women's organisation, we can come back and argue again.

Bob's report also prompted discussion about support and training for reps, and about the LUL pay dispute, with a delegate from our Region expressing her discontent at the deal.

Next up, a walk along the road to visit the union's new Education Centre. RMT made a near-catastrophic mistake some years back when it sold its education centre at Frant Place. It has now put that right, and the new centre, whilst small (it sleeps fewer than 20 people) seems comfortable and well-equipped. We're looking forward to our women's training weekend, which Brother Crow promised would take place before the end of this year (following some persistent nagging).

while we were at the Education Centre, Fliss showed us a video about one woman's campaign to expose deaths in women's prisons.

Some pleasant socialising in the evening, joined by my son Joe, who goes down in union history as the first kid in an RMT creche. Tomorrow, I'll blog about the second day and the future.