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Working Women's Conference ends with call to reach out to `a-typical Workers'

ICFTU Online..., 101/270599/DD, 27 May 1999

Working Women's Conference ends with call to reach out to `a-typical Workers'

Brussels. May 27 1999 (ICFTU OnLine): The ICFTU Conference for trade union women finished last week with a call to step up organising tactics to reach `new workers'.

"We need to rethink our organising methods so that we can move into the millennium geared to attracting the armies of new workers created by globalisation, and shake off the image of trade unions being led by old men", said Nancy Riche, Chair of the Conference. "Almost half of the women who are represented here are under 35", she said, referring to the millions of young women who work in the export processing zones.

Unions need to step up organising tactics

The Conference agreed that more priority should be given to organising `atypical workers' such as the millions of women now working in the informal sector. Unions must also begin organising in other `new' sectors such as migrant workers, part-time workers, and the increasing `tele' working sector.

Delegates said that if these workers remained untouched by trade unions, the workers would turn to other organisations to represent their rights at work.

Change the image of the unions to be less `male-dominated'.

The Conference resolved that unions had to do more to give women a more central role in the trade unions. At present many women, particularly young women, felt that unions did not know how to represent their needs, since they were run - or perceived as being run - by old men.

The unions need to build up new structures to represent young workers, particularly young women workers, and to build up other structures to cater for migrant workers.

If unions are to increase recruitment among the young, they also need to look at new ways of presenting themselves to the public, the Conference agreed. Campaigns such as the ICFTU's "The future is Now - Join a union" aimed at recruiting young workers should be strongly supported, since at present the energy and drive of young workers to regenerate the unions is unrecognised.

Clear strategies to fight globalisation

In addition to changing their approach, unionists, particularly trade union women need to plan clear strategies to fight globalisation which has hit women harder than men.

Structural adjustment programmes, often brought in as a condition of loans from international financial institutions such as the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund have particularly hurt women workers. The Conference said that in future loans given by such institutions must include `gender' sensitive elements as well as a social dimension. To make these organisations more gender aware, more women must be included in trade union delegations to the IMF/World Bank, and to other international financial institutions.

Within trade unions themselves women must draw up their own gender awareness plans so that these can be included in the overall trade union strategy to fight globalisation.

Women and armed Conflict

The ICFTU issued a resolution deploring the growing number of armed conflicts, in the world which have a devastating impact on women, children and the elderly. They joined with Rigoberta Menchu in condemning the ethnic cleansing and war in Yugoslavia, and demanded that funds currently used for purchasing weaponry be used for social development and education.

They are calling for immediate peace negotiations within the framework of the United Nations, as the only international institution mandated to keep world peace. They also support the reform of the United Nations to strengthen its capacity to prevent conflict.

Launch of Trade Union campaign on Dita Sari

There will be a concerted campaign to free Dita Sari, an Indonesian trade unionist who has been imprisoned since 1996 for trade union activities. Dita Sari, who is the leader of the Indonesian Centre for Labour Struggles (PPBI) is serving a five year sentence for organising over a hundred strikes for workers' rights. She has been beaten up by her interrogators.

All these proposals will be presented to the ICFTU Congress in April 2000, in South Africa, and will form part of the policy governing trade union actions worldwide for the next four years.

The ICFTU 7th World Women's Conference took place in Rio de Janeiro last week. There were more than 300 delegates from 90 countries.

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