First CWU Conference Equality Day – ‘a massive success’Equalities April 26 2022
Music, poetry, disability rights campaigners and a special message from America were among the highlights, as well as some robust and lively debates…
“Mainstreaming equality is mainstreaming key issues and that’s what we’ve done today,” said our head of equality, education & development Kate Hudson, as she brought proceedings to a close this yesterday evening.
“After today, we will be doing this again, building on it and I’m really pleased at how it’s gone.”
Poetic appeal for respecting diversity
Spoken word artist Potent Whisper had been the first ‘speaker’ of the morning, treating the hall to some specially created prose which explained how diversity is about treating people individually and respecting difference.
“Love and respect and I feel properly honoured to be with you today,” he began, then launched into his monologue, which both informed and entertained and included examples of how ‘treating everyone the same’ is not necessarily equality – because people have different needs.
“Take time to listen. Treat people equally, don’t treat them all the same,” he concluded, to enthusiastic applause.
In Kate’s opening speech, she told Conference: “Today is a day of firsts and change can only come from all of us working together.”
Citing the groups of people who had been impacted the most by Covid, Kate explained how the pandemic had highlighted the inequalities with our society and told delegates that, “our demands are a call for real change and, if we don’t stand up, who will?
“I say to all of you who came before, thank you. And to all the reps in the hall today, I say to you our time is now.
“The power of this union is you – enjoy the day.”
Trans rights and prostate awareness
Conference then got down to business by unanimously approving the first two motions of the day, on so-called ‘conversion therapy and prostate cancer respectively.
The first debate addressed the Government’s promised ban on ‘conversion therapy’, which is the name given to so-called ‘treatments’ based on the false and offensive notion that being LGBT+ is an illness or a disorder. The CWU, along with the TUC, Labour Party and LGBT+ campaigning organisations have long fought for this ban, but the recent decision by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet not to apply this protection to the trans community has caused widespread anger.
Greater London Combined branch delegate Maria Exall moved a strongly-worded motion demanding that the ban must also apply to so-called ‘therapies’ aimed at trans and non-binary people as well as lesbians, gays and bisexuals.
Excluding trans and non-binary people form this legislative protection is, Maria said, an example of “divide and rule tactics” and further disadvantages “people who are some of the most marginalised in the country.”
Willie Marshal, from Scotland No.2 Branch, won a warm round of applause in the next debate when he said: “In the words of Elton John, I’m still standing,” after explaining to Conference how he had been diagnosed with cancer of the larynx back in 1997. Willie added that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer last year and went on to explain why it was important that delegates backed the motion he was moving aimed at raising awareness of this condition among men and for men to make sure that, if they experience certain symptoms, that they go to their doctor and get checked.
South East No.5 Branch secretary Andy Moorey talked of his own fight against prostate cancer and echoed Willie’s insistence that men need to be encouraged to go to their doctor if they experience “a constant need to go to the bathroom,” while Ryan Rochester, from Coventry Branch, put the issue more bluntly, saying: “Men, have the balls to get checked!”
Guest speakers warmly welcomed
TUC head of equality Kudsia Batool gave a detailed and highly informative speech to conference, in which she praised the work done by CWU members thoughout the pandemic, saying: “When the nation came calling, you answered and helped us through the crisis.”
Kudsia also made the point that the pandemic had increased society’s inequalities and that it was vital that our whole movement must unite to eliminate prejudice and discrimination in all its forms.
Musician, songwriter and neurodiversity advocate J Grange spoke of his childhood struggles with ADHD and of how he had even been punished at school for his condition.
“I had dyspraxia and could not tie up the back of my apron in cooking class – and I was kicked out of the class for ‘mucking around’,” he recalled, as an example of the lack of awareness of conditions such as these.
“I learned to manage and embrace my difference,” he told conference, going on to talk at length about different neurodiverse conditions – and, as well as explaining why employers must not discriminate against neurodiverse people, he also set out some of the positive benefits to companies of employing people within these groups, who often have increased creativity, energy and enthusiasm.
“Strength lies in differences – not similarities,” he insisted, and concluded his presentation by laying a video of his song ‘We Will Rise Up’ to the hall, followed by a lively Q&A session with delegates.
Against sexual harassment & misogyny – men must take responsibility, set examples & teach respect
A policy motion from CWU Scotland which set out a series of measures aimed at making women feel safer by challenging and changing discriminatory and disrespectful male attitudes and behaviours sparked a lengthy debate and heard several emotional contributions.
Moving the proposition, Scott Hartles explained its intentions and why it was necessary, setting it in the context of the aftermath of the angry mobilisations that occurred in response to the shocking rape and murder of Sarah Everard and that, while traumatic and terrible crimes such as these are at the extreme end, there are far too many instances of women feeling frightened, worried and unsafe in the towns and cities of the UK, whether in social situations or in workplaces.
Lili Savage, from Northern Ireland Telecoms Branch, spoke in support of the motion, and said bluntly: “It’s not the responsibility of women not to get raped, it’s the responsibility of men not to rape.
“Men, call out your friends, call out sexual harassment among your peers. Sexual violence is an insidious beast and it should never be tolerated or excused,” she continued. “This union, of which I’m so incredibly proud to be part of has done so much – but we need to do so much more.”
Danielle Culshaw, from Mersey Branch, cited the shocking statistic that almost 900,000 women have been the victims of stalking, while Greater Mersey Amal Branch delegate Julie Gibson highlighted the misogynist abuse of Labour Party deputy leader Angela Rayner this week, calling it “disgraceful.”
Dave Banbury, from Kent Invicta Branch, said: “Lili was right, it’s men that are the problem. We need to go back to our workplaces as men and we need to talk to our sons to respect women. If you’ve got young sons, talk to them about the way they treat women. I’ve got two daughters and they shouldn’t be worried every time they go out.”
Two women gave examples of their own experiences, Bootle Financial Services Branch delegate Beverley Kenyon said that she had been “shocked” when she had been sexually harassed at work, but had nobody to turn to and had even begun to question herself. And Rohan Kon, from South Yorkshire & District Amal Branch, silenced the hall when she gave a harrowing account of a rape she had suffered after having her drink spiked while out socialising.
Rohan also spoke of the street harassment that female postal workers face from male customers and members of the public, saying: “I’ve been astounded at the amount of sexual harassment and the lack of support.”
Speaking in support of the motion, NEC women’s lead for postal members Angela Whitter recalled the savage 2019 murder of a Royal Mail colleague and told conference that “her terrible story is just one of many.
“Too often these terrible crimes happen and we say: ‘lessons must be learned’, but two women each week are killed by an abusive partner.”
Angela talked further about the prevalence of sexual harassment at work and that this affects one in two women, while the lockdowns during the Covid pandemic saw an increase in incidents of violence within the home.
“We welcome this motion – please support it.”
Close the gender pay gap, facility time for equality reps, we back WASPI women and Where’s The Interpreter?
Working through the agenda pad, conference approved a series of motions demanding mandatory action plans from employers to tackle the gap between male and female earnings, calling for new legislation giving paid time off for equality reps to perform their duties, supporting the campaign of Women Against State Pensions Injustice, and backing a campaign to increase the presence of signers for deaf people at public events – moved by Newcastle Amal, North West No1, Northern Ireland Telecoms and Bristol & District Amal branches respectively.
Other propositions passed by delegates covered the important subject of training for equality reps, the need for guidance from the NEC on their specific responsibilities, taking our equality work into the wider trade union and labour movement and raising awareness around equality issues.
The progress that the union has made and is making in mainstreaming equality was demonstrated in an interesting and informative video featuring CWU head of communications Chris Webb interviewing Kate Hudson with Postal national officer Carl Maden and T&FS national officer Dave Jukes.
In the video, which was broadcast to conference on the big screen, Dave and Carl explain the specific measures being taken and the work being done with employers to advance the equality agenda in workplaces.
Disability rights and a message from America
Two other special guests yesterday were disability rights campaigner Adam Pearson and American politician Nina Turner – although Nina’s contribution came via video link.
Adam made the point that people should not “confuse disability with inability” and talked of how he felt fortunate to have always been encouraged by his family – “neither of my parents allowed me to coast and feel sorry for myself,” he said, adding: “When I was younger, I was told I could do anything.”
While of course some disabilities affect and impact on people’s motor skills, Adam said that, reasonable and appropriate adjustments aside, disabled people in the workplace should be held to the same standard – and that when dealing with disabled customers, the same principle should apply.
“Interact with them as you would with others,” he said, bringing laughter from the audience with examples of two hypothetical interactions – “Is it OK to sit in a disabled person’s wheelchair if you’re tired? No, never. Is it OK to swear at a disabled person if they’re being a nob? Absolutely.
“And if you want to be really inclusive, learn the sign language!”
On the subject of the workplace, Adam said: “We also need to look at access. It’s so much more than putting in a ramp – how high are your desks? How wide are your corridors? Are your disabled facilities working?”
“Treating people equally is not necessarily the same as treating them fairly. If Michael Jordan and I get the same tickets to a show, and if we’re at the back – I’m five foot six and he’s six foot six, so even though we would have been treated the same, it wouldn’t be fair.”
Closing his speech, Adam asked for questions from the audience, which led to an engaging two-way discussion of many of the issues raised.
Nina Turner’s speech came towards the end of the day, and delegates gave her a rousing cheer and lively applause for an inspiring address which drew historic comparisons between the CWU’s New Deal for Workers campaign and the original ‘New Deal’ introduced by 1930s USA president Franklin Delaware Roosevelt.
“He had been planning an economic bill of rights for the people of America after WWII, but he sadly died before he could do it,” she said, praising the CWU for the principles outlined in our 2022 New Deal initiative and of the need for the widest possible unity of the working class.
“Trade unions are such a force for good and we must make sure labour unions are preserved and strengthened across the world, fighting the same fights that our sisters and brothers are fighting all across the world.
“If you are part of the working class, baby, let’s come together and unite,” she urged, adding: “It’s only because of workers across the globe that things get done.”
General secretary: ‘Mainstreaming equality makes us all stronger’
“I never thought I’d say this from the rostrum, but it feels really good to be negative today,” joked Dave Ward, who was able to come to Annual Conference yesterday after testing negative for Covid.
Thanking Kate and her team for their efforts, Dave said: “Equality is important to everything we do as a trade union. We believe in equality of opportunity in the workplace and in our union. We will not stand for people being disadvantaged because of their race, gender, sexuality, disabilities and we have to take this message forward.
“In this trade union, our role is to bridge divides and there’s no better organisation to do this than a trade union.
“Bringing equality into the mainstream of our union makes this union stronger,” he concluded.
In her closing comments, Kate Hudson thanked everyone who had made the day such a success and told conference: “Mainstreaming equality is mainstreaming key issues and that’s what we’ve done today. After today, I know every one of you will be walking out of here today knowing what it is we need to do.”