I spent Friday and Saturday at the NZCTU (New Zealand Council of Trade Unions) Biennial Women’s Conference.
This is the third conference I’ve attended. I find I come away uplifted by the new contacts, renewed contacts and conversations that happen over two days. It’s a chance to walk outside of my own little bubble that is NZEI (New Zealand Educational Institution) and talk with women from other unions – both in the education sector and outside of the sector.
I like to mingle – so the first day I found myself sitting with an old friend from MUNZ (Maritime Union of New Zealand) and some PPTA (Post Primary Teachers’ Association) women and on the second day I sat with some women from MERAS (Midwifery Representation and Advisory Services) and TEU (Tertiary Education Union). At meal times I mixed even further and ate and talked with women from the CTU, PSA (Public Service Association) & NZDWU (NZ Dairy Workers’ Union).
At the end of the conference I was one of the people asked to reflect on our two days together so I’ll repeat here what I said there and then add some more.
- Rose Ryan, Director of Athena Research, said “The more things change the more they stay the same.”
- Laila Harré , National Secretary NDU (National Distribution Union), talked about translating passion into action.
- The Friday Panel discussion talked about cultural issues that Maori and Pasifika women face that are totally unknown to Pakeha/European women.
- Louise Tarrant, General Secretary LHMU (Liquor Hospitality and Misc Union), gave us this quote from Helen Keller “One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.” – How many people are aware that Helen Keller was a political activist?
- Helen Kelly, President of the NZCTU talked about succession planning and a union for the 21st Century.
- Cross union discussions – both formal and informal – it doesn’t matter where we come from, we have a common purpose and together we are stronger!
A real demonstration of the common purpose came when a PPTA woman asked me where she could buy one of the NZEI Support Staff T-shirts (produced for our current campaign) because she wanted to wear it at school and show her support for the Support Staff campaign. It doesn’t matter that sometimes our two unions are at cross purposes – this is a campaign that matters to us both.
This week Primary School Teachers across NZ will get a pay increase as negotiated by NZEI before the 2008 election. We are some of the lucky ones as there is now a wage freeze set in place by the National Government. (With the cost of living rising that means we’re getting a negative increase!) I strongly suspect that there will be some cross-union support being called for (and given) over the next few months. What affects one of us, affects all of us.
And to finish here’s an extra verse to the Woody Guthrie classic: Union Maid.
A woman’s life is hard, even with a union card
She’s got to stand on her own two feet, not to be a servant of the male elite
It’s time to make a stand, keep working hand in hand
For there’s a job that’s got to be done, and a fight that’s got to be won.