In 1888 1400 politicised and long exploited girls and women went on strike at the Bryant and May match factory. Their efforts were whitewashed out of history and credit given to middle class Fabian Annie Besant(who wanted them to do a petition!!! Seriously). They are rarely credited as being present at the birth of the union movement. This year the Labour party continued this great tradition and exploited, marginalised, and silenced women whose lives are being been destroyed by welfare reform, housing benefit and local authority cuts. Reforms necessary because of their economic failure. While taking credit for fighting for them. Yesterday one of the1boys playing at the heart of the Labour Party laid out how the precariously employed, welfare dependent, and in debt working population of this country, could fix their problems by having the Labour Party address gender relations. Now that Labour and their supporters have finished exploiting us, they are to pretend we do not exist. Not in the past, present, or future. While blaming us for their mistakes.
The line ‘women are disproportionately affected by the cuts’ has prefixed so many articles about the austerity measures our political parties are committed to, it isn’t necessary to add it. Since Yvette Cooper commissioned the the gender audit of last years budget which showed how 72% of the burden of the cuts would fall on women’s shoulders, it has been repeatedly confirmed that the welfare reform, housing benefit cuts, and local authority cuts that achieve this would also have been Labour priorities. A narrative lifted from The Sun, used to hide those affected under sound bites about ‘grafters and scroungers’. The latest report from the Fawcett Society, confirmed her belief about what this toxic combination of cuts is doing.
The enormity of the effect of these changes on predominantly female lone parent households skewed The Fawcett Society’s results. The report also showed how likely those affected by one ‘cut’, were to be hit by a combination. Women so grossly affected because a few peak, pre-children earning years aren’t enough to cover the motherhood pay chasm, exorbitant childcare costs and rent, the financial sacrifice of caring for relatives, or a retirement pot damaged because your contribution to society wasn’t paid or recognised. The effect not a drop in living standards, but to the things that allow them to live at all. Housing benefit changes adding potency to this cocktail, because the property boom didn’t really mix with the economic inequality motherhood and caring responsibilities bring. .
With our largest public sector union, Unison, having the collective voice and dues of 1.3million members, largely from local authorities, being heard shouldn’t have been a problem for women.. About half of Unison’s members are part time workers, the full times ones amongst the lowest earners in the country. Most Local Authorities unable to commit to paying a Living Wage, the low pay of the mainly female membership meant they were also likely to be hit by the housing benefit cuts their employers are delivering. As well as welfare reform, and cuts to local authority services and jobs. At the head of 2Unison, Dave Prentis, currently earning over £92’000, sold their collective voice to parrot the Labour line that it was sensible they should be hit first, hardest and with least discussion.
Unison have long come down hard on members who question their connection to Labour. Their reputation as a ‘witchfinder’ union well deserved. This archaic practice of ‘purging’ members, justified by the need to prevent that other relic of the left, the Socialist Workers Party from exerting undue influence. It is now those who wish to fight cuts that affect them or question the untenable affiliation with the Labour Party, who are being purged. Minor rules used to expel members from the organisation they pay for, which was supposed to be their collective voice. A collective voice that must be difficult to articulate, when you won’t even ballot your members for their view. Entire branches are resigning, in protest.
Debate around the cuts has been shaped by a heavily politically affiliated mainstream media, with bizarre tribalism clouding extraordinary political consensus. Big hitter columnists are happy to wax lyrical about about their concern for those affected. Repeating the mantra Surestart, making sure tiny differences between the social policies of our parties are magnified into significance and we are seen as helpless recipients of social policy that wasn’t helping anyway…. The sympathy we receive, no substitute for real discussion about how all three political parties can be agreed on this. Labour tribalists at so called ‘grassroots’ have instead decided that Labour are the voice of opposition, regardless of their policies. And anyone disagreeing needs to shut up.
In January of this year, I was invited to speak at ‘Netroots’. A conference paid for by the TUC, which sought to co-opt opposition to austerity measures as support for the Labour Party. After Netroots I was described as a 3‘radical’, ‘intent on arguing that nothing vaguely linked to mainstream politics was acceptable’ because I pointed out that the housing benefit reforms, and commitment to minimising cuts to other departments by focusing on welfare spending, were Labour policy. That this couldn’t really be the case without disproportionately affecting women. Mocked as thick, because the questions I had went beyond party tribalism. The privileged guppies who make up the unduly influential ‘left wing’ political blogosphere at the heart of Netroots, went onto wash the issue of welfare reform and local authority cuts from their pages, while a manufactured debate about voting reform provided adequate justification for political activists turning away while working class women were sold down the river. Any woman protesting, will find herself stood behind Ed Miliband as he speaks for her, or castigated as an extreme radical if she objects.
As Labour swear their opposition to the Murdoch agenda, they have taken the pretty safe gamble that they are under no obligation to represent us. Cruddas, Miliband, Glasman, Rutherford, and Purnell sit in rooms fantasising about versions of the working class where we didn’t exist, and where we can be blamed for their abject failure, under a narrative peddled by the media giant they sold our democracy to. And discussion based on the idea that that is all just fine will shape our news for the next