Thursday, 25 February 2010

WRC at UNISON Women's Conference 2010

Last week, Newcastle hosted around 600 women from all over the country, from Portsmouth to Orkney, for this year’s UNISON women’s conference. I went along with Kimcha, WRC’s Membership and Events Officer, to find out what conference is all about and to let women know about our why women? campaign.

UNISON is the biggest union for the public sector, as well as one of the unions for the voluntary and community sector. This meant that the women were all UNISON members, many were branch women’s officers and most work in either the NHS or in Local Government. The Women's Resource Centre itself is unionised and myself and WRC Policy Officer Charlotte are shop stewards, as well as being elected as joint women’s officers for UNISON’S Voluntary Organisations Branch. We were keen to find out how the union works and how we might be able to use it to take our campaign forward, for example by getting UNISON branches across the country to pledge their support for the campaign and to work to support their local women’s organisations.

The conference itself involves proposing motions on union and women-related issues, with opportunities for delegates to speak for and against the motions, which are then voted on by the delegates. Motions passed by women’s conference then have the possibility of being taken forward to the UNISON National Delegate Conference where they will be voted on by delegates representing the whole of UNISON’s 1.3 million members. The topics of the motions are varied, with the below an example of just a few that were supported by conference:
  • Increased involvement of trade unions in equality impact assessments
  • Lowering the age and increasing the frequency of smear tests
  • Encouraging women to get cycling
  • Free sanitary products for women on low pay.
On Saturday, conference voted in support of the decriminalisation of prostitutes and criminalisation of the buyers of sex, as Cath Elliott reports in her blog. This was the result of the Demand Change! campaign led by Object and Eaves and supported by UNISON Eastern Region. Another interesting motion, put forward by Davena Rankin from the National Women’s Committee, was around the fight against the BNP and the importance of presenting it as not just an anti-racist campaign, but as a pro-feminist one. A selection of the comments made by the BNP about women illustrate the importance of this motion.

Overall, it was a great experience to be at an event with so many women who ‘get’ what WRC and the why women? campaign is about. Having distributed 100 why women? DVDs, we hope that the invaluable work of the women’s sector and the threats it currently faces will be recognised and taken up within the union movement. In solidarity, sisters!

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