Women on the frontline

Terry Conway spoke at a recent Birmingham SR Forum on the impact of cuts on women; the video is at the bottom of this post.

The Condems are attempting to impose cuts on working class people as part of their attempt to make sure that it is not their class that suffers as a result of the economic crisis. They spin the nonsense that we can’t afford a public sector – and that all public sector workers are bloated bureaucrats – while bonuses for bankers continue to rise. They are making a conscious political choice to try and drive down our living standards even further than Margaret Thatcher succeeded in doing – and rubbing their hands with glee as they do so.

The cuts will affect those sectors of the working class who are already disadvantaged particularly acutely. Women are at the sharp end of these attacks, as the previously little known Fawcett Society has done a good job of letting us know.

Women are 65% of those who work in the public sector and therefore more women will lose their jobs if we don’t succeed in stopping these cuts. Already we have seen that the rate of women’s unemployment has started to rise faster than men’s for the first time in many decades.

The gender pay gap is still 17% for women in full time work and 38% for women in part time work (in comparison with men in full time employment) – all these years after the Equal Pay Act. And many more women than men are forced to work part time because of caring responsibilities in the family. In the public sector, there are more likely to be decent conditions in part time jobs than in the private sector – so this is another way in which cuts in jobs in the public sector will affect women very badly

There are other issues in workplaces under attack – including the public sector – increased workload for those who remain in work, increased bullying, more restrictive policies over sick pay, carers leave and increased discrimination against people with disabilities which are more difficult to take up in a context where everyone is focused on job losses.

Unbelievably 30,000 women in Britain lost their jobs in 2009 as a result of being pregnant. Pregnant women are unfairly selected for redundancies despite legal protection. A small number of women have won unfair dismissal cases but the majority have had no redress.

Women use public services more intensively than men. For many our ability to do paid work, or at least to do the jobs we currently do, are dependent not only on keeping those jobs but on keeping services like after-school clubs which are appearing at the top of local authorities lists of things to be scrapped.

Services, including those targeted specifically at women, are amongst the first to be cut (those targeted at black women, immigrant women, lesbians, disabled women are even more vulnerable) – e.g. rape crisis centres and other resources for those suffering from domestic violence or abortion day care facilities.

Women are already part of the resistance against the cuts and will continue to be so both at the level of the workplace and in community campaigns. The magnificent movement of students and school students has in many instances been led by young women who don’t seem to be lacking in confidence – which is great to see.

But are our distinctive issues, our distinctive needs being discussed and fought for by the movement as a whole? Women have often found that unless we organise as women those issues get pushed to the back of a dusty cupboard to be fought for some other day.

Women may well need to create our own groups or our own spaces within the broader movement to make sure this doesn’t happen – we won’t win the struggle against cuts with one hand tied behind us – and women are 52 per cent of the population.

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