Report of IWD meeting on 6 March
This was the third in our United Left series of meetings under the umbrella “WINNING THE FUTURE”.
The meetings are part of a consultation process we are having with United Left members and close contacts to draw up a United Left political and industrial Programme for these unprecedented times.
To help organise our discussions, we have drawn up a United Left “Charter for Women”.
Saturday’s meeting was a celebration of women’s activism and our demand for inclusion in our rightful place as part of a strong collective leadership for Unite.
What kind of union, with what kind of leadership do we need to “Win the Future”?
Our union has played a key and progressive role in the dramatic events which continue to unfold in the UK and Internationally, exposing at every point the stark inequalities which we in the trade unions have always known about, but which have now reached an unbearable pitch. The Tory government announcement of a 1 per cent pay increase for the predominantly female workforce in the NHS shows that it is business as usual for them.
We all know that a Unite leadership contest is coming down the line so now is the time we need to consider carefully what kind of leadership our union needs.
We think that one of the major contributions the struggles for women’s equality has given us is the concept of a collective leadership.
What Unite must have is not the one great man or great woman at the top, who tells everyone below what to do, but a leadership structure that extends from top to bottom of our union, from the reps to the EC members, with all the equalities strands fully represented – AND WHICH TELLS OUR TOP LEADERS WHAT TO DO.
We need the kind of structure that links the widest and most diverse possible array of our membership to our top leaders – so it can truly be a lay-led union, in the fullest and most equal sense.
We think this is a far more powerful way of organising – as a collective, and from the bottom up, and never from the top down as a single egotistical individual only interested in their own importance.
A powerful panel of strong women political and industrial activists spoke at our meeting about the role of women activists in our collective leadership.
Our first speaker was Kate Osborne MP. Kate is a long-standing member of our United Left, she is LabourMP for Jarrow, is in the Campaign group of MPs and member of the Women and Equalities Select Committee which holds government to account on equality law and policy.
Our second speaker was Jayne Taylor who as Vice-chair of Unite holds the second highest lay position in the union, together with another United Left member Susan Matthews. She has been on our EC since the formation of Unite and is also on the Labour party NEC.
Our third panellist was Donna Guthrie, Unite BAEM woman activist and National Women’s Officer for Black Activists Rising Against Cuts. She has a long history of anti-racist campaigning and organising against the BNP, and s actively engaged in her regional and national industrial committees and regional BAEM committee.
Fourth on the agenda was Sam Webster-Moore –Unite Deputy senior steward at BMW Cowley, a big manufacturing plant which as you would imagine is very male dominated. Sam told us us how she battled to the fore and what we need in the union for other women to succeed in the same way.
We also welcomed our United Left candidate for General Secretary, Steve Turner to the meeting. He came to listen to our panel and to the Charter for Women we had drawn up, and he has committed fully to work with us to turn it into a reality.
United Left is setting up a Left Women’s Network to continue the work on the Women’s Charter and make sure it becomes part of our union’s policies.