International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month

The right to self determination is crucial for our collective empowerment against discrimination and patriarchal systems.

For the past couple of years, we have been celebrating Women’s History Month in addition to International Women’s Day – our herstories are important in documenting our struggles for women equality and creating a positive legacy for the future.

Women’s History Month started in the USA and although the first Women’s History Month in the USA took place over 100 years ago it is still a relatively new observance in the UK.

As the chair of the National Women’s Forum, I have worked with colleagues on the forum and the equality dept to put together a programme of activities for the month including some interactive history materials which can be used at local union branch events and which will be shared on PCS social media throughout the month and we have organised two events to mark IWD and WHM which I will be chairing.

The first will be a fringe meeting at TUC Women’s Conference during the first week of March which focuses on black women and the pandemic. As intersectional women we often face multiple barriers and discrimination and our black women members in the culture sector and outsourced areas are amongst the hardest hit at work and in the labour market by the pandemic on top of the fact that black and minority ethnic people are contracting and dying disproportionately.

The second event will be celebrating women past present and future and we will shortly be announcing our trailblazing keynote speaker.

Details of both events can be found here:

The official theme for IWD this year is Choose to Challenge but we did not feel that this was an appropriate theme for us because as women trade unionists and workers we challenge every day, so we have chosen the theme A Better Future for Women #PCSABetterFutureforWomen.

The past year during the pandemic has been tough on women and has impacted in disproportionate ways on women with double or more impacts for intersectional women. From an increase in domestic abuse to women in precarious work – especially black and migrant women losing their jobs in higher numbers, having increased caring responsibilities for vulnerable family and trying to juggle home schooling, caring and work , the backdrop for what we faced when the pandemic hit us is embedded in the adverse impacts of austerity, low and unequal pay and a patriarchal society so when we hear people talk about going back to normal, this isn’t something we support – we don’t want to go back to how things were because life was tough for those on the receiving end of discrimination, misogyny , harassment and poverty – what we want is to go into a future that’s better for us all, especially the most marginalised and it’s crucial that nobody is left behind.

Our struggles against discrimination and barriers are connected and while we fight for the rights of our members, we cannot forget about the women globally whose voices need elevating, our sisters in the global south are displaced because of climate change, conflict and poverty, our LBT sisters who face persecution in some parts of the world. Here is the UK I have been supporting women and children with no recourse to public funds and no access to government covid measures and women and children separated from loved ones who are the descendants of the Windrush generation, detained and deported with no safeguards against the pandemic. The legacies of colonialism and imperialism have led to the persecution and discrimination that these women face and so knowing that history and sharing it as an act of solidarity and awareness raising to counter the onslaught of discrimination and struggle for gender equality we face as intersectional women in crucial.

Whilst self- determination is a must – the fight for women’s equality is the responsibility of all of us – men can be feminists too and the trade union plays an important role in that fight.

Zita Holbourne

Zita is standing in the PCS elections as Vice President as part of the Democracy Alliance slate. Click on the image below for more details.

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Defend the £20 Universal Credit uplift

The sight of people queuing for a foodbank in the snow recently has once again highlighted the crisis of poverty that exists in this country.

Even on parliamentary measurements 11 million people were in ‘relative low income’, that’s 17% of the population in 2019. That puts 2.8 million children, 20% of all children, in relative low income. Child Poverty Action Group put that figure at 4.2 million children.

Underneath these crude figures lie broken lives, children who will wake up hungry and underperform at school, people in multi occupier households which are being hit particularly hard by coronavirus, people who can’t heat their houses, increased levels of domestic violence, the list is endless.

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Standing Up to Racism in Edinburgh

Like many other activists in the trade union movement, I’m involved in Stand Up to Racism (SUtR), and over the last few weeks I’ve been convening meetings in Edinburgh, in order to build for a local event on UN Anti-Racism Day, 20th March.

This year, there is no let up in the challenges faced by anti-racists, with politicians and the media continuing to use racism in their attempts to divide opposition in response to the government’s mishandling of the pandemic. We have seen the stoking up of Islamophobia with the scapegoating of refugees and migrants.

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Period Dignity, from menstruation to menopause, we’re still here for you

PCS believe that no person with a period should be caught short and that period products should be free in workplace toilets the same way that toilet paper and soap are made available. And even though most of our members are currently working from home, which a Left Unity led union fought for, I believe it’s important to remember that the period dignity campaign encompasses so much more than the fight for free tampons or towels. It’s about unity. It’s about sisterhood. The call for ‘Period Dignity’ is about smashing the stigma and breaking the silence surrounding something that is so very natural. From menstruation to menopause and everything in between, we need to keep talking about it, all of it.

The Period Dignity Campaign which was moved by DWP Glasgow branch at National Conference 2018, very quickly started to gain momentum and our union (along with the various Women’s Advisory and Equality Committees) continued to highlight the importance of this campaign across our workplaces and beyond.

In May 2018 Celtic Football Club took the decision to provide the right to free sanitary products for fans. This campaign was set up by 3 football fans, all of which are working class women. Celtic, a club who have long been committed to working class values and set up with the purpose of alleviating poverty in the East end of Glasgow, were the first football club in the UK to install free dispensaries in the stadium toilets. 110 clubs across the UK have since followed suit.

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Digital recruitment (or how I learned to stop worrying and love technology)

As an organiser for my branch and regional organiser for DWP North East I’ve participated in many recruitment events for new staff and existing staff. The method was simple and imparted to me by several ‘old hats’ during TU inductions and events. “Look them in the eyes. Tell them about how brilliant PCS is, give them some pens, hand out some forms, collect them once they are completed” It seemed easy enough.

New staff inductions were normally conducted in a dreary training room which TU were invited to as part of the new staff induction to the department.

Invariably we would be allowed to talk to the recruits but only after HASSRA and the Charity for civil servants had already extolled the benefits of joining their club. On many occasions we would be asking them to fill out direct debits or salary deduction forms for the third time that day and glazed eyes told us that they were not really getting it.

To be fair I did get used to it and every now and again during spells of DWP recruitment I would toddle off to the training room with a clutch of forms, lanyards and pens to talk to the new staff. Obviously DWP recruitment, like most departments, has been virtually non-existent for several years’ now, so events to recruit existing staff became more prevalent.

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You Have No Authority Here Jackie Weaver

We know that the world is upside down, but how abnormal does it have to be for the ‘Texas Cat Attorney’ to get more hits on YouTube than the moon landings?  Jackie Weaver; the Britney Spears of Handforth Parish Council has endeared herself to the nation (apparently) for putting a couple of shouty old men into a Zoom waiting area, and it was very funny to watch an embarrassed academic fight off his excited toddler on a serious BBC interview about North Korean Politics.  I suspect many of us are sick to the back teeth of having to tell people that they are ‘on mute’ and I am sure many of us wonder if it will ever be customary to dress the bottom half of the body in office attire again.

However, the shift to working from home and meeting online has opened a serious debate and it is one we are having in PCS and one we should be encouraging in our Branches and offices.  When CCTV came in to Job Centres it was pretty comprehensive coverage, so that virtually each desk could be seen.  My first experience of intrusive remote management was when some senior managers took it upon themselves to use the CCTV to make sure all the staff were wearing name badges (when things like that mattered).  The union was fast to act on that one and got management to see that CCTV was not a tool to control us, but part of keeping us safe at work.  But lately there appears to be a bit of ‘mission creep’ among many managers.

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