Glasgow Unison Protest 8 March 2022. Photo: Matt Dobson
Glasgow Unison Protest 8 March 2022. Photo: Matt Dobson

Conference delegates

Several hundred women activists attended a thought-provoking Unison women’s conference. Hearing from vibrant delegates is a powerful reminder that women are fighting back, but need to be part of building a strong leadership at all levels so that we can do that effectively.

Unison general secretary, Christina MacAnea, on the Starmer-supporting right wing of the union, had no choice but to reflect the mood to fight among women members and referenced the major strikes in Glasgow, Birmingham and Northern Ireland.

Labour’s shadow minister for health, Abeba Apong Asare, gave a bland speech with nothing about fighting back, but anger and mistrust against Starmer’s Labour broke through, especially over Gaza.

There are some great women union reps pushing back against management, including fighting for the rights of those in the privatised sector. We can have no trust in profit-hungry private providers, so we need to fight for public ownership of services, such as nurseries, and decent pay and conditions for workers.

We discussed the need for free, flexible childcare for all, including special needs provision, so women can afford to work! The cost of childcare is often more than the mother is paid, meaning they have to give up work and fall into poverty.

There were motions on pregnancy and maternity leave, and baby loss. We heard of employers disciplining women because they have had time off after miscarriage! We discussed sexual harassment in the workplace. It was felt there is a higher risk of sexual harassment in offices that are less populated due to home-working.

Socialist Party member Helen Couchman spoke on a motion about work-life balance and the right to ‘disconnect’. Working from home since the pandemic has blurred the line between work and personal time.

Discussions included council cuts and ‘section 114’ notices, including the impact of these cuts on women.

A fringe meeting gave accounts of horrific treatment of Black and migrant women. Black and Asian sisters suffer more violence and abuse, tougher sanctions at work, poverty and low pay, and more child and neo-natal baby death than white women.

We heard harrowing stories of abuse at home and at work – eight women a month are killed due to domestic violence, and thousands of children and their mothers are homeless, having lost everything as they escaped.

Many reps pointed out that as the biggest union of women workers, Unison should lead on all these issues. Unfortunately, none of the actions in the motions called for industrial action, only to ask ‘Labour Link’ (the union committee which represents Labour Party members) to help lobby the government.

Unison should put clear demands on all these issues on Starmer’s Labour, including no cuts and full funding, and prepare for action if necessary to fight for them.