United we stand? Well, yes. The motions and the speeches were a force for unity. They covered ground that I think all Labour women would agree on. I think most Labour men would, too – so those motions, obviously, unanimously passed were a foregone conclusion:
Rights for Migrant Women, Early Years, Education and Childcare, Abortion Rights, Pensions, Social Care, Violence Against Women and Girls, Universal credit and Employment Support, Women in the Workforce
They were long, complex motions because they’d been composited from many CLPs and affiliates’ motions but the broad sweep of all was entirely predictable, and will serve to help Labour Party policy keep on its socialist track. The consensus was such that I really wasn’t too worried which two would be taken forward to main conference – those that didn’t make it would go to the policy forums anyway. All good, stirring, uniting stuff.
Reasons to wander away from the main hall
So a lot of women strayed, looking to use the most valuable resource at conference – a whole host of women from all over the country, and from all walks of life. Networking they call it; making friends, swapping ideas, linking up campaigns in neighbouring or far-flung constituencies, advising each other on what works and how to make things happen; and over and over again, over endless cups of coffee, how to rally support, how to speak out when there’s a problem that hits you in the guts – and the advanced stuff, which is the eternal issue for women – how to speak out alone, to find the courage to let your voice be the drip-drip that presages a landscape-changing torrent – how that first, lone voice is actually the only way you will ever find that in reality you’re surrounded by silent allies with the same or similar problems.
Race, sex, class and birth dates
Because for women, and for anyone who’s on the wrong side of the race, sex and class divides, there are still huge problems in the Labour Party – of course there are, because racism, sexism and classism are the problems our society perpetuates everywhere. I was one of the optimistic wave, the children born around 1960. Until the Thatcher era, I saw the UK improving, year on year; the momentum that was achieved in the ‘50s and ‘60s was our golden inheritance, and it propelled us onward until the end of the 20th Century – but we arrived in the 21st going backwards, and that backward slide gained a terrifying momentum of its own.
Our young people now have inherited an aggressive, divisive, corporate dominated world. Many have barely heard of the world their parents and grandparents remember. They know very little of what women fought for in the 20th Century, nor how bitter the battles were – they have been busy with their own struggles in a ruthless, disempowering world.
Conference-goers ranged from people in their teens to people in their 80s. There were youngsters there who believed the older ones knew nothing of the urgency to go green, of the need for freedom of expression, of an end to warmongering – and more than a few who thought their elders need to be taught how to be progressive. A lot of conversations around the coffee tables at conference went a long way to sorting out issues like those.
And it’s not just a generation gap we are working to heal. There’s the obvious gap between rich and poor but so much more – when people clash over how to deal with the left-right split, over racism and anti-semitism, over Brexit, over whether there’s a conflict of interest between trans rights and women’s rights, over how we should address the problem of the sex industry, over what Trade Unions are, and what they should be, over how and whether democracy works … when those debates start raging, what we really need is to lay those heated issues aside for a bit and compare lives, so we stand a chance of understanding each others’ perspectives. Vast amounts of work was done on all those issues at Telford.
Reasons to stay in the main hall
But for all the coffee area conversations were invaluable, the passing of the already-broadly-agreed motions was also a wonderful thing to take part in because they were all about issues that are central to women’s lives, and speaker after speaker took to the platform to tell real stories, to bring issues to life, with “this is how this policy affects me/my friend/my daughter/my mother.”
Some Gems from the Platform
“Media commentators tried to put down the #metoo campaign”
“Courage speaks to courage everywhere”
“The UN inspectors confirmed that the current system in the UK is a ‘misogynist’s charter.’”
“We are all on the same side”
“What burden on employers and businesses? Has anyone even begun to calculate the cost of *not* investing in parents’ and children’s well being?”
“We forgot to mention the menopause. This is not optional for women, and not allowed for in work expectations.”
“Carers get £62 a week. It should be a proper wage.”
“The childcare we’re asking for isn’t enough. We need our nurseries and Children’s Centres back and working.”
“You campaign your socks off for a year to save a service, and win one more grudging year’s funding for it”
“The government is spending fortunes on
‘baseline assessments’ of 4 year olds, ‘to hold schools to account later on’. Our education regime is not fit for purpose.”
“‘The hostile environment’ is something women face every day.”
“How is my disabled son going to survive this?”
“Indefinite detention of migrants is not acceptable.”
Doing what women do best
It may be a cliché, it may be yet another example of women doing what is culturally expected of them but it remains the case – Labour Women’s Conference, Telford 2019 was different to main conference. It brought many issues alive for many people, and asserted yet again that The Personal is Political. I am about to do the feedback survey from the party now, and I will stuff it with criticisms, and my next two or three blog posts are going to be criticisms and questions, which I will link to here when they’re written, but that’s because Telford 2019 was wonderful, energising, and the start of something that, driven the right way, will soon be truly great. Let’s not let the chance slip away – let’s get driving.