UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

UNISON Women celebrate the centenary of International Women's Day!

The origins of International Women’s Day lie deep within the struggle of working class women to unions and the fight for women’s suffrage. These two issues united European and American women. In 1908 hundreds of women workers in the New York needle trades demonstrated in Rutgers Square in Manhattan’s Lower East Side to form their own union to demand the right to vote. This historic demonstration took place on 8 March. It led in the following year to the uprising of 30,000 women in the shirtwaist makers which resulted in the first permanent trade union for women workers in the USA.

These actions inspired European socialist women who had established the International Socialist Women’s Conference on the initiative of the German socialist feminist Clara Zetkin (1857-1933). In 1910 the Women’s Conference carried a motion to hold a Women’s Day on 8 March. In 1975 the United Nations recognised 8 March as International Women’s Day to celebrate women’s achievements and to demonstrate international solidarity with women everywhere and the ongoing struggle for women’s rights.

Clare Williams, UNISON’s Northern Regional Convenor said,

“The Centenary of International Women’s Day is an opportunity to reflect on the changes that women have experienced through the last one hundred years. Substantial progress has been made. The baton is now being passed to us to defend those gains. Since last year’s General Election we have seen an unprecedented attack on women and their families and the most vulnerable in our society by the Tory led Coalition Government. This is being replicated across the globe. The public sector and the service it provides is being made the scapegoat for the Bankers’ greed, and those taking the hardest hit are women. So in 2011 the need for women to unite as they did in 1911 to defend the rights of women and for social justice remains just as necessary.

"The Government’s response through the Comprehensive Spending Review will have a huge impact on women. Within the public sector 65% of the workforce is women. Of all women who are working within the UK 40% are employed in the public sector. With 600,000 job loses being estimated by the public sector these will have a disproportionate effect on women. 46% of working women in the North East work in the public sector. This affects women not just as workers but as users of public services and as citizens, and for our communities dependent on the valuable services that we provide. Indeed the situation is compounded by the attacks on the benefit system, restriction on school meals, housing benefit reforms and access to Sure Start.”

Ruth Berkley, UNISON’s Northern Regional Women’s Officer said,

“Women are facing great challenges, not only in terms of their own employment, but the consequential effect on their families. This will cut across the generations and the role of women as carers. As services are cut or curtailed it will be women who have to pick up the pieces. The Government has already hit women hardest through their emergency budget in June which had a disproportionate effect on women. The VAT increase had a huge impact on women. Many women are also worried about the future for their children. The abolition of Education Maintenance Allowance and increased university fees all impact on families. International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the gains that women have achieved but the struggle still goes on.”

For more background go to http://unioncsw.world-psi.org/2011/03/psi-on-international-womens-day-defending-and-advancing-public-services-for-equality-and-peace.html