Women's voices must be heard from grassroots up
At her first appearance at PMQs Theresa May taunted Labour.
“I have long heard the Labour party asking what the Conservative Party does for women. Well – it just keeps making us Prime Minister.”
We know that having a woman as Party leader is not in itself proof of women’s equality and liberation (though having women representatives in leadership positions is important). But a challenge has been laid down that Labour must meet. How we organise as women in the Labour Party needs to change. We must move forward.
Labour women aspire to represent the political issues that matter to women at work and in our communities. It is up to us as Labour supporting women trade unionists and party activists to make sure the party listens to the aspirations of working class women. To do this we need equal representation in all parts of the Party — as MPs, Councillors, Party Officers — and recognition that our priorities and our issues are central to Labour’s political agenda.
The Women’s Conference of the Labour Party is currently held the day before Annual Labour Party Conference. It is always an uplifting occasion. Up to 1,000 Labour women come together to discuss everything from the gender pay gap to defending public services, from domestic violence to the glass ceiling. We discuss promoting women’s concerns in our society and in our world where sexism is an everyday occurrence and brutal misogyny persists.
But many attendees from affiliated organisations and CLPs have been frustrated by the structure of the conference, or more precisely the lack of structure of the Conference. CWU women want the opportunity to make decisions on policy and on women’s self organisation within the party.
Discussions and debates are important, but not enough – we want democratic reform so we know the national Party is listening to what we may have to say and we can call them to account. What we as Labour women have to say is vital for the Party now and in the future. Democratic reform of the Women’s organisation in the Party means we could engage new members, develop Labour policy in an inclusive way, and improve our electoral prospects.
The CWU believes that we need an Annual Conference of Labour Women with real decision making powers to debate motions from Constituency and local Women’s Forums and from affiliated organisations. At such a Conference, women organised in trade unions can speak out alongside women active in CLPs and in their local communities and what we agree should input into Annual Conference and the National Policy Forum.
How women want to organise — informally and imaginatively, recognising our diversity — should also be retained in any reform of the current Women’s Conference. We need to recognise the importance of intersectionality and multiple forms of discrimination in our policy debates and ensure that the voices of BME women, LBT women, women with disabilities and younger and older women are heard loud and clear.
All voices in the party must be represented in any future democratic change on Labour’s women’s organisation and the federal nature of decision making in our party reflected in our Annual Conference structure should be maintained.
Developing our party democracy through a decision making Women’s Conference means we can reach out to women in communities and workplaces up and down the country, build up our women’s organising capacity and project Labour values more effectively within wider society.
Theresa May’s challenge to us then cannot be answered just by representation at the highest level of the Labour Party. What we must do is ensure that the voices of women are heard loud and clear at all levels of the Party — from the grassroots up.
This is the challenge that we as Labour women are more than capable of meeting. Just give us the chance.
Kate Hudson is Regional Secretary of CWU MidlandsLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.