#IWD2012: Bernadette Segol's speech

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Solidarity with women workers

Women and austerity: impact and resistance

8 March 2012

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I am glad to have been invited to celebrate with you the international women's day.

I shall start without any sense of modesty. I am happy and proud to be amongst you as the first woman General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation.

I am glad that trade unions over Europe, women in trade unions all over Europe, have worked with strong determination so that nobody could ever believe that this was a 'man's job', that only a man could go for it.

My candidacy to this position, and its success, was only possible because of the work and determination of millions of women who, during decades, have stood up and shouted against inequality, have imposed measures for equal treatment, claimed that yes, it is possible to be a 'true' woman, a mother, and to want a job and a good one.

I can only stand in front of you thanks to all those who fought for public services, schooling facilities, child care, maternity leave. Without those public services, without those protections, there can be no equality at the work place.

This is to say that I am grateful to all of you here, and many more. Thanks to you for all what you did over the years. Thanks to the TUC for their support.

I am holding a fascinating function. But in these days of deep and persistent crisis, fascination is second to a strong feeling of anger over what is a systematic attempt to attack the European social model. This model is made of strong industrial relations, public services and social protection.

In most EU countries, the mantra is 'austerity'. It is not only rhetoric. It has become an obligation. This is not only problem of the Eurozone. I think austerity and cuts are your daily bread, with the Pound, as is it for those with Euros in their pocket. You get less pounds in your pocket, we get less Euros, but it is the same policy.

We know this policy does not work, and is not going to work. We know that this policy is unfair, and hits the weakest.

The TUC day of action on pensions last November was very successful; congratulations as well for your recent action to save the NHS.

Money is taken from public sector. This means slashing wages and jobs. This is hitting women, who are in a majority in those jobs.

Friends: We know it: public services are essential to secure a coherent and fair society. Attacking public services, weakening them is the wrong way forward. It is certainly a step back for women and equality.

Industrial relations, trade unions are also under attack. In Greece free collective bargaining is impeded, collective agreements abolished and trade unions intimidated. In Spain the Government has decided to legislate over the agreement made by social partners, the ECB puts pressure on negotiation mechanisms to bring down wages.

We, trade unions are there to negotiate fair wages and good working conditions, conciliation of private and working life. We are there to fight against inequalities, for justice. All these questions are top on the trade union agenda. All these questions are of major importance for women.

We still have an unacceptable pay gap. Trade unions are fighting against it.

Women are still concentrated on low paid jobs. Trade unions are fighting against this.

Women are still working much harder to combine family and working life. We have not reached a fair sharing of responsibilities at home. The glass ceiling still exists. Trade unions are working to put this injustice to an end.

If trade unions are weakened -as they are- our fight for equality, gender equality, will be weakened. Let us take all our responsibilities in our unions, to give a priority to all those questions.

It is true, women in Europe have made progress. Although progress is still necessary in many sectors. There are not - yet - enough women in scientific functions, not enough women economists, not enough women plumbers, carpenters or electricians, not enough women in the IT world, not enough women in decision making functions. We are not sitting back. ETUC has just this week agreed a plan of action on gender equality.

Friends, I also think it is very important for us to support with all possible means, all women over the world who still are treated as second class persons; this is not right; this will never be right; it is a fundamental human right that women are equal to men. We will never compromise on this; whatever the culture, whatever the religion.

In many countries equality is just an empty word. We do not accept it, and will stand up and shout loud for worldwide changes for women rights.

Friends, let us have a great day; a day to feel good; a day to feel proud; a day to feel determined; let us celebrate together our day.

Briefing
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