TUC Women's Conference: Day One

Submitted by Janine on Wed, 03/14/2007 - 21:32

TUC Women's Conference opened this afternoon in Scarborough. The agenda is a mix of resolutions, the Women's Committee report taken in paragraphs, and various speeches and presentations.

(Pic: The RMT Women's banner adorning the Conference rally)

The first issue discussed was a composite from Amicus and the National Union of Journalists about the Single Equality Act and Statutory Equality Reps. Trade unions have been pushing for some time for legal recognition of equality reps in the workplace with statutory rights - rather like health and safety reps. The government has nodded towards this, but rather than bringing in legislation, is instead providing 'union modernisation' funding to train union equality reps. So what you will get is equality reps with no legal right to impose themselves or their members' interests on their employers, and if they do go on the training, it would have to be in their own time because they will have no legal right to paid release!

Once again, New Labour chucks barely a crumb to the unions, while carefully protecting employers from rank-and-file equality reps with the legal clout to expose their discriminatory practices, unequal pay, toleration of harassment etc. Thanks, Tony and Gordon.

By unanimous vote, TUC Women are in favour of statutory equality reps. And in the next motion, we decided that we are also unanimously in favour of 'gender-proofing' public service delivery, and will support public sector unions taking industrial action against cuts and privatisation.

The next resolution woke me up to an issue I should have woken up to a while back. From April this year, public bodies have a legally-binding Gender Equality Duty, which requires them to eliminate unlawful sex discrimination, and to promote equality of opportunity between women and men. So now I need to find out whether London Underground and other train operating and railway industry companies are 'public bodies'. If they are, RMT (and the other rail unions) need to poke their nose into the companies' plans; if they're not, we should demand that they should be.

Whichever, this should not be a case of endless meetings crossing t's and dotting i's with the employers. Rather, it should be a focus for mobilising in the workplace to place equality demands on the employer - demands such as those in RMT's Women's Charter.

Further resolutions affirmed that we support a campaign for women's rights, better legal rights for paid time off for dependents, and improved maternity pay in the public sector. While these are all very worthy and fully deserving of our support, they - like virtually every resolution to TUC Women's Conference - do not make any specific demands for action from the TUC. We should try to get our unions to propose resolutions that pin down the TUC bureaucracy to carrying out definite campaigning actions, because as long as we ask them to non-specifically "campaign", "support", "work with" and "lobby", they can avoid doing anything that really challenges the government or mobilises workers. (Mind you, look out for tomorrow's blog to see how they wriggle out of it when you do instruct them to do something specific.)

We also watched a TUC video about women's struggles for equal pay, which was OK, and perhaps worth getting a copy of for meetings and discussions.

After formal conference closed, I went to an ASLEF-hosted fringe meeting on the 'Charter for Women', to a reception held by the General Federation of Trade Unions, a pleasant drink with fellow delegates and back to bed by 10. Really.