18 March, 2013USW held its Women of Steel Conference in Pittsburgh from 10 to 13 March under the motto Honoring our Past – Protecting our Future. The conference was attended by nearly 1,000 women from all sectors and all regions in the United States and Canada, the most ever. The conference focused on how women can get involved in the union in the areas of education, communication, political influence, trade work, organizing, legislation, rapid response and safety.
Women of Steel has more than 5,000 activists across North America. More and more women head USW departments. Women are still behind in earning power and economic security. Nevertheless women get more college and graduate degrees than men. In 2010 the wage gap was 77 cents out of every dollar earned by men, and the gap even widened in 2012. Two-thirds of minimum wage earners are women. This translates into a staggering 17 million people who would directly benefit if the minimum wage rose. 60 percent of social security recipients are women. All of this indicates why austerity and budget cuts affect women first and worst.
The conference was conducted mostly in workshops which ranged from topics relating to political influence to union contracts to making the union more inclusive. The United States is one of the countries in the world with the highest rate of infant and maternal mortality. This could be remedied by allowing women to take paid maternity leave. Maternity leave and family benefits can be achieved through collective bargaining, and USW has sample language on these issues.
The USW invited women to the conference where the union has built alliances around the world. These included women from Unite the Union, UK, NUM, South Africa, the FMM-CFDT, France and the AWU, Australia. The women all took part in an international panel on the last day which was facilitated by USW Vice-President Carol Landry.
When it comes to gender equality, Germany lags behind. The pay gap in Germany averages 23 per cent. The reasons for it are manifold – women often work part-time or in mini jobs or in sectors which pay less and where the outlook is not so positive, it is still women who do the lion’s share of household chores, and they interrupt their paid jobs to look after children or elderly relatives. The result is that women are rarely able to stand on their own two feet economically, to support their own families or to accumulate a pension to live in dignity in old age.
That is why IGBCE and IG Metall demanded this year on 8th March:
- Deliberate and affirmative action for women and opening up more opportunities for them in careers,
- Equal pay for work of equal value for women as well as the adoption of a law on equal pay,
- More women in leadership positions,
- Equal pay for men and women,
- Equal opportunities for career development,
- Working time for women and men that does justice to their needs at different times of life,
- Jobs that guarantee women’s economic survival,
- A binding quota for women on company boards and supervisory boards,
- Working time which does justice to health and work-life balance as well as making it easier to change from part-time work to full-time work,
- More childcare opportunities for children as well as the elimination of caring money,
- Making the return to an equivalent job binding after family leave.
IndustriALL participated in Women’s Day events in Kathmandu, Nepal on 8 March. National centre GEFONT organized a 600-participant gathering marking Women’s Day with new policy prioritizing the empowerment of women.
On 7-8 March all IndustriALL’s Colombian affiliates celebrated Women’s Day in a national conference. The major trend facing women workers in Colombia is an increasing amount of women working from home. This recent shift is seen as a new tactic by capital to reduce women workers’ ability to organize and struggle collectively.
Simultaneous activities were carried out at the Associated Labor Unions (ALU) national and regional offices in the Philippines on 8 March 2013 in observance of International Women’s Day. A total of 610 men, women and children from the National Capital, Southern Mindanao and Central Visayas regions participated.
ALU has been involved in women empowerment for years and has actively participated in policy formulation and advocacy work, together with coalition partners from all fronts. Information and experiences from members and communities are used to support ALU’s advocacy campaigns. Policy gains are returned to the ground in the form of programs and direct services, where possible, as a matter of policy.
And finally, women’s organizations in Egypt celebrated International Women’s Day with events that included a march to demand a halt to violence in general and against women at demonstrations in particular, as well as calling for support for women in political life and including them as partners on an equal footing.