Report on the USW Women of Steel Conference, Pittsburgh March 2013

by Karen Cole South West Regional Women's & Equalities Organiser

Leo Gerard spoke and stressed the importance of unions working together across the world to fight for workers' rights. He also said that this was the biggest gathering of women in the USA and Canada.  I look forward to the day when it is a woman who is leading the USW and Unite.

The Unite delegation allocated to a district meeting. They discussed how to build solidarity within the USW.  We were asked which woman most inspired us.  A lot of women said their mum - very appropriate as it was Mother's Day in the UK.  

It is not a motions' based conference.  There are two sessions with speakers.  Then conference delegates can attend a number of workshops. I attended a workshop yesterday on community organising as the USW have an affiliated membership similar to our community membership.  Rosa and Linda went to a Making Work Fit for Life workshop.

We attended a play on the history of USW to mark their 70th anniversary.  All put on by USW staff and lay members.  It was excellent - our sisters and brothers in the USW can really act.  There was lots of audience participation and I founding myself singing the same songs as we did with the Red Notes Choir to promote the Oxfam Get Together for International Women's Day.  

We attended an organising workshop on Tuesday and found out that in a lot of the USA states they still have the closed shop, although there are attacks on this.  Yet in other states, a lot of them in the south, they don't have the closed shop and unions have to represent non-members or they can be sued.

We had some very good speakers and each of the districts (which are like Unite regions) reported back on the work they have been doing.  I spoke as part of an international panel.  It was a privilege to be asked to speak as a representative of Unite women on the importance of global solidarity and support for our sister trade unionists across the world.   I raised the issue of the Cuban Five, the separation from their wives and families and denial of visas.  I asked the conference for their support and if they could do one thing to complete the postcard and send it to President Obama.  

Rosa, Linda and I have gained a lot from the Conference. The 1,000 women at the Conference made us very welcome.  As was said at the Conference many times “We are Fired Up and Ready to Go“  

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