At yesterday's RMT Regional Council, our new women's newsletter had its first outing, with 500 copies distributed amongst delegates. Mostly, it was well-received, welcomed by both women and (most) men, who expect it to go down very well in the workplaces.
I say "most" because in the bar afterwards, I had my ear bent by a couple of geezers who believe that simply producing a women's newsletter is "divisive", will "alienate men" and may even "lose us half our members".
Their argument was that RMT is an all-grades union, so should act "as one". I agree that RMT's all-grades principle is one of its great strength - 'one industry, one union' is a slogan that, if it became reality, would potentially create a much stronger trade union movement.
However, it is entirely possible to be an all-grades union, to act in unity, and still to acknowledge that there are different groups of workers within the union with particular issues and needs. In fact, the union does acknowledge this, by holding grades conferences for station staff, train crew, engineering grades, signallers etc, by producing newsletters for these various grades, by producing recruitment material targeting workers in specific companies etc. But no-one argues that this is "divisive", that producing leaflets for station staff will alienate signallers, or whatever. Why is it only a women's newsletter that provokes such opposition?
Moreover, the women reps and activists in our region actually spend 90+% of our time representing and campaigning on issues relevant to both women and men - be that defending workers of either gender against victimisation, fighting the ticket office cuts, recruiting and organising members, ... And the fact that all the GrantRail workers facing redundancy are men did not for one minute put me off going on a protest on Wednesday to defend their jobs.
I'd like to think that I and the other women present more than held our own in yesterday's argument. But I would also like to see the more enlightened men make it clear to their male workmates that they support women's rights and support women within the union getting organised and producing our own newsletter.