Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Trade Unions Place Women’s Voices Centre Stage

Annette Drylie, GMB Scotland
Chair, STUC Women’s Committee
120th STUC Annual Congress

Congress, it is my honour to address you as Chair of the STUC Women’s Committee.  I would like to begin by thanking all of my colleagues on the Committee and my own trade union for the support they have given me to take on this role.

Liliany Obando, Human Rights Defender and University Lecturer in Colombia, has been granted amnesty.  It has been more than eight years since she was first arrested for her commitment to human rights and for peace in Colombia, and today we can celebrate that at least some sense of justice has been served for Liliany and her family.

Now more than ever, our movement must strive to ensure the voice of women is heard.  In just a few weeks’ time, elections will take place for every local council in Scotland.  Despite the fact that three of the main political parties here are led by women, and the fact that we once again have a woman living at number 10 Downing Street, when it comes to local elections, the political parties have put forward 70% male candidates.   As a worker in local government, I know first-hand that decisions taken in Scotland’s Council Chambers matter.  The harsh reality for women as workers, and as the predominant carers of the young and old, is that it is we who are hit hardest by the same of austerity in Scottish local government.

Decisions taken here in Scotland have accelerated Tory austerity onto local government and the impact is felt most by women workers in our councils, still more likely to be low paid, more likely to be held back, or looked over, and more reliant on many of the services which are being cut.

Congress, we need a politics which delivers for all women, not just those who have been lucky enough to reach the top.

Congress, we need an honesty in Scottish politics which means more than bemoaning the Tories, whilst passing on their cuts to our local services.  I ask for all of your support to expose the shame of austerity in local government.   Be in no doubt, a fairer Scotland will not be built on the backs of working women.

Every generation of women must renew our commitment to tackling inequality in the workplace and in society. Our fight is now for the WASPI women retiring with less than they planned for and for all women whose lower wages during their working lives leads seamlessly into less pension provision whenever they retire.

This year, we are marking the 50th anniversary of the achievement of the 1967 Abortion Act and celebrating the women who went before us and campaigned for autonomy over their reproductive rights.  With devolution of abortion law to the Scottish Parliament, it now falls to us to safeguard free access to safe, legal abortion services and to ensure that devolution is a chance to improve the rights of women, not diminish them.

Congress, there is also today an issue on which we must campaign, which even our foremothers would have struggled to believe is real.  Cuts to tax credits and welfare reform, more generally, has been an attack primarily upon the living standards and opportunities of women to get on, and get by.  No so-called reform is more reprehensible, however, than the Tory ‘rape’ clause.  Let the message go out from this hall today, nut just to the UK Government and their supporter, Ruth Davidson, this movement stands with the women victims that you are humiliating and the child your bureaucracy seeks to officially brand as the product of rape.

A Tory Government, led again by a woman, but as never before showing its true colours on the dignity of women.  Congress, the ‘rape’ clause will not stand, and no matter how long it takes to beat this cruel measure, trade union women will fight it and those who have imposed it.

Over the next year, we will also take forward our campaign to raise awareness of menopause issues in the workplace, and also in our trade unions. We will also prioritise our campaign for a gendered understanding of how women experiencing mental ill-health at work can be supported.

Congress, our movement marches forward with those who have gone before us and preparing the way for those who follow.   I will do everything I can in my year as Chair of the STUC Women’s Committee, to support and encourage women to lead in our movement and to challenge privilege where it exists amongst us.

I look forward to your support in my task, and I wish to extend an invitation to join the Committee at our Annual Conference, in Glenrothes later this year, and I would like to wish you all well for the reminder of Congress.  

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