The union held its first women’s school at Wortley Hall, Sheffield, attended by 24 women.
FBU general secretary Ken Cameron addressed the school on the theme “Women in the Union – What is the future?” The school held sessions on removing barriers to women’s involvement, taking up issues important to women and getting their message across, including writing motions and forming action plans. The women’s school stressed how women had been involved in industrial and political struggles for centuries and that “women’s issues” were not a new phenomenon.
The Manufacturing, Science, Finance trade union (since amalgamated into Unite) national secretary Terry Marsland, who devoted her trade union life to fighting for women’s rights, also addressed the school. She welcomed the FBU’s commitment to equal opportunities over the years and spoke of the importance in involving women at all levels of the union, particularly at branch level.
She pointed out that in many industries women not only receive lower wages than men but have at least two jobs, when childcare is considered, and are effectively barred from senior positions in the workplace. She reminded students that the TUC first supported a call for equal pay over 108 years ago. “It must be the longest running pay claim in history,” she said.
Many speakers also emphasised the level of sexual harassment of which women were victims and that women were having to “break new ground” or “re-invent the wheel” just to be accepted by the fire service. A new members’ pack and a code of conduct on sexual harassment were called for to address the intolerable levels of harassment and stress women faced. Members also agreed to an annual women’s school as a way to encourage more female trade union activists.