Maggie Bremner’s Speech

Thanks to the London Feminist Network for organising an excellent march and rally this evening. I am pleased to be representing NASUWT today. For those who don’t know NASUWT is a teachers’ union representing well over 100,000 women from across the UK  and we are proud to sponsor and support this event for a second year.

As many of you know, unions have a strong tradition of challenging violence and sexual assault against women in the workplace as well as on the streets and in the home.

And I’d like to start with sharing a bit about my own experience of violence towards women who I lived and worked with before I became a union organiser.

For many years I worked in a non-unionised industry where violence and sexual assault towards women is accepted as normal and even necessary. I witnessed women being punched in the face by bosses for daring to talk back. Sexual assault was common, and apparently what we deserved for daring to choose to work there. We suffered constant abuse about our weight and were punished if we went over the weights set for us. It was bad enough that even the News of The World when they ran a story on it, toned it down. Indeed it was so embedded in the workplace culture even the women subjected to this on a day to day basis would get annoyed if anyone tried to speak against it.

They’d say:

‘Its part of the job’

‘You have to be tough here and if you can’t stand the heat get out the kitchen’

And from the men:

‘Women shouldn’t be doing this work anyway, you deserve what you get’ Usually finished off with remark about your weight as of course not only are you a woman but even worse you have a fat backside.

All the time, with no unionisation, the bosses were winning. If we had had a union to organise us and to educate us I know things would have been different. And so Sisters, I say, we need organised and effective unions in every workplace to help us achieve our goal of ending violence towards women and reclaiming the night. And, reclaiming our working day.
So what does all this have to with a teachers union?  There were some things we all had in common in that job, the vast majority of us had come backgrounds where we had suffered or witnessed domestic violence. None of us had done well at school, leaving early, usually  troublemakers, just never fitting in and ultimately  leaving school to go straight into an industry that operates like a community, to us felt like a family, but we were just swapping one abusive family for another having never really learned anywhere that what was happening was wrong and that things could and should be different.

Schools were a place we could have learned differently, away from what surrounded us at home and in the streets. Learned that we don’t deserve it and haven’t provoked it and maybe we would have left having learned that we have a right to work where we want, in the job we choose, without violence, no matter what anyone thinks or says.

And so Im very pleased to say that NASUWT believes that schools and colleges have a crucial role to play in tackling violence against women. Because, effective strategies to tackle violence against women require action across all spheres of society.

With that in mind, I just want to quickly tell you what NASUWT has being doing in the last year around that particular area of the role of schools and colleges,

  • We have responded to the Home Office consultation on tackling violence against women and girls, and much of our response has been based on evidence of how these issues affect children, and their teachers and what can be done in schools in colleges.
  • We have also worked to promote and support the work of the White Ribbon Campaign, which is a male led campaign against domestic violence towards women and produces resources for teachers. And a big thank you to the men here tonight supporting us.
  • We are also producing guidance for schools on forced marriages and the issues for teachers.
  • And we have been working with Government, the Anti-bullying Alliance, and other agencies to produce the Safe to Learn suite of advice documents for schools. which includes guidance on sexist bullying

Sisters this is all good stuff but of course its nothing without us coming together to organise and show collective strength and solidarity with each other as we have tonight.

At home, on the streets and in every workplace, every workplace lets continue to march and campaign to end gendered violence.

Once again thanks for inviting the NASUWT to speak and giving us the opportunity to sponsor the event. As a trade union we welcome the opportunity to march together in solidarity with you- but what we really want is for women to be able to walk where and when we want, wear what we want, work where we want and eat what we want  without the fear and threat of violence.

21 November 2009