ANNE DEAN, GMB SCOTLAND, CHAIR OF THE STUC WOMEN’S COMMITTEE, SPEECH TO 88TH ANNUAL STUC WOMEN’S CONFERENCE
Welcome to each and every one of you, Sisters, Brothers, comrades, colleagues, once again we are in this in this fine city of Dundee, and for many of us this seems like a comfortable second home! To those of you who are lucky enough actually live here, thank you for making Dundee such a welcoming place! We simply cannot resist!! It is my personal purpose during this Conference to ensure that as many of you get the chance to get up here and tell it like it is. Your work is our work and it seems that it makes our job in the Women's Committee that little bit more challenging and purposeful than it was the year before. But we don't sign up for this Committee to settle for an easy time let me tell you! This last year or so has been what many political commentators refer to as an 'interesting time'. How many times have we heard that in the past few months?! For those of us involved in trade union organising and the politics of work, it has been a really challenging time, and it’s not about to get any easier anytime soon. We had the settling down period following the Scottish referendum last year, TTIP looming in Europe, a Tory only government elected giving us the challenge of what can only be described as a state Trade Union Bill, yet another very divisive referendum for EU membership, we had last week’s tax credit fiasco and we have people dying due to having fallen between loopholes in the long list of so called sanctions at the DWP…to mention just the tip of the iceberg.
Is it just me or has anyone else noticed that many of our forefathers and mothers died in order to keep the kind of people we now have in power out of this country? The irony is palpable!!
I would personally like to think that we are moving to a better, more hopeful, more soulful and more honest time, where people have begun to wake up to just how we have been seemingly manipulated by a succession of governments and parties of all kinds to very much their own ends and personal gain over decades. I think I am correct in saying that this British discontent started in Scotland and has moved throughout the UK. But only a political mollusc could have missed that this wave of realisation has been moving around Europe and has made dramatic inroads within North America, with growing support for a left wing Bernie Saunders, who has managed to move Hilary Clinton's stance to the left on a number of issues, and in Canada a fairly left of centre Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has just be elected. This is all good news sisters, but we have potentially another four years to go before the 2020 General Election. You'll note I say 'potentially'. If there is one lesson I learned in the dark days of the 80’s it is that WE ARE MOST DEFINITELY ALL IN THIS TOGETHER!!! Sisters that is our mantra!
What many people are still needing to do and not only in the UK, and it is a tough call when you really have little or nothing to be hopeful for from one day to the next. People need to know that there are people, people like ourselves, who are fighting for them and us all, to help the weak and vulnerable, gain hope they may never have had for their futures. If there is one message, and again I do not need to remind any of you just what is meant by the word THIS!
THIS mess of a Tory ideological web that we were spun for the whole of the election campaign - all lies- the ideology of certain disaster for us all if we do not follow that mythological beast of austerity. THIS will surely lead us further into the trap of low wages for longer hours and reduced terms and conditions, poorer housing, privately rented from private landlords of dubious intent (remember Mary Barbour), less control over state education, less choice in secondary and tertiary education and spiralling costs, disinvestment in economic infrastructure and everything being played to the lowest common denominator. They really make Mrs Thatcher look like some kind of well-meaning wet nurse.
Of course they now know that their cover has been blown, with their own backbenchers feigning concern for the wellbeing of their constituents, when it is we all know that their main concern will always be for themselves and their future tenure as MPs in those marginal constituencies skirting up and down the English Tory heartlands.
The irony is of course, and I'll say it again because lest we forget, that our parents and grandparents before us did struggle, fight and many died trying to prevent the vile stench of tyranny from infecting our shores. What have we done? We have found ourselves governed by so called politicians who have little understanding of what we know to be everyday life and who see the weakest and poorest of us as easy pickings. Those who have no so called 'purpose' in the Tory big picture, are having the toughest of times and seem to be at the greatest risk of going under. THIS irony is palpable.
And of course we have little doubt who their paymasters are. No doubt in fact! There are few in big business who get up in the morning and think to themselves ‘I must remember to pay the taxman all that I owe this year!' But remember sisters that every bit of tax that goes towards their second home or their child’s private education, is that bit less going into the mouths of the hungry, the minds of our children, the efforts of our doctors, nurses and carers and decent homes for the homeless.
Tax avoidance and associated criminality has a direct effect on us and our families and those people must take responsibility along with the bankers for creating the conditions that gave rise to the so called economic crisis and are still doing so. Much more needs to be done to make it really difficult for people to roll up, set up a coffee shop, care home, burger restaurant or whatever, franchised to a global business and agree to paying the employees a pittance for a hard day’s work. What motivates people into thinking that is a fair way to make a profit? Is it greed or desperation? It is crucial that resources are maximised to enable HMRC to pursue the perpetrators of such rank exploitation and that the Trade Unions continue to challenge, recruit and organise within those workplaces to squeeze from both sides to ensure that taxes are paid at fair levels and not sent off to some offshore haven. Workers get what they really deserve in terms of decent wages and substantive contracts that provide decency for them and their families.
And while we are talking about justice....what are we doing sitting here sisters, when for some years now some local authorities have chosen to ignore and procrastinate paying poorly paid women their due back pay for the years that those councils chose to pay them below what their jobs were worth. That those councils are Labour Councils is scandalous and those councillors responsible should not look in our direction when they are looking for support in their endeavours in the 2017 Scottish Council elections! I am telling you now.....and this is coming from a dyed in the wool Scottish Labour supporter....no woman in this or any other room anywhere in Scotland should help any of those councillors in any re-election campaign, while they remain guilty of blatantly flouting the Equal Pay Act. This issue must be sorted and sorted now!
On a cheerier note, sisters, you will be very pleased to note that our 50:50 campaign has been noted……we now have 3 female party leaders in Scotland…a bit of a breakthrough I agree….but ONLY if they deliver increased women's representation at the sharp end of public and political life. We need to keep up the pressure sisters, but we also need to step up to the plate, be more confident and not just assume that it is someone else's opportunity and not our own to grasp and take forward.
Yes, we realise that there are some very entrenched attitudes out there in what seems to be a man's world, but from what we have learned within our own Weekend Schools, we need to take some responsibility for NOT taking up some of the opportunities out there and start bombarding these organisations with applications from within our own ranks. Anyone with any ambition to explore this avenue personally, is welcome to attend any of our weekend schools to get a better understanding as to how the systems operate. Just come and ask…we will be pleased to help in any way possible. We also need to challenge the system in terms of the language used in the application forms and how the selection processes are run. What we do know is that they now realise that we have spotted them and the politicians are now apparently looking to change things for the better.
How many of you know about Mary Barbour? Well.... we need to nurture more Mary Barbours in our midst. Every one of us has more capability and resources to help us than she ever had. Few were as staunch as Mary Barbour in their determination to stand against the powers that be, to ensure that greedy landlords were stopped in their tracks and eventually once she became a Glasgow councillor, clinics were opened where women given the knowledge and understanding to be able to tailor the size of their families and plan for their futures. This insightful woman came from a poor tenement in Govan and managed to change her city, and indeed made the world that bit fairer for us all. We need to take our inspiration from Mary and all those women who campaigned for women's rights during that early to middle part of the last century. They did it all without financial means, limited access to public transport, little or no communications other than the spoken, or at best the written word, and for some, very limited education. If anyone even remotely thinks that we have 'sorted' it.....please see the 'Suffragettes" film....that will surely wake them up to our reality!
Just to take this opportunity to report on the progress made over the past year on our work plan over the past year continues our pursuit of the cause of older women in the workplace. We held a joint event with One workplace Equal Rights and Close the Gap last December, which was well attended and 4 guides were produced, all available here today. Ann Henderson, myself and others participated, ran workshops at the BEMIS Conference on 23rd March where the difficulties of being an older BME woman were explored and solutions explored. But that fight still goes on in partnership with the STUC Black Workers’ Committee. Some of us were pleased to attend the STUC Youth Conference in June and the STUC Highlands & Islands conference in September to run discussion groups with delegates on the issues experienced by older women and participated in two Scottish Women’s Convention events again on this topic. We hold membership of the Scottish Commission on Older Women and the first report was launched in August on older women in the workplace. This growing and valuable section of the workforce has its own very definite and recognisable characteristics and we need to gain better understanding of the challenges experienced by these women, in order to better defend and support their needs. The issue of woman’s right to choose, has been brought to the fore through the proposal to devolve abortion law to the Scottish Parliament. This is an issue which directly affects working class women in particular, and one that we must ensure remains as a substantive fully provided function of the NHS in Scotland. And it is a provision of which we should be proud of here in Scotland, but which we should be vigilant in ensuring that it is met in the fullest intent of the law within Scotland. The STUC Women's Committee has attended events and campaigns alongside the Abortion Rights campaign, which published a report in the summer indicating that over 70% of Scots support a woman's right to choose. The Women's Committee also continues to support the work of Dignity, Alert & Research Forum (DARF) in its fight against the cruel blight of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and we note the welcome changes brought forward in law, only this week, which places a clear duty on any health, education or social worker, in England and Wales to report a suspicion of intent or action to impose FGM on any girl to the police. This will inevitably bring great challenges to those workers, but it sends a very clear message to any family member who may consider this to be a justifiable act. We also continue our links with Justice for Colombia. We are preparing a women's delegation to Palestine and we demonstrated at Dungavel Detention Centre in May calling for its closure. Harping back to the topic of Austerity we attended the demonstration in George Square on 20th June and you will all be joining us today at lunchtime when we demonstrate in Albert Square against the Trade Union Bill. I would like to note my thanks to all the support given to me in my tenure as chair. My gratitude knows no bounds to Ann Henderson, Helen Carson and the staff at the STUC. Without them there would be no Conference and have made my task virtually pain free! Harry Donaldson and Gary Smith my Regional Secretaries have been generous to a fault and all my wonderful GMB colleagues comrades and sisters. I cannot express my thanks for all you have done for me on my journey here. My dear long-suffering husband, Les and my dear daughter, Jennifer, whose name means, beautiful princess...she is beautiful inside and out. I am so proud of you both! And to the Women's Committee from all these wonderful, historic Trade Unions. What can I say.......caring, sharing and inspirational every one of you. Our strength knows no bounds.
Sisters, friends, please enjoy our precious time together, learn, debate and share. We have many issues to debate and this Committee look forward to a year ahead filled with your ambitions and hopes for a better future.
We stand on the shoulders of those who have stood before! Thank you for the great privilege of representing you all over the past year! Enjoy!