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

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Scottish Union Women Take the Road to Dundee

#stucwomen13 This week sees Scottish trade union women take the road and the miles to Dundee for the 86th STUC Women’s Conference. The conference is being chaired by Eileen Dinning of UNISON and this year attracts 110 delegates from across the spectrum of Scottish unions.

It will discuss a wide variety of topics reflecting the broad concerns of women in Scotland today, but debate on the topic of independence was restricted to a panel discussion on Monday afternoon.

This will be supplemented by two addresses to the conference by women politicians, Shona Robison of the SNP government and Minister for the Commonwealth games and Jenny Marra, the Labour opposition spokeswoman on youth unemployment. While no doubt both will speak to the topics in their portfolios, it will be interesting to see if either or both tap into the wider debate in their contributions.

The Scottish trade union movement is still mulling over its attitude to the independence referendum, so it will be interesting to see whether the premier theme that dominates the headlines impacts on the debates held by Scottish trade union women.

The Conference begins with debate on zero hours contracts that mirror the concerns that have been widely expressed-not just within the trade union movement-about the inherent injustice of such contracts but about the need employment law that outlaws such blatant exploitation of those forced to work in such conditions.

This will be supplemented by a debate on “Access to Justice“, a motion from the RMT that focuses on the changes to tribunals, to Criminal injury Compensation and the impact of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill and impacts on workers’ rights

Session 2 takes up the general theme of violence against women in its various manifestations, from Trafficking, to Violence against Women, Genital Mutilation and Domestic Violence. Such debates enable delegates to examine the commonalities that face women worldwide, as all of the subjects under discussion result from the common male perception of women as at best second class citizens with lesser rights as human beings . This will be followed by a more domestic agenda debating Childcare and Gender Inequality in University Governance.

The international agenda closes this session and at this year’s conference is restricted to debate on two motions – calling for an end to violence in Syria and the involvement of the UN, and a comprehensive motion on the situation in Colombia.

Day 2 begins with debates on Women and Work and Maternity Rights. The former refers to the work that has been undertaken through the STUC Women's Committee and the Scottish government to improve the general working situation of women in Scotland. It then moves onto UNISON’s motion on Public Procurement focuses on the improvement needed to the current Bill before the Scottish Parliament and the changes to it necessary to incorporate aspects such as the Living Wage. Then on to the topic of Women In Sport, a matter usually neglected but important given that it impacts hugely on women’s health and well being .

Social concerns then continue to dominate with discussions on part time workers, Girls in Education, a motion that takes on the barriers that operate internationally to prevent full female educational participation and the need for free school meal.

The final sessions of this conference however address some of the most political debates. This includes an NAS/UWT motion on the topic of public sector pensions, a matter that is included in the current strike action that the union is involved in, and which is amended by PCS to include the subject of public sector pay. A timely intervention from the rail transport unions puts the nationalisation of the railways on the agenda, especially since the East Coast franchise is yet again to be given to the private sector.

It is only at this stage that the whole austerity agenda is debated, probably reflecting the more contentious nature of the debates. While there will be unanimous backing for a fairer society, many trade unions will find the demand that the STUC womens committee “facilitate coordinated industrial action and civil disobedience “a step too far.

Jane Carolan