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Women workers striking in Glasgow

International Women’s Day: Fighting back against austerity and for socialist change

Sinead Daly 

International Women’s Day – 8 March – commemorates and celebrates the struggles of women workers worldwide against low pay and exploitation. It was born out of the heroic efforts of women workers over 100 years ago striking and protesting to demand a living wage and improved working conditions. Indeed it was women textile workers on the 8th March 1917, who marched out of their factories in their tens of thousands demanding ‘Bread’ that sparked off the Russian Revolution.

Step forward a 100 years and millions of women around the world are still expected to endure austerity and hardship while the richest 1% are £4bn richer. Zero-hour contracts and casual jobs are becoming the norm for millions of women and young people. The prospect of never ending austerity has seen clocks being turned back on the gains that have been won by previous generations of women.

Exploited at Work

The attacks on public services across the country are hitting women particularly hard, not just because of the fact that the majority of workers in the public sector are women, but also because we rely more on public services, particularly in relation to care of the elderly, child care, health etc.

Across the UK women’s employment in local government has fallen by 250,000 since 2010. Almost two thirds of low-paid workers are women – made worse by pay freezes and miserly below inflation rises, not to mention cuts to working hours forcing many work multiple jobs just to make ends meet.

This is to say nothing of the soaring costs of childcare. Citizen’s Advice Scotland (CAS) described the cost of childcare in Scotland as a “route to in-work poverty” for many parents. The average cost of putting one child aged between two and five in nursery for 25 hours a week was £5,307 a year – an increase of 8.2%. This often rules women out of working in the first place. The cuts to child benefit, working family tax credits and the introduction of universal credits will only exacerbate the living conditions, not just for women but also children.

Violence Against Women Services

As we go to press, we have heard the report of Clydebank Women’s Aid receiving a cut of £151,000 to their support for women in refuge. This will have a devastating impact on the lives of women trying to flee domestic abuse.

Last year the Edinburgh Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre faced closure due to lack of funding. This is an outrage – particularly given the increasing numbers of women reporting rape, sexual abuse and exploitation to the police.

Having access to decent housing, health and social care is essential to ensure that women and children are given the choice and opportunity to be protected from domestic and sexual abuse. This is becoming increasing difficult with cuts to front line services.

Women fighting back

Despite the barrage of cuts and attacks women have, and will continue, to struggle, particularly where there is leadership willing to take action. The PCS civil serevices workers union nationally have been to the fore in defending jobs and services. The strike action taken by 400 Unison members in Glasgow City Council’s homes for older people secured important concessions and forced back an anti-trade union and anti-collective bargaining approach from the Labour controlled council.

The Independence Referendum, which has changed the political landscape in Scotland ,saw tens of thousands of people, particularly women, becoming politically active for the first time in their lives.

The prospect of a more politicised and energised population rightly terrifies the ruling class – which is why they have been so quick to offer the carrot of more reforms for the Scottish Parliament, and the stick – repressive measures on the right to strike and demonstrate.

On this International Women’s Day I will leave the final words to some new members of Socialist Party Scotland:

After decades of political slumber, it appears we have awakened with an almighty start and showing no signs of falling back asleep. We are tired of being led by this corrupt establishment and want change Now! We have found our voice and I believe that if we all stand together and shout loud enough, we will be heard. It feels very empowering. I want my children and grandchildren to live in a fairer, more just society and I believe that the Socialist Party is the only party that will achieve this. I trust them wholeheartedly to proudly strive for an Independent Socialist Scotland.” Laura Carrie, Arbroath Socialist Party Scotland

I got involved in helping the Socialist Party Scotland during the referendum campaign, and helped them build for the Hope over Fear public meetings. I did it because I was sick of moaning, sick of sitting in a freezing house, I can’t afford to buy food and not moaning to anybody. I decided I wanted to make a difference. I suffer badly with depression and anxiety, this time last year I could hardly leave the house. I’m now active in trying to defend mental health services like GAMH that are being slashed” – Louise Donegan, Renfrewshire Socialist Party Scotland

Austerity has brought many attacks in all workers pay, terms and conditions and job security. But it is also cynically used to try and role back many of the gains the trade union movement has won over the years in equality. In the public sector we see attacks on flexible working, childcare provision, part time workers’ rights and increased discrimination. These affect women workers in particular. PCS has always argued that standing up for equality is more vital at this time and we will continue to do this even when our union is in the middle of an unprecedented political attack for constantly opposing austerity and promoting an alternative.” Janice Godrich, PCS President & Socialist Party Scotland Member