Oxford Women’s Conference – Resist and Survive

Liz Peretz reports on an inspiring day:

Around 60 women attended a day conference in Oxford in November. There were contributions from Occupy ( a young woman who took part in the Brookes University event ), a community activist, and a speaker from SE region TUC. Most of the day was taken up with workshops; the local women’s labour party on the future of work, the ;local KONP on how cuts are affecting women’s health and welfare, and how to resist; inspiring films by Anne Marie Sweeney on brazilian women activists; a session on fighting public sector cuts (and how they affect women) a session on women in trades unions and how to ‘feminise’ trades unions. Over lunch women from the local radical choir sand a variety of inspiring songs about women activists. ‘O what a difference one woman made ; La Lega; nana was a suffragette. We covered a lot of ground – from environmental politics to workplace and kitchen sink politics – and there was a freedom and confident solidarity amongst us that was very heartening. It made us feel we weren’t quite so helpless. It also highlighted some of the ways in which even on the left women have a struggle on their hands in their political work with men. There were some disappointments; we had aimed to attract working class women, and to make it easier for them to attend, but realised afterwards we should have spent more time going round the local estates and community associations; and we had very few students or other young women despite getting the right social media involved – again we learnt we should have spent more time before hand – the young women who did come were already close contacts.

Although no concrete and precise demands came from the day, and it did not set up and had never meant to set up some new cross group women’s committee in oxford, it was worthwhile not just for a feel good factor but as a way of strengthening women within the struggles ahead.

The conference was the culmination of 5 or 6 months planning, by women across the political spectrum; this in itself has forged links between individuals in parties and groups that would not have happened otherwise. We can and do now inform each other about events. We were from different parts of the left and single issue campaigns– CP, SR, Labour Party, Cuba Solidarity, KONP. Most of us are also part of the Network of Oxford Women for justice and peace. There were various generous donations from O&DTUC, the local NUT, and Ruskin College that let us use their new premises for nothing.

At least one action was directly inspired by the day; a street theatre auction of the NHS will happen in central Oxford on December 15th very largely organised by women in KONP who were at the women’s conference. Men will be there, but for once not in the forefront of organisation. We hope there will be more actions like this.

I would recommend the idea of a women’s conference to other areas in the UK. Everyone on the left knows women are badly affected by the cuts and privatisations (especially working class women, on benefits or credits) but having a forum to explore the ways in which we are affected, and the ways we may be able to support each other, is critical. And having information ,to make each of us more powerful, and inspiration to see ways in which solidarity actions to save services can have an effect against the present government’s designed disintegration of all our public services.

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