Women's TUC: John McDonnell, Sexual Harassment, Sweatshops, Women's Representation and More

Submitted by Janine on Fri, 03/16/2007 - 12:45

Thursday morning, down to the conference fresh and early, giving out John McDonnell's new women's manifesto and leaflets for the Labour Representation Committee fringe meeting at lunchtime. First business in conference was the NUT's resolution on Sexist Language, Sexist Bullying and Sexual Harassment. It was very ably seconded by RMT's Jackie Darby, who spelt out the range of sexist abuse that railway workers are subjected to in the course of duty. As Jackie rightly said, "The craven attitude of management to tackling sexual harassment is the single most serious obstacle to eliminating it from the workplace ... Our employers must be made to take sexual harassment seriously, as it seriously affects us in our working lives. It compromises us and oppresses us. We won't put up with it."

We then went on to decide that part-time work should be more valued (quite right) and that there is a problem of age discrimination in accessing employment (indeed there is).

With the sustained attacks on pensions from both public-sector and private-sector employers, it was no surprise that several motions were submitted on this issue, and we debated a composite. It was not one that I could support, though, because despite making several valid points, it also "recognises that the Labour Government is doing much to improve the position of women in retirement". Yeah? Although the government has indeed scrapped a few discriminatory regulations, in the context of its overall assault on pensions, it is merely giving women equality in poverty. I abstained; the composite was passed.

Meg Munn MP, Deputy Minister for Women and Equalities, was due to address the Conference, but was unable to do so, as she had to attend a Parliamentary vote. I'm sure this was a disappointment to some delegates.

One more before lunchtime - a resolution on personal debt, from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. It rightly highlighted the stress on women owing to high levels of debt. However, a delegate (notes fail me as to her identity) make a good speech in opposition, pointing out that the resolution aimed most of its demands at teaching women to budget properly rather than at the causes of women's poverty. Nevertheless, there was nothing in the resolution that you could positively object to, so I abstained (it's not often I do that, so twice in one day is faintly worrying). One RMT delegate voted against; the others in favour. The resolution was passed.

Forty delegates attended the LRC fringe meeting, featuring the RMT Women's banner draped over the front table, and listened to speeches from Katy Clark MP (pictured), Mary Turner (GMB), Lorraine Monk, and former MP Alice Mahon. Lorraine and Alice were strident in their support for John McDonnell's candidacy for Labour leader; Mary and Katy were non-committal. There was a good debate from the floor, and a commitment from many women to getting involved with Feminists4John.

First thing after lunch was RMT's resolution on sweatshop labour. Janet Cassidy moved it, describing the appalling conditions of women sweatshop workers, and outlining some of the good work of the No Sweat campaign. Maria Exall of the CWU seconded, stressing the point that ethical buying might make your conscience feel good, but it is workers' solidarity that can actually improve the lives of sweatshop workers. BECTU, Community, GMB and one other union also spoke in favour, and the resolution was unanimously passed.

There were further successful motions entitled Human Trafficking and Migrant Domestic Workers, Violence Against Women, Female Genital Mutilation, Women in Zimbabwe, British Foreign Policy should respect the rights of the child, and the Miami 5.

Finally, a CWU resolution instructed the TUC Women's Committee to get the TUC to publish a booklet giving facts and figures on women's involvement in union structures and highlighting union efforts to overcome barriers to women's equality. I'm looking forward to reading this booklet and seeing the true picture of women's under-representation. I strongly suspect that RMT will not look good in comparison to other unions, and hope that this might embarrass the union into taking action.