The following comment piece is adapted from an opening speech at this year’s TUC Women’s Conference last week delivered by Unite EC member Susan Matthews, who also chaired the conference.
It has been a year of political mayhem. We have a newly elected Conservative government who say they are on the side of working people — but who have already imposed a decade of austerity, hitting the weakest in our society hardest.
Poverty, homelessness and casualisation are having a disproportionate impact on us, especially our Black / BAEM and disabled sisters. The government should be focusing on getting wages rising and investing in public services to help working families.
Instead, they have focused on getting Brexit done. Taking us out of the EU will undoubtedly have an impact on women at work and at home.
Many experts predict we will be hardest hit in terms of job cuts and a rollback on our legal protections and rights. We are also seeing women’s rights here and around the world under increasing attack in the face of rising populism.
The far right are seeking to undermine women’s autonomy, our control over our bodies and our reproductive organs. They are hoping to divide us sisters. Well, that will not happen.
The theme of this year’s TUC Women’s conference last week was Sisters Standing Strong.
It reflects that we are already resisting and organising against the politics of populism that is engulfing our society. We are standing strong against those who wish to deny us our equality and autonomy.
We are standing strong against the roll back on the gains that have been hard won and hard fought for by sisters in the trade union movement. And standing strong in solidarity with our sisters across the world against gender-based violence and harassment.
We do this in our workplaces and our communities. I work in the Local Government Sector and I have seen this in my experience as Unite Trade Union Branch Secretary, Local Trade Council, and Regional and National Committee Chairperson, and Unite BAEM Executive Council Representative.
We must build a stronger trade union movement, one that reflects the millions of women in the workforce and that ensures we live free from the threat of violence, of hate or discrimination. We have many issues to tackle and many battles to fight in the coming year.
Let’s remember that through organisation, strength and solidarity we can achieve change and build a better future.