An annual demonstration for working women’s rights? Yes please!

Posted in Janine's blog on Sat, 11/03/2006 - 18:00,

Last thing Thursday afternoon, and it was our union’s big moment – the RMT resolution. Here’s what I said in proposing it …

One of the phrases I have heard most often at this conference goes like this: ‘We’ve been coming here for years, and we just keep repeating ourselves’. And it’s true. Every year we pass resolutions that low pay is bad. That we need more childcare. That sexual harassment must stop. Resolutions to defend abortion rights. For decent pensions.

But the fact is: passing resolutions alone does not win for women workers.

And neither, on its own, does drafting documents, replying to government consultations, or writing stiff letters to ministers.

We also need strong workplace trade union organisation, and we need active political campaigning. We need to show the strength of feeling against sexism by getting thousands of people out onto the streets.

If we hold an annual demonstration, we enable ordinary women (and men) to take part in our campaign. Not just full-time union officials; not just report writers; not just conference delegates.

Sadly, it has largely been forgotten that International Women’s Day started as International Working Women’s Day.

On 28 February 1909, women in the USA held a national day of protests for political rights for women.

In 1910, Clara Zetkin (my personal hero) proposed to the International Congress of Socialist Women that there be an annual Working Women’s Day.

In 1911, on the first International Working Women’s Day, over a million women and men marched in various European countries.

Less than a week later, over 140 workers – mostly Jewish and Italian immigrant women – died in a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, a New York sweatshop. It was a terrible proof of why International Working Women’s Day was so important.

These days, the “Working” has been dropped from the title, and International Women’s Day is more likely to be marked by an aromatherapy open day than a march for women’s rights.

RMT has brought forward this resolution because we want TUC Women’s Conference to discuss not just what we want, but also how we are going to get it. Let’s reclaim the tradition of International Working Women’s Day, and get out on the streets for working-class women’s rights.

The Fire Brigades Union did a fine job seconding it, and several other unions got up and spoke for it. I particularly liked the speaker from the T&G, who said “Whether you call it sisterhood, solidarity or girl power, the message is the same – trade union rights, women’s rights, keep up the fight.”

Only ASLEF expressed reservations, arguing that our priority should be to get International Women’s Day a public holiday. Personally, I don’t get why the two are counterposed.

The resolution was passed unanimously.

My concern now is to ensure that the TUC General Council carries it out. I fear that, left to their own devices, they will accept it, then call the demonstration in a phone box in a small village on a wet Tuesday afternoon and not publicise it. And since RMT has no-one on the General Council (Bob Crow having lost his seat last year) and no-one on the Women’s Committee (I didn’t get elected, but hey), we will be relying on other unions to pile on the pressure for it to be properly organised.

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.