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Still fighting for equal pay
THE OVERWHELMING feeling coming out of the TUC Women's Conference was that women trade unionists are fed up with the lack of progress being made on women's rights and equality.
Katrine Williams, PCS
This was summed up by the reaction to the government's Women and Work Commission. The government showed where its priorities lie by allowing the CBI bosses' union to veto all the demands where employers would have to tackle inequality and equal pay in the workplace.
It is 30 years since the Equal Pay act yet median earnings show a 13% gender pay gap. This is nearly twice as bad in the civil service with a disgraceful 25% pay gap between men and women.
The government should lead the way to tackle pay inequalities. Civil service union PCS is running a high profile campaign on equal pay, putting pressure on MPs. We will use all channels, including the legal avenues, which resulted in winning equal pay for women workers in the Prison Service.
Childcare, domestic violence, abortion and pregnancy discrimination are issues frequently discussed by women trade unionists. It is not just employers that are the problem.
Jane Aitchison from PCS spoke on the necessity for the TUC to ensure that it provides childcare consistently and of a high quality at all its tiers. This would allow women (and men) with children to fully participate in the movement. This follows problems with the creche last year that the PCS delegation highlighted.
The New Labour speakers to the conference, including the minister for Women Tessa Jowell, made grandiose statements about tackling the problems. They can talk about women's rights but are fully part of the government, which is working to dismantle the welfare state. They have no idea about the problems women workers face.
PCS held a fringe meeting jointly with the National Pensioners Convention. PCS President Janice Godrich called on other trade unionists to actively support the demand for a pensions demonstration carried at last year's congress.
The only motion that caused any controversy was one on the democratic accountability of the TUC general council and its equality seats, which are not elected at the equality conferences but at the main congress.
The women's committee opposed this on the spurious argument that a review was taking place so the women's conference should not take a view. The motion was carried with no speakers from those opposing the motion and a number of unions abstaining.
Zita Holbourne from PCS made a strong argument in favour of democratising the TUC equality structures and making them accountable to the equality conferences. Also, crucially, that the TUC must look at equality in running its own organisation, especially as they are supposed to be campaigning for employers to do this.
The opposition to this motion seems to sum up the TUC leadership's attitude to the equality agenda. They are happy to allow the women's conference to vent off steam from increasingly frustrated and angry women trade unionists but do not want to allow us to elect the women who represent us on the TUC general council.
We need to campaign and build on the involvement of women workers and other equality groups in our unions and make sure that the TUC cannot ignore our voice by only paying lip service to our demands. There is too much for women to fight for, for us to allow the right-wing leaders of the trade union movement to hold us back.
In The Socialist 16 March 2006: